Valet Parking Group Sets Standards for Industry
“We are real companies with real employees, and we need to tell our story.” That’s Chip Patterson of Ameri Park in Atlanta describing one reason he and eight other valet parking companies from across the country founded the National Valet Parking Association two years ago.
“We didn’t want to publicize it too much in the beginning,” Patterson said. “We needed to be sure we knew where we were going with it.”
“The problem with valet parking companies is that there are two types.”
“One type are legitimate companies that have employees, pay FICA and SDI, have insurance, HR departments, customer service, training programs and claims management. The other type is a guy who puts some nails in a board and says he’s a valet parking company. It’s very difficult for legitimate companies to compete.”
“Our goal is to provide a way that valet companies can create an awareness with our clients that can level the playing field,” Patterson said. “We need to show our customers that there is a difference.”
Also, according to Patterson, “we need to separate the valet profession from the rest of the parking industry. We aren’t ‘big-box’ parking companies that do valet on the side. We specialize and therefore can provide, we think, the best possible service to our clients.”
He said valet companies have a different focus from most parking operators. “We are about 100% service to the person parking the car. Everything else is secondary. Unlike park-and-locks, when we take a car, we accept responsibility for that car. We must take good care of it.”
Founding member Ben Akbary of Quality Parking Service in Los Angeles said that a major goal of the organization needs to be a dramatic increase in its membership. New members bring new ideas, he said. “We can reach our goals of a more professional industry only by reaching out and including as many companies as possible.”
Amano’s Scott Hill, an association vendor member, noted that major changes are taking place in the valet business. Airports, hospitals and on-street valets are becoming more and more prevalent. Plus, mixed-use facilities, such as high-rises and shopping centers, are incorporating valet into the overall parking operations.
“We are a hands-on business, even though the companies may be fairly large,” said Mike Pendergraft, head of American Valet Company in Phoenix and President of the association. “This is truly a relationship business. However, the relationship one builds with the customer isn’t the only thing,” he said. “You have to perform. Most heads of the companies I know spend most of their time in the field, working with their employees and ensuring that customers’ needs are met.”
“Remember, we are the front door of the companies we serve,” Pendergraft said. “In many cases, our staff members are the doormen as well as the valets. We must do the job right; there is no second chance.”
“However, fly-by-night operators can come in, make a nice sales pitch, and take the account away. Oh, we will probably get it back after they fail, but in the meantime, the customer has been hurt and we have lost an account.
“Our goal at the NVPA,” Pendergraft said, “is to begin to market valet parking in such a way that our customers begin to expect something more than just a warm body at the front door.
“Standards are the key,” Patterson added. “If we can set standards – and by the way, we are constantly working to make them more exhaustive and complete – adhere to them, and convince our customers that they are important, we have accomplished our mission.
“My goal is that when a client goes out to bid for valet services, he has a list of our standards in his hand and ensures that all bidders meet the requirements of that list. That way,” Patterson said, “the playing field is level, and then we can compete.”
In addition to Patterson, Akbary and Pendergraft, other founding members of the association are Domingo Composto, Valet Parking Service, Chicago; Michael Harth, Sunset Parking Service, Solana Beach, CA; Jean Pierre Petit, Valet Parking Experts, Miami; Aaron Shocket, Parking Solutions, Columbus, OH; Jerry South, Towne Park, Annapolis, MD; and Andrew Tuchler, Ultimate Parking, Boston.