Shopping Center Gains Space & Loyalty with Guidance System
By John Van Horn
Westfield Century City Shopping Center in Los Angeles had a problem. It had limited parking spaces, no room to grow, and a lively culture of doing what’s best for its customers.
“Parking is critical to our business,” says Sander de Wildt, General Manager of the center. “If we don’t have convenient parking, we don’t have customers. This is LA. The car is king.”
Drawing on experience that Westfield had in Australia at its Chatswood Shopping Center, the company decided to spend seven figures and install a parking guidance system that would take a customer from the street all the way through to the individual space.
“Our competitors have a type of system (that) tells you how many spaces are available on each floor,” de Wildt says. “The problem is that if there are five or 10 spaces on a floor, the driver decides to go to another floor. Those spaces never get filled. It does make sense. Who wants to drive around hunting for a single space among hundreds?”
Westfield installed a system that monitors each parking space using a detector placed above it. When the space is empty, an LED above the space is green, indicating that it is empty. If it is a handicapped space, the light is blue. When the space is occupied, the light turns red.
“The shoppers love it. When they drive in, it’s like Christmas all year-round. They can see the green lights among the red, and know exactly where the free spaces are and can drive directly to them,” de Wildt says.
The parking guidance system also provides displays at key decision points that tell drivers just how many spaces are available in a specific area, and which way to turn to find them. The signs display information about parking and can present advertising if desired. “It leaves nothing to chance,” de Wildt adds.
The individual sensors and signage are connected to a central control system, which gives parking management extremely accurate counts of open spaces and where those spaces are.
“We have had rave reviews from our customers,” de Wildt says. “They love it. One told me that when they enter other garages, they look for the red and green lights. They are disappointed when they realize that they aren’t at our center.”
De Wildt notes studies have shown that during busy times (weekends and holiday periods), the parking guidance system reduces the amount of time it takes to find a space from nine to two minutes.
Asked if that more time in the mall meant more money spent, he shrugged.
“That may be true; however, the real benefit is that people come here because it’s easy to park, and they return because of the system,” de Wildt says. “They have choices. There are four high-end centers within 15 minutes of us. The key is that the (parking guidance) system attracts and keeps shoppers.”
Park Assist, the company that installed the system, tells Parking Today that its surveys indicate a 2% to 5% increase in overall shopping center revenues after the equipment is installed. They also note that if an owner wants to increase turnover in specific “choice” spots, the system can notify one of their personnel on a handheld that a certain space has overstayed and a citation can be issued.
In a car-based economy such as LA’s, the public relations coup in installing the parking guidance system was great, de Wildt notes. “We had TV, radio, newspapers – they were all over this story. It’s not often you have a positive story about parking in Los Angeles. Heck, we are on YouTube. Google ‘Century City Shopping Center Parking,’ you’ll see.”
Statistics show that 10% to 15% of the parking spaces in garages are not used, even when the garage appears full. In a parking structure such as Century City with 2,500 spaces, that means that at any given time, the garage could “appear” full, but it would have 200 to 400 spaces available. “You just couldn’t find them, at least not easily,” de Wildt says. “It’s like we had built a 400-space garage.”
The low-voltage hard-wired parking guidance system took five months to install. “It’s important that it is low voltage,” he says.
“In addition, cars that park quicker put less CO2 in the atmosphere. That seven or eight minutes where the car is not driving around means much less carbon monoxide we have to deal with in the garage.”
The parking guidance system provides extensive reports as to occupancy, even down to the spaces or areas that are most- and least-used. De Wildt says, “We can use this information in planning our staffing, and can know immediately when we have an occupancy problem. We can spot cars left for extended periods and react accordingly.”
A small number of facilities have these types of “down to the individual space” parking guidance systems, including Toronto, Philadelphia and Baltimore-Washington International airports. De Wildt believes Westfield Century City is the first shopping center in North America with the system.
For more information, go to www.parkassist.com.
Article Abstract from March, 2009