How do non-parking researchers study the parking industry…

I was interviewed today by a consulting firm doing research on the parking industry. I can guess from the questions the type of customer they have, but I’ll keep that to myself.

I can understand where they are coming from. They want to take an industry and then quantify it. In other words, turn our complex, variable, and personal business into numbers. What is the percentage of this? How many do that? Etc.,

I did my best but frankly, I’m not sure how one does that with a lot of reliability. And this is where many in this position have gone wrong. So often “outsiders” have underestimated our industry, and have failed. International Banking groups have gone belly up when investing in parking. Venture capitalists have supported what seemed like reasonable technology only to see it disappear like so much morning mist. So how do you get a handle on our industry so you can make reasonable business decisions.

One of the questions I was asked is how do major parking companies succeed in some markets and not others. The answer seemed simple to me – They hire the right people. I know that operator “A” is well respected and does excellent work in one market, but is considered on the second tier in another. The difference – the people. Hard to quantify. You either understand parking or you don’t.

I told them that parking is a relationship business. It is extremely important that the operator have a good relationship with the customer. Running garages is hard. There are so many personalities and problems. The operator must be able to solve them, but also must be able to keep the owner protected, informed, and in control. I’m not sure how you teach that talent. You either have it or you don’t.

Will a lease across the street from a major venue be a success? Will the Lakers have a good team this year – actually the question might be will the Kings and Clippers have good teams this year? If you got the contract for LA county beaches, you lose your ass if it’s foggy on the 4th of July. I know operators that hire shamans and weather gurus to predict what is going to happen a year in advance.

I’m not sure one can fill in percentages with variables like that.

I know a dozen experts who can sit in front of a garage for an hour and tell you within 5% what the garage should be grossing in a year. And when they are told they are high, they simply recommend that the manager be fired.

There is a fellow I know who is partner in a surface lot across from Staples Center in LA. He stands in the middle of the street during events and flags people into the lot. He uses variable pricing. If the lot is filling fast, he keeps the price up. If things are slow – he drops the price instantly. He knows exactly when to lower that price. And there is a person like him in every market, across from every venue near every surface lot in the country.

Are ancillary services an important source of revenue for operators? (Car washes, advertising, oil changes, electric charging stations, etc). Beats the hell out of me. Most operators I know are suspect when such salesmen come calling. In some markets and some venues it works.

Take a shopping center with a theater. Advertising on tickets, promoting a new flick or giving discounts at certain stores might be just right. However would that work in a medical office building?

I told the interviewers that like politics, all parking is local. You have to understand the market, and mold you services to fit. Companies try one size fits all at their peril.

I think researchers would do better to just talk to industry denizens. Sit down with CEO’s, regional managers, consultants, suppliers, facility owners, city parking managers, airport parking managers and just listen to them talk about parking. After a couple of weeks learning, THEN determine the questions you should be asking.

Just my two cents

JVH

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One Response to How do non-parking researchers study the parking industry…

  1. rta says:

    If there is one constant in the parking business it’s that there is no constant.

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