Magazine

One operator speaks out

Brain Surgery? NO! It Does Take Balance

Jonathan Mackenzie

Our questions to commercial parking operators (see page 20) generated mostly one- or two-line answers. However, Jonathan Mackenzie, President of Champlain Parking Management in Burlington, VT, decided
to expand a bit on the theme. Here's his
response. Editor

Parking Today asked:
1. What are the biggest concerns OPERATORS have when dealing with their clients?
2. What do you think the biggest concern CLIENTS have when selecting an operator?
Here are my short answers:
1) My biggest concern is that clients don't know enough about daily operations to know what they are shopping for when selecting an operator. This is compounded by the fact that most clients don't realize they don't know enough to make an informed choice. Most are clouded by the notion that it is "only parking" so how hard can it be.
2) Since clients are unaware of what they should really be concerned about (which is everything, including audit trails, public image, reduced exposure, preventive maintenance, etc.), they fixate on one item. This item may not be common to all clients, but the narrowness of scope appears to be. Some (most) may want revenue; others may want customer service or good PR. But few focus on the operation as a whole. They want what they want; the rest is just "details."
This is an important set of questions and goes to the heart of a problem we have in this industry. We have people (Commercial Operators) busting their tails to perform to a high standard when they know that most clients couldn't tell a perfect operation from a pathetic one as long as their phone isn't ringing and the garage appears to be making money.
Most clients would gladly pay a lawyer or an accountant to educate them about something relevant to their business, because these professionals are seen as experts. But parking professionals are seen as little more than fast-food franchise managers. Clients and their representatives oversimplify parking and undervalue the service that a good operator provides. As a result, they fail to consider that an operator may be able to educate them about parking.
Parking is obviously not brain surgery, and there is no sense pretending it is. But it can still involve some delicate balancing acts (absolute financial accountability vs. speedy customer service; maximizing income vs. maximizing public image; preventive maintenance vs. maximizing short-term revenue, to name a few). Parking is a simple concept but can be complicated by the very fact that it is so mundane.
When an endeavor is planned without considering the effect of parking -- and those in the field know this happens more often than not -- a stress is placed on an important system that is hard to quantify but hard to overstate. Parking operators and their employees often spend their days performing minor miracles, which go unrecognized by the powers-that-be precisely because they don't know what they are witnessing. And the impact of these miracles is not directly translated into dollars. The value of parking is mistakenly associated with the amount of revenue collected and not the real value created by a well-run operation.
The real value is found in the number of happy shoppers who were unfettered in their pursuit of the perfect holiday gift, or the dozens of bright minds who made it to the conference on time, or the many confused and stressed-out hospital visitors who were saved that one last straw on their emotional camels by the helpful attendant who showed them the quickest way into the building. And this value is not derived from being able to read a register tape or even the ability to smile politely. It is the result of effort and planning and an understanding of how people actually park -- what they need; what they will (and won't) do when they are behind the wheel; what signs they will read (none of them); and how many of them you can fit into the three dozen spaces that aren't already spoken for. (Hint: It's more than 36.)
The questions asked here strike at the heart of the issue and could easily become a launching point for a much-needed discussion in the industry. Who are parking operators? What do we do and why do people need us? We in the industry need to find ways to answer these questions without waiting for someone to ask them. In the 10 or so years that I have heard this notion bandied about, I am not sure we have made much progress in defining what we do.

Jonathan Mackenzie is President of Champlain Parking Management,
Burlington, VT. He can be reached at usr2071@champlainparking.com.

Article Abstract from September, 2004




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