Designa, HUB Parking Technology, Scheidt & Bachmann, Skidata
Three Countries, Four Companies, A Myriad of Lasting Impressions
Skidata is installing its system at DFW airport. Scheidt & Bachmann is found in a number of airports and a huge number of parking facilities. FAAC Group’s Zeag and DataPark lines are pervasive throughout the country. Designa is only now beginning to make headway in the U.S. market, but is annually shipping 1,000 lanes of equipment to sites around the world, and is certainly
With the exception of 3M (formerly FSTech’s Federal APD), the majority of PARCS suppliers have their roots in either Europe or Asia. Amano McGann is certainly a major presence in the U.S. market, and look for me to visit that company, plus WPS, Xerox, Parkeon and relative newcomers to the market such as TIBA soon.
It’s curious that the majority of off-street parking control equipment sold in the U.S. comes from companies that have their origin, and in most cases, their manufacturing, outside the U.S. Do we not have the technology to bring to bear on this industry? Of course we do. Then what is it that makes Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain and Japan a hotbed of PARCS activity?
After spending a week visiting manufacturers in Germany, Austria and Italy, I think I have an answer, or at least a glimmer of an answer.
These four companies and others like them have a very large international presence. All of them sell throughout the world, not just
in theU.S. In fact, in most cases, they sell more in other countries than in the U.S. The Europeans and Japanese in particular began automating their parking operations decades before we did in the U.S. High labor rates meant that there was a lot of motivation to find ways to replace people with machines. They developed products and then marketed them.
The U.S. is slow to change. We are a huge market, and as one CEO told me, selling here is like herding cats. In Europe, people automatically line up at a bus stop. In the US, we stand around in a mob.
Europeans are more pliable – they take to automation quickly, they do what they are told. Americans are the opposite. We fight change tooth and nail. ATMs, pay-on-foot, pay-and-display, automated gas stations, cellphones, interactive TV – all were pervasive in Europe and Asia a decade before they were in the U.S.
It was natural that automated systems to run parking garages would be born in Europe. The companies would grow and prosper, sell their wares internationally, and then slowly, bit by bit, bring their technology to the U.S. If a U.S. company attempted to compete, they found that they were playing catch up. And it was difficult.
I arrived at Scheidt & Bachmann in Mönchengladbach, Germany, at the appointed time. There was a large guard house and a barrier across the entry. I was driving behind a truck and simply followed it in. I found a place to park, and then discovered I had no clue how to contact my guides or where my meeting was to take place.
After some false starts, I went back to the guard house, which was the size of my home in LA, and found I was expected. I waited for Otto Boekenkamp, S&B’s Head of Bid Management and a former head of U.S. operations, and its Marketing and Communications Manager, Sigune Heinze.
The visit started with a tour. Scheidt & Bachmann is big. The huge campus has many buildings and more than 1,000 employees. As Otto and Sigune took me through a small part of the complex, I began to realize that parking systems were only a part of the company’s business. It also makes ticketing machines (for rapid transit), fuel pumps, and a number of different types of turnstiles and gates, including the huge barriers used at level rail crossings.
I saw equipment scheduled for shipment around the world. Systems in various stages of testing. I saw that this company makes everything it sells – from the raw steel out. I laughed and told my hosts that I knew only one other company that manufactured to that extent, except that it didn’t paint the final products due to environmental issues. “We paint our equipment,” I was told.
Scheidt & Bachmann equipment is solid, strong, utilitarian. Otto told me that they were less concerned about the look of the equipment as to its use. “All the parking equipment looks about the same. The important thing is how it is used. Is the data transmitted, and then is in a form the customer needs?”
In Kiel, Germany, Designa CEO Thomas Waibel said the same thing in a different way. “We don’t
provide parking equipment; we provide a system.”
The history of his company shows a growth that brought a systems approach to its product line. “It is important that a supplier
provide not just the parts, but an integrated approach, so that users can automate their facilities and get the information they need to run their parking businesses.”
Thomas is an interesting man. He lives in Austria and commutes to Kiel, about 800 miles. He came to Designa, or to its Austrian holding company, as a business consultant and recommended that Designa be reorganized. He stayed on to do the job, and the rest is history.
As we walked around his plant, Thomas told me that they were shipping about 1,000 lanes of parking a year worldwide. The company has 350 employees here in Kiel, and in locations elsewhere in Europe, in Australia, Asia, Africa and North America.
