Magazine

From a Survey of One Came 10 Years of PT

Parking Today Editor and Founder John Van Horn muses about the magazine's first decade

By John Van Horn

Sheila and I began fussing a year ago about when PT's 10th anniversary should be celebrated. I said it should be 2005; she said 2006. Of course, she was right.
You don't start counting birthdays from day zero; you start from the end of the first year. So if you consider that our first issue was in April 1996 and this is April 2006, we have completed 10 years. This month is truly our birthday. We are 10.
Publications have volume and issue numbers. You start with Volume 1, Number 1, and then press on. That being the case, this should be Volume 11 (remember, we start numbering from 1, not 0), Number 1. But it's not.
I'm really not sure why. We started out having only 10 issues a year (no June or December), then went to 11 and then 12. Sometime during that decade, we reconfigured the numbers to start with the first of the year, January being Number 1 and so forth. So there you are.
With this issue, we have been in existence 10 years.
Did you know that a lot of people in this industry can't remember a time when there was no Parking Today? Amazing!
I think back on those who supported us from Day One. Our first advertiser was John Manno at Southland Printing. I told him I was starting the magazine, and he said he would advertise in every issue as long as he could be on Page 3. Well, he got it, and he's been there ever since.
The were other stalwarts that first year, Toledo, Amano, Kim Lighting, Ampco System Parking, Graber, MacKay Meters, Enforcement Technology, Amtech, Secom, Talkaphone, PTC, Digital Printing, POM - they were there and many still are.
Of course, I did a major survey to see if I should start the magazine - I asked one person, and he said I should do it. That was Lee Shorts from PTC. We were sitting in a sidewalk cafe on a beautiful Indian summer evening in Quebec City after attending a Canadian Parking Association meeting and I asked him what he thought of the idea. He said simply, "Go for it." What more did I need?
Most people I used as sounding boards thought I was somewhere west of crazy. Why the heck did we need another parking magazine? Even my boss at Secom, to whom I gave a year's notice, never thought I would do it.
Over the last 10 years the world has changed, but of course the world changes every 10 years. There are decades that appear to affect us more than others, such as, say, the 1860s or the 1930s or the 1960s, and my guess is that 50 years from now we will look at the decade ... wait, we can't look at 1996-2006, since we seem to be required to look at decades in even numbers.
There are benchmarks - such as high school graduation, or meeting your spouse-to-be, or the decision to take a certain job, or the death of a relative or a friend - that cause a transition.
I had been at one place a long time and knew it was time for a change. I had been thinking about going back into publishing, and it was then or never - after all, I was 50, I knew how to do this, my family members were grown and on their own, why not?
We are supposed to look back at times such as these and talk about all the great things that have happened. We should remember the good times and forget the bad.
I have a difficult time with the bad times, since I frankly don't remember any related to PT. There were misspellings, mistakes, wrong choices and probably more than a few hurt feelings. All of these were unintentional.
The problem with a publication that comes out on a deadline is that we have to draw a line and say, "We can't do any better, let it go." This month, it covers the bottom of the parrot's cage, but we get another chance next month. Not many folks get to "do over" month after month after month. This life is perfect.
As I read Charlie Munn's interview of me in this issue, I remembered my comment that "all change is good." PT has been in a state of change since it started 10 volumes ago. Some have been subtle, some in-your-face. But most have been cosmetic. The question to me is what changes have we been able to make on the face of our industry?
This industry has begun to grow up - I spent a few days talking to investment bankers last month in Chicago and frankly their discussions were way over my head. I wonder if Morgan Stanley or Sam Zell, Maquerie Bank, General Electric, Prudential or outfits such as Green Courte Partners, Next and The Gates Group thought 10 years ago that they would be investing in the parking business.
Mergers and acquisitions have sent many logos to the history books in the last decade and have made others household names. CEOs of parking companies concern themselves as much with bottom lines, shareholders and share prices as they do with lot counts, audits and oversell.
Technology has overwhelmed our business.
I sat in an office in Illinois and watched and listened to a cashier in California make a transaction. A friend of mine in Hong Kong logged on to a parking garage in New York City and actually showed a potential customer a problem transaction, in real-time. The other day, a fellow on a golf course showed me an image of his parking facility located half way across the country, on his PDA, also in real-time.
Equipment manufacturers concern themselves as much with IP addresses and bandwidth as they do with loop detectors and coin counters. Small companies with great ideas are now finding ways to bring their innovations to the market with the help of larger groups. M&A hasn't restricted itself to the operating companies.
Have we grown up as a business? I think the answer is "not really," but we certainly have moved into our adolescence. The free market is working its magic, and the good stuff is bubbling to the surface; the not-so-good is being left behind. My goal is that Parking Today follows that business model, leaving the not-so-good stuff behind.
Sure, we had become complacent, but that comes with age. I decided we needed a bit of a kick in the rear and hired a couple of young (well, younger) people to join us and ask pesky questions, which are most always right on the mark.
A customer wondered the other day if PT would ever just replace itself with its Web site. Why not? We could certainly put all the articles and pictures on the site, generate revenue from online ads, and become an online real-time source for the parking industry. It could be much more profitable and might better serve our readers.
But as the first words in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy tell us, "Don't panic." We'll certainly chop down a lot more trees before we make any such dramatic changes, but the fact that this type of conversation comes up from time to time keeps me on my toes.
If our industry, as well as the world, is changing, we at PT must react to it.
I would be less than gracious if I didn't thank everyone who has made Parking Today work - you know who you are. However, I would also thank the customers who pay the bills, and those who honor us every month by reading what we have to say.
I have no idea what the next 10 years will bring, but I do know that they will bring change. That's the nature of life. We have two choices: We can fight it, or we can embrace it. I know what I'm going to do.

JVH

Article Abstract from April, 2006




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