$1 Million Spent on Valet LobbyWhen The Grove, a popular Los Angeles shopping, dining and entertainment destination, opened in 2002 its developer took the parking experience as seriously as the shopping experience and installed the most sophisticated smart parking technologies available. Recently The Grove invested approximately $1 million in enhancing its valet parking creating a richly appointed and expanded area. Stepping out onto the red carpet guests experience an environment and service on par with the most exquisite luxury hotels.
“We want our guests first and last impressions to be the finest, and that occurs in the parking facility,” noted Paul Kurzawa, Vice President of Operations, a development in Los Angeles of Caruso Affiliated..
“Their shopping experience needs to be unique from the moment they drive in. Let’s face it, our valet waiting area looks like the lobby of a Ritz Carlton.”
Located in a densely populated area of Los Angeles adjacent to the historic Farmers Market, The Grove is one of a new genre of shopping environments that creates an open air street scene a significant departure from the large format, enclosed regional shopping malls. It has many retailers that are unique to the area such as is the first and only west coast location for American Girl Place along with many popular name brand retailers. “Our philosophy is to provide a great experience with attractive design and unparalleled service. Elements such as the dancing fountain and the trolley that runs throughout the property engage customers and we find they tend to stay longer than at traditional malls. Parking is an important part of this overall experience,” noted Kurzawa.
The valet lounge gives no direct impact to our bottom line but it’s a large part of the picture we paint, he adds. It adds to the emotional experience of the visit.
Parking, adding to the emotional experience? “Of course,” says Kurzawa, “this is our front door, it sets the impression whether it’s the ease of self parking, or very upscale valet service. By the time a person enters The Grove, their expectations are already set. And then we ensure that when they leave, they have had an experience like nowhere else.
Rick Caruso has told his staff he wants high tech, but doesn’t want the personal touch removed. The parking does just that. It was designed for pay on exit and there are two exit plazas with four and five booths each. The system also takes credit card on exit. Parking attendants are stationed at each exit to help, but if you know the system, you can let yourself out using your credit card.
The eight story garage has over 3,500 spaces and with turnover they park in excess of 50,000 cars a week. Employees park on the top levels of the garage during weekdays, however on weekends and during holidays, they park off site. “Our customers must come first.”
They valet park over 500 cars each day. With an $8 starting rate going up to $25, its pricy for a shopping center, however Kurzawa feels that if you give people the service, they are willing to pay the price.
“Charging for parking is important. In densely populated areas such as ours, we must protect our parking spaces for the convenience of our customers. We are next door to CBS studios and across the street from a number of large office buildings . If we didn’t charge, our garage would be filled with non-customers. Most of the stores validate so most of our customers pay very little, if any at the exit gate.’
Kurzawa went on to discuss a technical aspect of the garage. “When I was at another facility, I was not sure about level counters. Now I’m sold. Drivers have a tendency to want to park where they think it’s most convenient and spend a lot of time cruising around trying to find a space. The counters, coupled with our double lane speed ramps, enable them to drive directly to a floor that has plenty of space, park, and enter the center long before someone searching a lower floor finds a space and parks.”
One of the main features of the garage is the speed ramp helix. Once you are on the ramp, you can drive directly to any floor, or leave through either of the two exits. If a car in front is slow and unsure, you can simply and safely pass them on the ramp and continue to exit. “The speed ramps are one of the garage’s best features.”
Complaints? Since we are an urban mall people think we are landlocked and always jammed for parking. It isn’t true. We fill once in a while, but seldom. It’s usually momentary, as when a number of movies let out at the same time. But it clears within a few minutes. In valet, we always park a car. We never turn someone away no matter how full we are. The level counters are a great help when we begin to fill. And they are extremely accurate. That is most important. If they don’t work, it’s worse than not having them at all.”
Caruso’s model appears to have paid off as the company’s sales per square foot run approximately 40 percent higher than the industry average.
“We have some of the same stores as or competition, the same movies, the same restaurants, but we are more successful because of how we package our product and the customer experience. The parking experience is one of the most important elements of that package.”