Although much of Designa equipment is manufactured to specifications written by company engineers, crucial components are assembled in the Kiel plant. “The most important part of the ticket dispenser, for instance, is the mechanism that handles the tickets. We build that here,” Thomas said, “so we can control the quality. We know that it must not fail.”
Designa has more than 200 European parking locations running on a “cloud-based” system. “The key is being able to increase productivity at the individual locations, and be sure that the equipment is reliable. We are systems people.”
“Many customers see parking equipment as a commodity,“ said Robert Weiskopf, head of the Skidata parking division. “And we can make it worse by how we present ourselves at trade shows.”
Robert went on to tell me that last year at the IPI, Skidata had its normal huge booth with equipment everywhere, but it also had a small booth elsewhere that focused on the company’s cloud-based systems. The small booth was jammed with people; the big one basically empty.
“Many customers see manufacturers as all the same,” he said. “Why spend time looking at the same thing over and over.”
Skidata runs its marketing, design, software and sales operations out of headquarters in Grödig, a suburb of Salzburg. The company has its equipment manufactured to its crucial specification at locations throughout Europe.
Sabine Hölzl is Head of Skidata Marketing Communications. “I understand that there is a cultural difference between the U.S. and Europe. We must keep that in mind as we approach each market,” she said. “Sure, we have a U.S.-based operation, but we still have to work hard to understand how to succeed in the different market segments in the U.S.”
Sabine and Communication and PR Manager Miriam Weiherer, spent a number of hours talking with me about the issues that European companies face when selling in the U.S. As their competitors, they understand there are differences and are striving to adjust the company message to fit such a diverse market.
(Skidata got its name from another product line, automated lift tickets for ski resorts. I asked Robert if everyone at Skidata had to know how to ski. “Yes!” He was adamant. He then added with a smile that he hadn’t seen them all ski. Miriam told me she skied an average of 60 days a season. Wow!)
As do his competitors, Robert sees systems such as his automated parking operations reducing the need for staff. “Operators will need to rethink their business model as the need for on-site personnel becomes less and less.”
In the past year, the automated gate operator manufacturer FAAC Group, based in a suburb of Bologna, Italy, has purchased Switzerland’s Zeag, Germany’s Magnetic Autocontrol and Datapark of San Leandro, CA.
Magnetic is a high-end gate manufacturer with a successful track record and distribution channel. But what to do with a top-of-the-line PARCS supplier such as Zeag and with DataPark, a scrappy manufacturer with a factory in Bulgaria and its primary customers in the US?
Enter Enrico Nardi, formerly with FAAC Group’s financial department and now, as of Jan. 1, Business Unit Director of HUB Parking Technology, FAAC’s newly branded parking arm. It’s selling Zeag, DataPark and FAAC’s own ParkPlus lines. FAAC moved the manufacture of Zeag to Italy; Datapark will remain in Bulgaria.
I asked Enrico about the ability of a single company to sell two different products into the same market. He and his team have given this a lot of thought.
“It’s the same as selling a Mercedes and a Volkswagen into the same market. They are both fine products, well-executed, but have different uses and different buyers. Each has a segment that is right for them.
“So it is with DataPark and Zeag. Both lines have been doing quite well in the past year throughout the world. We project considerable growth with each of the products,” Enrico said.
Direct or dealers, I asked.
“Well, that all depends on the location, product, and the experience of the potential dealer/partner,” Enrico said. “We understand that being able to service and support the equipment is a customer’s greatest concern. So we must have excellent personnel on the ground to ensure that the support is the best.”
My Overall Impression?
These four companies have a tremendous depth of experience in the parking industry. While they produce similar products, they are different in philosophy, approach and history, and that is reflected in what they produce. At the risk of being completely wrong, and misleading, I will give one-sentence impressions:
Scheidt & Bachmann is a solid, well-run, large company and its equipment and systems reflects its approach.
Designa has a rich history that brings a feeling of competence to
Skidata is about design, software, and marketing.
FAAC Group/HUB? It has proven products, but it is new – the best term I can find to describe this company today is “nimble.”
Each of these companies will grow and prosper in their own ways. As a customer, you need to determine which best fits your particular needs and which “feels” the best to you.
You can write a spec and have them meet it, and they all probably can, but the relationship you have is also personal. Will they provide what they say they can? Will they provide the service you need?
Only you can decide.
John Van Horn is editor of Parking Today. He can be reached at