But a little hoisting help usually did the trick.
The gas tank cap, now that was a slam dunk for the pint-sized McPherson. “I could get that nozzle in there,” McPherson says as he sits in a conference room at the Indianola headquarters of Gresham Petroleum and Double Quick recalling a childhood spent pumping gas and servicing cars along with his cousins Tom and Walton Gresham III.
Today, the trio of former gas jockeys runs a family-owned regional petroleum marketing operation that has expanded throughout the last decade. They also operate a chain of 50 food-and-gas stores whose Double Quick brand has become the generic term for convenience store across the Mississippi Delta.
McPherson and the Gresham brothers need no introduction in either the Delta or most anywhere else in the Magnolia State, people who know them say.
Part of that renown comes from the legacy of their grandfather, W.W. Gresham, who started everything with a petroleum company and a single full-service filling station in Indianola, and fathers Bill Gresham and John McPherson, who established the family business as a petroleum and LP and propane distributorship and grew the service station count.
More so, though, the Gresham brothers and McPherson have become widely known in the Delta region and the rest of the state through the success of their companies and a civic mindedness that has them spending over half their time away from their companies doing for others.
Their achievements in commerce and job creation (about 1,300 between the two companies at last count) combined with a long history of service to their community, region and state led the Mississippi Business Journal to select the top executives of Gresham Petroleum-Double Quick as 2015 Businesspeople of the Year.
They say they are honored by the selection but emphasized they prefer to stay out of the spotlight.
“My granddad said we can do a lot more behind the scenes,” Walton Gresham says. “That has been pretty much our motto.”
Fueling the Delta
In the Delta in the years just after World War I, horses and automobiles still shared the roads, McPherson says. “When my granddaddy had his first service station there were horse-and-buggies riding by as cars filled up.”
That 1926 Indianola station, according to the company history on the Gresham Petroleum website, gave the Delta its first place motorists could drive in and fill up.
At that time, Walton Gresham explains, “There was probably a community every five or seven miles. To go to a grocery store you just couldn’t go very far with a horse. So here is granddaddy putting service stations in every little town.”
W.W. Gresham’s Gresham Service Stations had three of its own filling stations, expanding from Indianola to Isola in 1933. But most of the growth in service stations came with hometown dealers setting up in such places as Inverness, Moorhead, Sunflower and Holly Ridge and buying their motor fuels from W.W. Gresham.
W.W. Gresham’s business did more than fill automobile gas tanks. A core business was serving individual customers with tractor fuel and kerosene for houses.
W.W. Gresham, says Walton Gresham, “would go to Sunflower, Mississippi, with 600 gallons of kerosene and fill gallon jugs up all day long. The next day he’d go to Blaine” and do the same thing.
The end of the 1940s saw propane gas replace demand for kerosene and join a Gresham product inventory that included lubricants for farm machinery and diesel fuel and gasoline.
In the years that followed, propane and its use in an agricultural process called “flame cultivation” gave the Gresham operation a strong business segment and sped up cotton harvesting by clearing away vegetation from beneath the stems of cotton plants.
Done right, flame cultivation made harvesting easier and faster. Done wrong “you’d kill your crop,” Walton Gresham says.
That business wilted in the late 1970s, when new herbicides and herbicide technologies replaced propane’s flame cultivation.
By the early 1950s, Bill Gresham, a veteran of World War II and Korea, joined brother John McPherson and W.W. Gresham in transitioning the company from Gresham Distributor Business to Gresham Petroleum.
The timing could not have been better. The post-war economic boom was under way and agriculture in the Delta was maturing into an economic force. Irrigation pumps needed fuel to operate and Gresham Petroleum had plenty to sell.
Soon, Gresham Petroleum bought or merged with other petroleum and LP gas companies in Greenwood, Louise, Inverness and Belzoni, according to the company history.
More recently it bought out petroleum marketing companies in both Mississippi and Arkansas. Those acquisitions occurred in 1995, 2003, 2010 and this year.
Arrival of a Self-Serve World
Ridgeland petroleum marketer Ken Pritchard caught the attention of the Greshams and McPhersons with a bold move in Richland in 1971. He showed that people would pump their own gas if it saved them money
“He put two pumps in front of a portable house,” Walton Gresham recalls. “He sold at 10 cents below other” gasoline retailers.
In one month, he sold 90,000 gallons of gasoline, which was unheard of at full-service filling stations.
By 1972, Pritchard’s operation was on full display at Amoco’s annual convention and causing fuel retailers to begin thinking self-serve is the future.
“I worked for him for a year,” Bill McPherson says. “He was a real estate genius. He had 100 stores selling diesel and gasoline from Kansas to Florida.”
Pritchard died recently, leaving a legacy as the father of self-serve gasoline sales in Mississippi.
By the time Pritchard set up his pair of pumps in Richland, the dealer network W.W. Gresham had supplied and the accompanying country stores went by the wayside, Walton Gresham says.
That evolution set the stage for Gresham Petroleum and other of Mississippi’s family-owned petroleum marketers such as the David Craddock family in McComb and Richard Waring family in Vicksburg. The Warings pioneered putting combination convenience stores-filling stations along Mississippi’s interstate highways.
With the arrival of the 1980s, Bill McPherson and Tom Gresham set out to establish a chain of quick-serve stores that would eventually significantly increase Gresham Petroleum’s customer base. Each had just recently finished college, with Bill graduating from Mississippi State University with an accounting degree and Tom from Southern Methodist University with degrees in journalism and business.
