The POF Installation of the Century!
By John Van Horn
Speed and customer service. That's what it's about here, said Paul Kurzawa, VP of Management for Westfield Corp., as he spoke of why his flagship property, Westfield Century City in Los Angeles, upgraded its parking from pay-on-exit to a full-blown, completely automated pay-on-foot system. "The customers were ready, and we knew we needed to be on the cutting edge of technology," Kurzawa said.
"Our [shopping] center is going through a complete renovation, and we needed to be certain that all our service functions led the market," he said. "Los Angeles customers are attracted by the 'latest and greatest.' With the opening of our new theater complex this Christmas, the renovation of the mall, and our new parking system, we will definitely be leading the way."
Although Kurzawa is in charge of 11 sizable properties in California for Australian Westfield Corp., he rattles off the numbers as if he is responsible for only this one: 3,000 spaces, 13 POFs, 9 entrances, 10 exits. 8,000 transactions a day, 11,000-12,000 on weekends, 17,000 on holidays.
"Our goal wasn't primarily to get a handle on revenue, but it happened. Our lot counts were very inaccurate. They were off at least 10 percent. That meant ticket counts couldn't be verified. We now have a true read on our traffic and our revenue. That's a real benefit," Kurzawa said.
"We believe that having a top-of-the-line world-class parking system makes a difference when customers visit our center. After all, the system is the first thing they see when they arrive, and the last thing they touch when they leave.
"Frankly, I can't say enough about how smooth the changeover went. We were all here for the first day, which was on-schedule. There were virtually no complaints. The operator's staff was in the lanes and around the POF machines to help.
"We wanted to fix the efficiency of the parking. We needed to speed up exits, and we did it," Kurzawa said. "The customers now pay at the POFs, which are much quicker than paying in lane. Most are validated or exit during our two-hour grace period. However, we have restaurants and theaters, and even with extended validations, many still pay. Since we accept credit cards as well as cash, the process is very fast. And if they forget to pay at the POF station, they can still pay at exit with their credit card. Our customers love it."
PT asked one parker what he thought of the new system. "I don't know what took them so long; this is great." The existing parking system was 13 years old and beginning to show considerable wear. According to Kurzawa, there was no question they made the right decision
Why controlled parking at a shopping center? "We are in the middle of one of the largest office complexes in Los Angeles. We have to control the parking or the poachers from adjacent buildings would fill our lots. They charge a very high fee to park next door (upwards of $300 in some areas), and it's worth it for office workers to walk a block if they can park for free." (To park for free in this shopping center, they would have to move their cars four times
PT interviewed Kurzawa; John Lovell, President of Zeag North America, the manufacturer; Tim Morris of Integrated Access System, the installer; and Rico Alanzo, Regional Manager for the operator, Standard Parking. To a person, all agreed on one thing: "To make the changeover successful, you must fully commit to an automated system."
"It simply doesn't work if you keep the booths in place and give the customers a choice," said Morris. "They will choose the path with which they are familiar and go directly to their cars and pay at the booth. Even if the booth is not staffed, they see the booths and subconsciously think they can pay there. You must remove the booths."
Kurzawa agreed. "We visited a nearby center that has recently converted to POF. They left the booths and one cashier lane in place. The cashier lane was jammed and the rest of the exits empty. That defeated the entire reason for the new system: speed of exit. We made the decision then and there to remove the booths. It was exactly the right thing to do."
The system allows the operator to sell validation coupons to the merchants. The coupons look generally like an entry ticket and contain the value of the validation and the merchant account. They are inserted by the customer before the entry ticket and the appropriate fee is then calculated. The validations, like the tickets, are tracked online for audit and billing purposes.
"One of the major benefits" said Standard's Alanzo, "is that our employees now feel confident in the equipment and tend to give better service. They are proud of the operation and it shows. Instead of just standing in a booth all day and collecting money, they are able to get out and actually assist the customers with any problems they may have. They are ambassadors for the center." (Standard will be keeping all staff on-site during the holiday season, and has been able to relocate all those who are being supplanted by the new system.)
The new system also supports contact card holders. In this case, there are more than 600 monthly parkers, mostly employees at the center. "We have an agreement with a large garage across the street so that during holiday periods we can move the employees there," Kurzawa said. "We tend to fill only on the busiest shopping days."
Why Zeag-IAS? "We took a look at an installation IAS had done and it was very clean," Kurzawa said. "That was important to us. We had to have a great 'look.' In addition, frankly, I was impressed that the North American President of Zeag took the time to come and visit us, both before the sale and during installation.
"Good customer service is extremely important to us, if not the most important thing. If we are going to invest seven figures with a company, we want to know we are important to them. John made us feel that way."
PT Editor John Van Horn can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Zeag through its Web site www.zeag.com and IAS at www.ias-la.com.
Article Abstract from December, 2005