Magazine

The Diamonds - A True Parking Family for 80 Years

By John Van Horn

I don't like publicity." First comment from the person being interviewed does tend to put a damper on the interview. However, in this case, the subject made his own interview. Few questions needed to be asked. The story unfolded by itself.
Joel Diamond, CEO of Diamond Parking in Seattle, is preparing for his retirement and, frankly, wanted his son, Jon, to have the limelight. "Times have changed," says Diamond. "Time for new blood and new ideas. I did things one way for 40 years, now it's time for someone to come in and take us into the next century."
Diamond Parking was founded by his uncle, Louis Diamond, in 1922. Joel has been on board since 1958. He became President in 1971 and CEO in 1997. His father, Josef, is Chairman; Joel's son, Jon, is now president,
Whatever Joel did over the past four decades, he must have done something right. Taking the small Seattle-only parking company to one of the four largest in the country with more than 900 locations in nine states and Canada, the man who says his goal is "to have fun" has had quite a bit.
His uncle had a nice little parking business in Seattle when one day the bank called and asked if they could help one of its customers who had a parking issue in a nearby community. Against the better judgment of his family, Joel got in his car and headed out to see what he could do.
"I was on the road four days out of five for the next 10 years," he says. It paid off. "I would travel into a town, park my car and start walking up and down the streets, calling on places that obviously needed parking help. I would have lunch, then keep going in the afternoon. Sometimes I would get a deal, sometimes not."
On their honor
In those days, there wasn't a lot of money in parking and very little to pay employees. Therefore, the Diamonds used honor boxes in many of their locations (and still do today).
"My first out-of-town employee was a retired policeman from Boston. He would check the honor boxes and collect the money. I knew that you could park for free on Wednesday in his area because that was his golf day."
Diamond Parking's procedures have come a long way since then, but there are many locations that are manned in the traditional sense. Approximately 75 percent of their locations are honor box locations.
"Frankly, I can't remember if we were the ones that invented the honor box," says Diamond, "but we certainly use a lot of them."
Watching what is happening in San Francisco (with the requirements for receipt-giving machines being put in place) Diamond smiles. "We have been giving receipts on many of our honor locations for years. You have to be flexible and do what is required."
The Diamond family has done well in real estate. "As most in the parking business know, we have a direct line to ownership and often find good real estate deals. We buy, we don't sell. My accountant is often frustrated by that, but we would much rather just hold on to the land or partner with someone. Develop it ourselves? We know about parking, not about real estate development."
Considerable changes
Parking has changed considerably in the past two decades. "Parking was never affected by a recession, because it was always a growth industry. Now it has matured and feels the market pressures like any other.
"We haven't made a lot of changes over the years. We set up a system and if it works, we stick to it. Our computerized accounting program is very old. We update and make changes. People come to me and propose a replacement. I ask them what we will get from it. In the end, we would get the same reports, just, perhaps, a bit faster. Why change unless it can help do a better job? "
Diamond is proud of his 38-year-old son Jon. "He wants to run the business, and is good at it."
Sell? "No reason to. Sure, we have had offers, but then what would we do?"
Buy? "No, we haven't bought any companies. We have grown one location at a time."
When we went through to take a picture of the three Diamond men, including 95-year-old Josef who parked his first car in 1928, we met up with Jon Diamond.
He has his father and grandfather's quiet self-assurance. These are parking people from the "old school" who are sure of what they are about.
Will it change? Joel's wish for new blood is here in the form of his son. We will wait and see what the next 80 years will bring.

John Van Horn is editor and publisher of Parking Today.

Article Abstract from March, 2002




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