Magazine

They Need 1,000 Words by Noon …

JVH

One thousand words about parking, off the top of my head. (11)
I have a space that Shelly and Rad tell me needs to be filled so we can send PT to the printers. It will take about 1,000 words, more or less. I have a lot of articles in reserve, but they are scheduled for a future issue. I would be robbing Peter to … well, you know. (68)
I spoke to a woman today who wanted to know all about parking, and she had about half an hour. I think she was working for a company trying to sell something to the industry. I get these calls all the time – everything about parking in half an hour.
I started by trying to tell her that to do that was like trying to teach her quantum physics in half an hour. She said it can’t be that complicated.
I told her that it all depends ... It depends on where the garage or lot is, who owns it, and for what it is being used. I told her that a freestanding garage in Dallas next to an office building might have no attendants or manager, just someone to run a broom through it now and then and to check to see if the lights are still working.
In her native New York, it was different. The Madison Square Garden garage on 31st Street between 7th and 8th is a completely different animal. It holds, what, about 800 cars, has automated revenue control, but uses, I think, valet assist to squeeze more than 1,100 cars into the facility during events at the Garden. It’s an older building, so they need to be concerned about maintenance, snow, ice, salt, elevators and the rest. My guess is that the facility generates more than 12 million dollars a year, maybe much more.
I have no clue how many employees they have, but I would guess they number in the dozens. They have ongoing maintenance, a slam-bang revenue control system and all kinds of other expenses. They park cars daily, monthly, event and probably have side deals with hotels and such all around for valet and the like. (406)
This woman wouldn’t give up. I then went into detail about the technical side, on-street versus off-street collections, dailies versus contract, the problems with ice, snow, spalling, lighting, security, insurance. And the rest
Finally, she did note that “gee, parking is pretty complicated, isn’t it.” She then asked for some people she could talk to who, I assumed, she hoped would be a bit kinder and not explain all the complexities of parking.
Thinking back on the conversation, this may be one of our industry’s problems. “It’s just parking cars, isn’t it?” Nothing complicated, no issues, just get some guy with entry-level skills to put a car in a slot and take some money. What’s the big deal?
Many of the professionals do make it look easy. And over the years, operators have sold it that way. “We’ll take care of it.” And they do.
However, it’s not an easy business, and it’s getting more complex all the time. I cannot imagine a person calling up a chain of filling stations, or a restaurant chain, or even a chain of jewelry stores and asking for a complete explanation of how the business worked in 30 minutes. “After all, all you are doing is flipping burgers.” (569)
Our business is as or more complex than any of those above. Sometimes the owners run the garages themselves, sometimes they contract with an operator, and sometimes they lease the facilities out for a few years.
If your garage is in Phoenix, the maintenance issues are entirely different from if you are in Chicago or Buffalo. If the garage is supporting a venue or shopping center or an airport, your staffing will be different from if you are at a university, hospital or high-rise single-use office building.
Surface lots have issues, too, depending on if they are in, say, Oklahoma City or Manhattan. The fact that an Oak City space may go for $5 for all day and the same space in NYC may bring $50 makes a huge difference in how you staff and control the facilities.
If you are a city, politics can play a large part in staffing, and in what you charge. It also can make a difference as to how many monthlies you sell, and to whom. Oh yes, speaking of politics, that hospital space next to the door must be reserved for the lead physician, right? (770)
I guess I could talk a bit about on-street – it’s an entirely different animal from off-street commercial parking. In a residential area, you my sell permits; in a busy downtown, you may want to charge by the minute to ensure turnover. Of course, at night in a tony area filled with shops and clubs, you might provide on-street valet parking.
Factor all this with the fact that you can’t set the rates; that is done by the city council and mayor, and, of course, the mayor’s brother-in-law parks wherever he wants and never pays his citations. Combine all these and, friend, you have a real tiger by the tail. (890)
Yes, ours is a complex business. We need to tell our story. We need to make it intriguing. We need to let people know that parking is really a bit glamorous. Where else can you be parking a Lexus for a movie star at one moment, and sitting in an office with a developer explaining how they should handle their parking at the new mall the next?
Ours is a fun, exciting and sometimes glamorous business. We are the bridge between the vehicle and the driver’s destination. Let’s not hide our candle under that bushel basket; let’s tell the world. (1,000) Whew!!

Article Abstract from October, 2006




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