Great Garages Aren't Run by Great Operators
September, 2003If you remember from last month, I was defending myself from criticism that I was too hard on parking operators. I pointed out that my experience tells me that the great garages aren't run by great operators, they are run by great managers. It's the quality of the garage manager, or his or her boss, that tells the tale.
But let's get back to basics. My job is to give you some examples of problems I have discovered so you can see if they are lurking in the dark corners of your facility. Hopefully I can also point out some ways to correct these problems. So here goes.
I discovered a problem with a garage where a valet company from across the street was using the garage's second floor to park cars but the ownership wasn't collecting any money. Seems that the night manger was looking the other way (or maybe he thought there was some long-term agreement, since they had been parking their cars there for years). The owner went after the operator for the lost revenue and recovered it. The valet company was contacted and told the owner that they would be happy to pay for the spaces from this point forward, if they could simply get a contract stating the terms. It's now a year later, no contract, and the owner wants to go after the operator again.
I say at this point it's not the operator's problem, but the owners. If they couldn't get their act together to either instruct the operator to block off the second floor (they hadn't) or simply get a contract to the valet company across the street -- then it was the owner's problem.
I just shake my head. I audit and audit, recommend and recommend, but ownership seldom takes my advice. I find the holes, report them, but they are seldom plugged. Is it an operator problem? Nope. This one is at the door of ownership. If someone was occupying one of your office suites without paying you would evict them in a heartbeat, but what's a few cars on the second deck?
Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think most of the problems in a garage can be put at the feet of the owners, not the operator. Do you agree or disagree?
I don't know how many garages I have audited where the final report recommended replacement equipment or a change in operations. Certainly equipment changes can be wrenching. However, it can also, in many cases, directly affect your bottom line. And that's what we are all about, right.
However you have to be careful. Don't change equipment for change's sake. Last month in my favorite magazine, there was an article about the Trillium in Woodland Hills, CA. The owner needed to get cars out of the garage quickly, the garage operator recommended a move to Pay on Foot. The fact that the two partnered in the decision made the project a grand success.
I have experienced the opposite. I have seen cases where such changes were recommended, cost justified and even bid. However, reluctance on the part of the operator and an owner who couldn't or wouldn't see the positive results of the change stalled the process.
It's probably for the best in this case. If the owner had gone ahead with something as complex as moving to POF from a standard Pay on Exit system without the full backing and support of the operator, the chances are that the system would have failed. I'm certain the equipment would have been fine, but the attitude of the operator and the attendants would have been reflected through to the parkers, and pressure would have built for the removal or change of the system.
Let's say you are interested in changing the mode of operation of your garage from say pay on exit to pay on foot. No cashiers in the lanes. What are some of the questions you should ask your operator?
1. Have you ever successfully been involved in the conversion of pay on exit to pay on foot?
2. Will any of the people involved in that conversion be available to help here?
3. What problems did you face at that site and how did you solve them?
4. Do you really think this is a good idea or are you just going along because I am your customer?
5. How will the employees that will be reduced here be handled? Will they be laid off or moved to some other location in your company?
You may be surprised at this, but there are a number of parking operators that have little or no experience in this technology. Or they may have done it in San Francisco, but not in Chicago.
Another test might be to find out what technology the operator uses in a location where they either own or lease the facility.
New technology is coming. It solves some problems, but can create others. The best way to make it work is to ensure everyone involved is committed completely to the project.