Parking: First and Last Touchpoint in a Customerís Experience
Skills that parking professionals develop by working as operators or for technology companies are becoming increasingly fluid and transferrable – for instance, many of today’s park-tech leaders have deep roots as valets, attendants, and operations managers.
With careers that sweep operations, customer service, business strategy, people management, and technology, these folks bring an earned and authentic directness, pragmatism, and empathy to solving problems and creating opportunities through true operator-technology partnerships.
Tumble all that in a rocks glass with a gravelly voice and even-keeled affability and you’ve got Patrick Szwec, VP of Business Development at HONK and 15-year parking vet.
Over cheesesteaks at a neighborhood Philly tavern, Patrick agreed to share his parking origin story. Today you’ll learn how Pat parlayed a degree in hospitality management into running hotel valet and self-parking operations at premium hotels all over the Mid-Atlantic.
Then you’ll see how he spring boarded into a series of roles with fast-growing technology companies, where the skills he earned as an operator serve him to this day.
“I guess working with cars sounds good.”
And with that thought in 2008, Pat launched his tremendous career in parking.
Pat studied hospitality management at East Carolina University but discovered that working in a restaurant or doing rooms management wasn’t quite his niche. However, he quickly identified parking as the first and last touchpoint in a customer’s hotel experience.
Motivated by a mentor’s enthusiasm for working at Towne Park, Pat applied for and landed an entry-level position in valet parking operations at the Hyatt Baltimore.
Pat viewed this as a massive opportunity. His boss was “such a cool guy” and he was thrilled to be working alongside the team at one of the nicest hotels in the city. This gig would end up being a transformative one.
He was in parking now – and in it for good.
“I learned how to run a business.”
In Pat’s words, it “took [him] a while to figure out what [he] was doing and how [he] was doing it.” But under Towne Park’s leadership, he learned the ins and outs of running a business and gained experience managing both people and assets.
Pat was responsible for all the revenue that came in and maintaining a positive and profitable relationship with the hotel. This opened his eyes to the bigger picture and how parking fit into the hospitality puzzle.
After opening valet operations in the Fairfield and Ritz Carlton, Pat made the leap to relocate to D.C. in 2010. He spent two and a half years at the Capital Hilton and learned how to generate revenue and lower expenses working with different parking companies. This led to a stint at the Renaissance and then at the Omni near the D.C. Zoo.
He experimented with loyalty programs, printing manual coupons for parking at nearby restaurants that he and his colleagues frequented, and ran online advertisements for monthly parking that grew the business with e-commerce revenue.
“The next chapter started in a casino.”
Pat first met Adam Zilberbaum – Co-founder & CEO of Parking Panda, a Baltimore-based technology start-up – because he ran in the same circles as some of the Towne Park executives.
Adam’s team had built an online marketplace for driving parking customer demand and Pat, with his eye always on new technology, was intrigued. When Parking Panda struck a deal with the Smithsonian, Pat signed up to capture the influx of demand for his assets, effectively growing his tech stack to bring in more online revenue.
One night in 2013, Pat was out on the town after a hockey tournament and incidentally ran into Adam at the blackjack tables. They each looked vaguely familiar to the other but it took a minute before they recalled their parking connection. The two hit it off and ended up hanging out for the rest of the evening, talking shop and connecting as new friends.
The biggest bet Pat placed that night was agreeing to meet with the team Parking Panda. They made plans for Pat to visit Adam in Baltimore and explore a new opportunity.
“There were hot dog buns on the table.”
Dressed to the nines in his favorite suit and tie, Pat arrived at the Parking Panda headquarters on a Saturday morning. He remembers surveying the room of start-up employees in their hoodies and sneakers and seeing a pack of hot dog buns on the “snack table.”
Pat was offered the position, but took a moment to reflect. Towne Park had given him the tremendous opportunity to learn parking operations, financial processing, and relationship-building, as well as to hone his skills as a people manager.
But he’d been watching the technology that Towne Park had started to adopt and was excited about where the industry was going. He felt like it was the right time to vault over to the other side and team up with operators to accelerate that transformation.
“The industry was really buying into our tech.”
Parking Panda started growing really fast. The industry was buying into their tech and the company kept hiring to fuel growth. The company had developed a robust handheld point-of-sale system called P3OS and stadium clients like the Tampa Bay Rays and Lightning, Baltimore Orioles and Ravens, and Chicago Fire were quickly adopting it.
(One of the new hires, a marketing intern named Jess, was assigned to the desk across from Pat’s. They became friends and then married in 2017. Today Pat and Jess have two little boys together: Graham and Teddy.)
One of Pat’s favorite parts about working for a start-up was that he could swivel in his chair and relay what he heard from clients to the development team in real time. The company was nimble and took speedy action on feedback.
Pat was able to shape the product roadmap through his conversations with partners and speak to the solutions at a highly technical level. He was heavily involved with the production of the Ticketless Valet extension of P3OS, which was built for Facebook for use at their corporate campus in Menlo Park.
When Parking Panda was acquired by SpotHero in 2018, Pat joined the Sales team and headed up strategy for SpotHero’s Canadian division. Through on-site visits and conferences, Pat met more and more parking people, which would ultimately lead him to his next opportunity.
“It felt like a little family again.”
At the Canadian Parking Association Conference in 2013, Pat first met Michael Back, the founder and CEO of HONK – and the meeting made an impression on them both.
Pat saw that HONK was doing something similar to Parking Panda and started developing a relationship with Michael, Kasey Siskind, and his other future HONK colleagues when they met again at a conference in Texas a few years later.
By 2019, they had gotten to know each other really well, and Pat was impressed by the innovations that the HONK team was making with on-demand payments. Michael approached him about joining the team to develop and execute growth strategy and Pat accepted.
In his words, “it feels like a little family again.”
“I’m here to do good, for good.”
As for his future in parking? Pat is in it to win it.
When asked about what’s next, Pat’s voice picks up and his enthusiasm is palpable. He clearly sees a future ecosystem where all parking technologies are integrated with each other and with operators to create an autonomous, seamless way for customers to transact, access, and experience facilities.
There’s been a lot of change since Pat entered the industry in 2008, with even bigger things ahead. Equipped with operations and technology expertise in equal measure, Pat’s well-positioned to be an influential leader as our industry continues to evolve.
Inspired by Pat’s story and want to share yours? Reach out to Sarah Becherer at firstname.lastname@example.org – she’d love to hear from you.