Change Operators, Find Some Problems
February, 2010Times change, and so do operators. It’s a natural progression. You have an operator, someone else comes by and offers a better deal; or you just go out to bid and someone else wins the bid. But then what happens?
It’s important that the new operator starts with a level playing field. They need to know that all bills are paid, that the inventory they sign for is really there. And, frankly, if there are any “off the books” deals working. It’s only fair.
So, when the new operator comes on board, you need to be certain that all the inventory (go-jacks, uniforms, computers, spare parts, desks, chairs, shuttle vans, and the like) is there and accounted for. If it isn’t, the departing operator may be responsible.
It’s also important to check the condition of the inventory. In most cases, I ask that a digital photo be taken of each piece when it first goes into inventory and then when the changeover occurs. That way you can check it when there is a changeover, and taking into consideration normal wear and tear, you will know how much damage to assess, if any. Digital photos are inexpensive and easy to store, and every cell phone today has a camera on it anyway!
Don’t expect your new operator to be running a perfect operation from the first day. There was a reason you changed. Records can get out of skew. In a recent turnover I supervised, we did an e-mail blast and found that 20% of the e-mail addresses were incorrect. We also found that 10% of the mailing addresses were wrong. Simple keying errors.
I take some responsibility for this, as I was the auditor for the location and should have realized there was a problem. One easy way to tell is to do a mailing to all your customers (Merry Christmas, new policy, free day of parking or some other good PR). The post office will tell you right away if you have wrong addresses.
In the case of e-mail, it’s even easier; do a bulk e-mail “blast.” I also would send out an e-newsletter monthly. Tell them about new repairs to the garage, spotlight an employee, give them some facts about the operation – they will love it, and you will confirm their proper addresses.
After all, don’t you want to notify them with a receipt when you charge their credit cards for their monthly parking? Send them an e-mail to remind them their credit card is about to expire and send a notice about 40 days before the vehicle registration expires so they will remember to update their records in the parking office as well.
So, I have a new policy. At least once a year I supervise a mailing and an e-mail blast. You would be surprised how quickly you can fix data-entry errors that way.
See, new systems do data entry and maintenance at the garage level, not at corporate as it had been done in the last century. There is no additional expense since the garage staff is there anyway, and doing the maintenance a little at a time is not time-consuming or difficult. Garage managers are expected to keep the data up to date and correct. The computers at the location send out e-mails and often mailings from the local garage; we even now have e-postage available at the garage-level PC. Senior supervisors don’t have a clue whether or not the data are correct.
Some ask what recourse you have if you find a bit of a disaster when a new company takes over. The old one is gone – change like this causes problems. When you send them a list of missing items or other issues, how do you collect? Often the answer is “so sue me.”
I recommend that two things happen. First, that you have an agreed inventory audit and ensure it happens annually. Be certain that everything is there, and if not, settle up while you are in a positive relationship. Second, have the operator place some money in escrow to cover inventory losses. This can be done as a minimal “hold back” monthly up to an agreed amount. That way, if it all falls apart, you have recourse. It’s just like a security deposit on an apartment. If you leave it as you found it, you get it back.
Oh yes, and just because you have a new operator, don’t assume that any problems discovered in the changeover are going away instantly. Give them a few months to bring things up to snuff and then do a “day one” audit to ensure that they are starting from an agreed clean sheet. Cleaning up data files and “adjusting” special deals that were done off the books can take a month or two.
In one garage, the new operator found a number of monthly cards “on” that had no name or account attached to them; they turned them “off.” The next day, a group of irate parkers was in the manager’s office. That took a while to sort out.
Are all changeovers like this? Of course not. Operators change for a lot of reasons, and often leave pristine locations. But it does happen, and you should be ready for it.
On another matter: What is the acceptable number of uncollected tickets – you know, the ticket was issued but never collected (or was, and the ticket and money were on vacation)? At garages that I have snooped around in, a 0.4% (0.004) is written into the agreement. That’s four tickets in 1,000 issued. These are garages that are open 24 hours. There frankly should be no lost tickets. OK, a client may lose a ticket, but then a lost ticket form with all the trimmings needs to be in its place (that’s not counted as “lost”). A lost ticket is one that is unaccounted for.
Don’t think it’s possible to run a garage with fewer than four lost tickets in every 1,000 issued? You are wrong. It is possible. I see it every month, and the bigger and busier the garage is often run below 0.2% (0.002) on uncollected tickets; now that’s a good count on the dollar! And my operators know they have to meet that standard or pay full daily rate on every ticket over that number that goes AWOL.