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Finally, No Eating Crow and a Message to Manufacturers

John Van Horn

I looked back on the predictions I made last year with trepidation. Most years I make predictions, and then ignore them the following year for good reason -- they were wrong. 2003 was a different story..
I predicted that 2003 would be a year of opportunity, that money would be made and losses reversed. I said that my glass was half full.
My travels have taken me around the country in the past couple of months, and you can feel the excitement out there. One manufacturer told me that his biggest problem was that he couldn't find enough qualified people to work in his factory. Orders were coming in so fast that he was having difficulty keeping up. Air travel is back to post 9/11 levels, and the airlines are suggesting that maybe, just maybe they might eke out a profit. Consumers are spending like sailors on shore leave.
I am told that garage construction projects that had been put on hold are now moving again. Parking consultants and designers are hiring new staff and opening new offices (just take a look at this month's "Industry Notes").
Are there still some weak spots? Sure. Just as I predicted last year, there is a lag. Many companies have "downsized" and found that their new "lean and mean" work force is doing just fine. They will have to feel a bit more growth pressure before hiring reaches previous levels. One operator reported to me that since a large number of companies have downsized in their central city operations, parking has been down, too. But, he added, it does seem to be coming back, and this from one of the most pessimistic guys I know.
So what about 2004? Pundits are supposed to predict, and being the self-appointed parking pundit, here we go:
* 2004 will see a growth spike in the parking business. New and revitalized companies will come on the scene, and existing companies will see their number jump considerably. Commercial operators will find themselves under pressure to increase their productivity through the use of new technology (as some of the more successful ones are doing now), and those that do make the jump from being suppliers of garage staff to technology-based management companies will see their fortunes soar.
* 2004 will focus on two things -- on-street growth of pay-and-display/space (or, if you will, "pay by bay") and the continuing installation of pay-on-foot and credit card in/out in off-street operations.
* The use of cell phones to pay parking fees on- and off-street will begin to feel its way into the marketplace. Overly hyped usage of the Internet to reserve parking will wane. AVI will continue is exploration into automatically charging folks when they park, just as is done on toll roads. The technology is there; it will take only the "market pull" to make it happen.

***
As two Dallas parking enforcement officers were doing their job ticketing and booting a vehicle that had many violations, and which was at that moment parked illegally, its owner came out of a nearby building in a wheelchair. The officers explained his newest problem. When the owner got within about 20 feet of the officers, a miracle happened. He was healed. He jumped from the chair and walked unassisted to the officers to continue the conversation. Finding he was unable to dissuade these stalwarts from their duty, he had a relapse and returned to his chair and wheeled back inside.
A few minutes later, a second miracle (wow, two in one day) occurred, as the vehicle owner reappeared without any chair at all.
The Dallas officers were proud of the fact that they were able to participate in this healing and now report to work knowing they have such a positive effect on the people of the city.
I offer thanks to the newsletter of the California Public Parking Association for passing along these bons mots.

***
Revenue control is our topic this month. In late November, I reached out to everyone on my e-mail list and asked a question: "What is the most important single thing to consider in purchasing a revenue control system?" I wasn't surprised by the results, but you might be.
I received more than 60 responses. Two-thirds of them related to aftermarket service. Not fancy software nor pretty colors nor the ability of the system to speak on the Internet. These users wanted good, solid after-sale service.
The interesting thing to note is that virtually all of the suppliers that responded ignored this little fact and spoke to system features and benefits.
It would seem, if the end users had their way, that manufacturers should close their R&D operations and put all those folks in the field either helping existing customers or training their dealers and ensuring they know how to fix the problems that come up in the course of the life of these systems.
Dean Kashawaki of Arizona State University has a program that measures all aspects of these types of products, including aftermarket installation. One then uses this data when one goes to purchase equipment. If the survey PT took is any example, one should ignore virtually everything except aftermarket service.
Manufacturers, take heed. According to this, future systems may be purchased not on their bells and whistles, but on the response time and support quality of the dealers that are called to fix problems down the road. If there was such a tremendous response by end users that good aftermarket service is needed, then is it possible that aftermarket service is the biggest problem they currently have?
I hope you had a merry Christmas season and will have a warm and wonderful new year.

Article Abstract from January, 2004




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