Having joined the business taken over by their dads after the 1978 death of W.W. Gresham, the two first converted three former full-service filling stations into quick-stop stores that sold fuel and convenience items.
At the same time, the two had their eyes on 16 convenience stores across the Delta operated under the Mr. Quik brand.
By 1984, they owned the 16 stores and set about establishing a network of 50 Double Quick stores throughout Northeast Mississippi and Northeast and Southeast Arkansas. Today, Double Quick has its own brand of Double Quick fuel supplied by Gresham Petroleum.
Randy Randall, Planters Bank and Trust Co. president & COO, recalls he saw the potential for their business model of self-serve gasoline, in-store prepared foods, packaged foods and other convenience items. Staying open after supermarkets closed would provide an edge as well.
“I knew they were onto something that would be very good,” Randall says. “They had good business judgment and instincts. It has been very rewarding as a friend and their associate to see how it has evolved.”
A February 2015 article in the trade magazine for the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America notes Double Quick brought “cutting-edge” convenience store marketing to the small towns and rural reaches of Mississippi and Arkansas. Prototype stores are freestanding buildings of between 3,000 square feet and 5,000 square feet with six or more fuel pumps. Thirteen of the stores have Church’s Chicken Restaurants and two have Krystal restaurants. Double Quick also has its proprietary Hot N’ Crispy Chicken and Seafood.
With the Mr. Quik acquisitions, Bill McPherson says, “We were overnight in the chicken business. They were selling prepared chicken when the independents really didn’t start with the prepared foods until the 1990s and early 2000s.”
Double Quicks, as the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers’ magazine article notes, have established a brand identity partly through a striking and modern green-white-blue color scheme and logo.
Tom Gresham, who is the 2015 president of the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers, notes Double Quick’s desire to help employees develop strong customer service skills led the company to establish its own mock convenience store dubbed Double Quick University.
“We have 1,000 employees and our goal is to foster a corporate culture that reflects our core values – Learn, Be Honest, Work Smart Together, Have Fun.”
Walton Gresham oversees Gresham Petroleum but Tom Gresham and Bill Gresham retain ownership shares. Likewise, Walton Gresham has an ownership share of Double Quick.
“We’re fortunate,” Bill McPherson says, “that our daddies were good partners and wanted us to stay in both.”
• • • • • •
The Principals Past and Present
W. Walton Gresham III
» Graduate University of Mississippi – BBA
» President – Gresham Petroleum Co.
» President – Gresham McPherson Oil Co.
» Secretary – Delta Terminal, Inc.
» Member of Board of Directors – Planters Bank, Delta Council, MS Petroleum Marketers Association
» Board Member of the University of Mississippi Foundation
» Past President, Transportation Committee Chair of Delta Council
» Past President of the Indianola Rotary Club – Paul Harris Fellow
» Past President of the Indianola Chamber of Commerce
» Past President of the Indianola Educational Foundation
» Past Chairman of the Indianola Community Fund
» Served as a Small Business Administration Delegate to the White House during the Reagan Administration
» Board Member and Past President of the Sunflower County Economic Development Foundation
» Recognized by Phi Delta Theta Fraternity at Ole Miss as Alumnus of the Year
Thomas G. (Tom) Gresham
» Graduate of Southern Methodist University – BBA and BFA-Journalism
» President – Double Quick, Inc.
» President – Gresham Service Stations, Inc.
» Secretary/Treasurer – Gresham Petroleum Co.
» Treasurer – Delta Terminal, Inc.
» Vice President – Gresham-McPherson Oil Co.
» President and Board Member – Society of Independent Gas Marketers of America (SIGMA)
» Commissioner – Mississippi Gaming Commission
» Chairman of Development Department of Delta Council
» Co-Chairman of Indianola Promise Community
» Member of Board of Directors – Delta Council, Northwest MS Community Foundation, Mississippi Economic Council
» Past Chairman of MS Economic Council
» Past Board Member of MS State Board of Community Colleges
» Past Board Member of MS Center for Education Innovation
» Past President Church’s Chicken Franchisee Association
» Past President MS Association of Convenience Stores
» Past President Indianola Education Foundation, Inc.
» Past President Indianola Rotary Club – Paul Harris Fellow
» Past President Mid-Delta Arts Association
» Member St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church – former Sr. Warden, Jr. Warden, Vestry Member
» Recognized by Phi Delta Theta Fraternity at Ole Miss as Alumnus of the Year
John W. (Bill) McPherson Jr..
» Graduate of Mississippi State University
» Became Certified Public Accountant 1984
» Co-owner of Double Quick Inc, Dutch Brake Farms LLC, Gresham Petroleum Co. and Gresham McPherson Oil Companies
» Chairman of the Mississippi Blues Commission
» President of the B. B. King Museum Foundation
» Member of World Presidents Organization
» Mississippi Business Journal’s 1997 Top 40 Under 40
» Past President of Mississippi Association of Convenience Stores (MACS)
» Past Board Member of South Sunflower County Hospital
» Past Board Member of Indianola Education Foundation
» Past Board Member of Sunflower County Habitat for Humanity
» First United Methodist Church Administrative Board
» Past President of Indianola Rotary Club – Paul Harris Fellow
» Past President of Indianola Youth Soccer Association
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