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Operators... Solve All Your Parking Problems

By John Van Horn

op·er·a·tor

[op-uh-rey-ter] noun

1. a person who operates a machine, apparatus, or the like: a telegraph operator.

2. a person who operates a telephone switchboard, especially for a telephone company.

3. a person who manages a working or industrial establishment, enterprise, or system: the operators of a mine.

4. a person who trades in securities, especially speculatively or on a large scale.

5. a person who performs a surgical operation: a surgeon.

As Parking Today looked at dictionary definitions of “Operator” for a way to start this article, we were surprised to find that the first three could be appropriate for “Parking.” There is a school of thought that the fourth is also appropriate. (An industry CEO once told me that he wasn’t in the parking business but in the banking business.)

We at PT had lengthy discussions with both small and medium-sized parking operators and found one thing that permeated their companies. They were passionate about parking. It’s all they wanted to talk about. It’s all they had done and ever expected to do.

Mega entrepreneur Lee Iacocca once described himself as “being in the car business.” He had worked for two major auto companies. He had spent his life building and selling cars. He knew everything about it. He knew about design, he knew about marketing, he knew about unions, factories and what the people wanted. He was in the car business.

In PT’s conversations with parking operators, we found that they see themselves as “being in the parking business.” They aren’t Wall Street icons, or bankers, or insurance companies, or in real estate. They park cars, and they do it well.

You parking operators have a tough, complex and often thankless job. It can be dirty and troublesome, and don’t ever expect anyone to put you on their Christmas card list. But don’t for one moment make a mistake, or let up on the quality of the service you provide. You will be called on the carpet in a moment’s notice.

We spoke to Jason Accardi, co-founder of 717 Parking Enterprises in Tampa. He has about 500 locations in 17 states. His is a family business as he works with his twin brother and his father. “You have to keep the small-company touch,” he told us. “No matter how large you grow, you, as an owner, must be available to every customer and to every employee.

“We have passion for our careers, our customers, our company,” Accardi said. “This is a service business, first and last.”

We at PT heard that over and over – it’s about service and family. Tim Leonoudakis is CEO of City Park in San Francisco. The company was started by his father and an uncle. As you walk down its halls, you see a number of employees with the same – Greek – last name.

“We have spent a lot of time working on the sustainable part of our business,” Leonoudakis said. “We live in a city that reflects the environment, and we are proud to be a part of it.

“We work on service, and that has brought us 20 of the top 30 hotels in the city as our customers,” he said. We are a boutique parking operation. It’s the perfect size for our city. We have developed best practices to ensure that our service, audit, marketing and use of technology are excellent. We reflect the top flight attitudes of our customers.”

Technology seems to be the name of the game with today’s parking operator. All we spoke to had extremely active audit departments and centralized operations where they could see what was happening in locations across their market.

Denison Parking in Indianapolis has spent considerable time and energy developing technology to make their service better. “You don’t want to put in technology in place of good service,” said Mark Pratt, President and COO. “But you still have to be competitive.

“Our system, which allows the customer standing at a pay-on-foot or sitting in a lane and needing help to see the person they are talking to, isn’t just a technological marvel. It’s giving service,” Pratt said.

“All parkers have problems. It’s up to us to solve them quickly and easily. If the two people working on the problem – the parker and the member of our team – can actually see each other, it makes a world of difference.”

One would have thought that a parking operator would have concentrated on revenue collection, ensuring that every penny is put in the bank nightly. These operators have systems in place to do just that, but they also understand that it’s the relationship they have with two entities – the parker and the owner of their garage – that’s important.

Both also are customers and each needs to have their issues addressed quickly and correctly. No one expects perfection, but they do expect the company to solve problems.

Technology is being brought to bear on parking operators. Pay-on-foot, pay-and-display, license plate recognition, “cloud” centralized computing – all are just some of the tools that make parking operations easier, less expensive and more efficient. However, the operators PT spoke to were concerned that the technology didn’t get in the way of personalized service.

And finally, this from Tony Policella, CEO of Valet Parking Service in Los Angeles: “I originally married into this business, and after 40 years, divorce is not an option.

“I started as a parking attendant, and along the way worked various positions for three major parking companies, and today I am co-owner of Valet Parking Service – a company founded by Herb Citrin on May 1, 1946, and today, 65 years later, we still service that same location seven days a week.

“Parking to me is a microcosm of the ‘American Dream,’ having seen countless success stories along the way of people working hard, enjoying what they are doing (easily noticeable to the customer and co-worker alike), and having terrific careers in a business that provides a vital service. I feel blessed to be in this industry, for as my partner Victor Morad always says: “To love your job is to have no job.”

John Van Horn is the founder, publisher and editor of Parking Today. Contact him at jvh@parkingtoday.com.



Sidebar:

PT Asked Denison Parking What’s the Best Way to Select an Operator?

Mark Pratt, Denison Parking President and COO, answers:

The reputation and references pertaining to the character and integrity of the operator are most important. The client needs to ask the operator to illustrate how many times in, say, the last 24 months, that a theft has occurred in the facilities or the administrative offices of the parking operator and listen carefully to the answers.

If the operator says “none,” shoo them away, because they’re not telling the truth. One of the most critical parts of operator responsibility is theft detection. Unfortunately, the people in the booths, the managers and administrative staff continue to dream up new ways to steal. It’s a fact of life.

We have had several thefts in the past eight years, all of which were detected. At Denison, we discover the theft, gather the facts, call the police and report the theft. Then we visit the client to clearly describe what transpired. We discuss the amount of the theft and clearly illustrate how it was perpetrated.

If I were a client choosing a parking operator, I’d also ask several very simple questions, then very carefully listen to the answers. The questions: “What is your policy on missing parking tickets from your parking facilities? What are your allowable tolerances? And what was the ticket loss in your largest location last month?”

Even with all of the automation introduced into our industry, the fact remains: If a ticket is dispensed, it must be returned and accounted for. If a parking company allows for ticket loss in excess of 1% or 2%, something is amiss.

At Denison, our tolerance for ticket loss is 1% on any location that closes for the evening and raises the gates and 0.5% for any 24/7 location.

These questions will help ferret out those companies that are true parking operators from those that are superior salesmen. There’s a huge difference between the two. After being asked the questions, if the potential operator looks at you with a “deer in the headlights” expression, run the other way.

Article Abstract from October, 2011




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