Blame the Operators, for Once!
November, 2006I know it may seem strange to people who read my bons mots every month, but I really like operators. They perform a necessary function, and in most cases, do it well. My job is to be a gadfly and keep them focused.
I have been arguing for years that parking operators get the raw end of the deal. They need more money to pay for their operations, to pay their staff, to run proper garages, but the asset managers won’t allow them the luxury of doing that. All those money-grubbing developers and owners want are lower fees and lower expenses. It’s their entire fault. If the operators could get the money they need, parking operations would be pristine, and all would be right with the world.
In my travels as an auditor, I have an opportunity to talk to owners. They usually hire me. (Frankly, I can’t see operators hiring someone to find out if they made any mistakes in their math.) Sometimes we talk about what the workers in garages are paid. After all, this is the biggest single expense of running a garage.
When operating specifications are written, the amount that attendants and managers are paid is often set in the agreement. I have been involved in a number of those situations. In three cases, that cover three different operators, check out the following scenario:
The owner set a salary cap almost 30 percent higher than the operator was paying. Now remember, this money wasn’t coming out of the operator’s pocket; the owner was footing the bill.
The operator was having difficulty filling some positions. They refused to pay the amount the owner budgeted. How can that be?
In another case, we set a salary level for a garage manager 25 percent higher than was being paid. My point: “Hell, the garages in this situation were generating more than 30 million a year. I think that someone in charge of that kind of revenue should command a high salary. We can’t get good people unless we are willing to pay for them.”
In both cases the operators were nonplussed. I think they had some concerns that if they paid more in one location, they would eventually be forced to pay more in all locations. There were union issues, and it also would be difficult for them to transfer staff from one location to another. (Let’s face it: If a manager was making $75K in one place, he wouldn’t take a job making $60K in another.) I grant that these are issues.
However, the owner also is correct. Quality people will not work for low wages. We are in a time of virtually no unemployment. The folks not working are typically those who always have difficulty finding jobs. Work, like any commodity, is a function of supply and demand. When the supply goes down and the demand up, the cost also must go up. It’s Economics 101.
To get good people, you must pay them. Parking salaries, particularly at the garage manager level and below, are notoriously low, based on the responsibility that the position has. A manager at McDonald’s can make double what a garage manager in a location grossing the same amount garners. Why would I want to manage a garage when I can make a lot more managing a McDonald’s?
And one more thing. We are becoming an information business. The need to collect and manage data is paramount. People who have the skills to run the complex systems that a modern garage needs to survive sell their skills at a higher amount that those who worked their way up from attendant to manager. Nothing wrong with that, but it may be time to select talented staff and send them to IT training at the local community college.
And when the time is right, promote that newly skilled person. But pay them for their new and important skills.
The solution to this problem is not an easy one – but it’s out there somewhere.