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We’ve Not Been Truly Challenged…

Bricks and Mortar retailers are under attack. On line shopping has challenged the Mom and Pop grocery on the corner all the way up to the big boys, Sears, J C Penney, and Macy’s. They have been caught with their proverbial pants down and are seeing the results in falling sales and dwindling foot traffic.

My take is that the Parking Industry is moving rapidly into the same mode. We are being truly challenged for the first time and are running scared.

Some of the challenge is existential. Will we cease to exist? Some is an experience we have never felt before. We are being challenged by commercial forces and we are not rising to the occasion.

In the past, we showed up at our garages in the morning, opened the gates, and then jumped back so the cars wouldn’t hit us as they rushed to fill empty spaces. Our challenge was to find ways to take customers from garages nearby and place them in our parking decks. We did this with ‘early bird’ rates or with signs that screamed lower prices (often misleading with huge digits with $5 overpowering the six point type that said “per 15 minutes” at the bottom.)

Workers in the building above our garage or residents in the building adjacent to our facility paid whatever it cost to park there, complaining, but nevertheless paying. It was a cost of owning a car.

People drove to dinner and used our valets because there was no real alternative. They put up with long wait times and grouchy valets.  Folks drove to the airport, or to the ball game, or to the concert or beach. That was because that’s how you got there.

Did we make it easy for them? Did we make our garages safe, well lit, comfortable? Did we make it easy for people to pay? Or frankly to find us? Did we provide other services they might enjoy? There was no need to do so. We just had to jump out of the way. The money kept flowing in.

The technology we developed makes it more difficult to use the garage. Parkers have to fight their way through complex pay on foot machines. They have to enter license plate numbers they couldn’t remember. They have to download apps into phones and then attempt to use them. They are asked to enter their phone numbers (which one did I use?). They are asked to sign up in advance. They are asked to pay on exit with a credit card that didn’t work in the machine they couldn’t reach from their car. Our goal was to get our employees out of the garage. Did we really think about the parker?

In the meantime, companies like Uber and Lyft were decimating the taxi industry and making it easy to leave our cars at home. Studies were showing that people were taking these alternatives because of the stress caused by having to park a car. People are willing to pay more rather than to deal with parking.

Are we as an industry really trying to make the parking experience better for our customers? We give it lip service. But do we really? I looked at the seminars given at the “big three” parking industry events this year and only around 10% actually talk about the customer experience. OK I guess you could twist yourself into a pretzel and tell me that talking about a “data lake” or employee retention or PCI compliance deals with the customer experience. But really. Does it?

The sweetest sound a person hears (or sees) is their own name. When Westfield Century City developed its reserved space program, it included a way to put my name up on the wall in front of my reserved space. It cost a few bucks to do that, but I loved it. That’s a great customer experience.

We need to spend more time on the “Parking Experience.” They installed LPR in our building here at PT central and never said a word about it. One day I drove in and the gate popped open. It was fantastic. The garage is still dirty, crowded, and the like, but the fact that I don’t have to present a card is wonderful. Why not promote that from the rooftops. My parking experience got better – tell the world.

Over the next few months I’m going to continue this “Parking Experience” theme. I would like to hear from you. There must be ways to remove the stress caused by having to park a car. Let’s do it.

There is no need to wait for Armageddon. We can fix our problems today.

JVH

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