Party Party Party Ė Late-Night Parking
June, 2007This dog finally took a few days off and went out to find some fun. I was in the late-night party district of a famous southeastern city. And let me tell you, these folks know how to have a good time.
But I simply couldnít get away from the business Ė not the movie business, although most of the folks in the stretch Hummers were most likely stars of something or other, but the parking business.
First, the valets. I was literally blown away. Iím not a late-night pooch. I get to bed around 10 p.m. The locals told me that nothing even started until 11, so I stayed up late.
I got to this particular club around 8. The bartender and I had some great conversations.
There were two entrances and a couple of valets on duty. Seemed reasonable. About 11:30, the place was jumping. It was packed. I went outside to check out the parking situation, and there were at least 30 valets at each door. Good heavens. The parking business changes after-hours.
I also noticed the local surface lots.
During the day, they were unstaffed. Just open lots and not too full. They were ďcontract parking onlyĒ during the day. However, in the evenings, things picked up. Attendants came on duty and the place began to rock and roll. There were staff in the streets with flashlights waving in the cars. Prices changed hourly. The later it got and the more traffic, the higher the fee. The signs were the kind where you could slip in the numbers and, trust me, they changed faster than my master changes sides during the Super Bowl.
I wondered how they got around the rules that say price changes must be approved by the local parking commission. Then I noticed that the permanently posted numbers were extremely high, probably higher than is ever charged. No one would complain about prices that were lower than the posted price. Everyone is happy. Iím not sure about the legality of this approach, but Iím sure they didnít get any complaints.
I also noticed that many of the lots were owned and operated by private operators. They were jammed in the evenings. Others were owned by the local municipality and run by private operators. They had a lot less traffic. There was a guy sitting in a booth collecting money, and that was it.
Then I understood the difference. The city lots had a management agreement with the operator with little or no incentive. The private lots probably had some kind of revenue sharing with the operator.
The operator was incentivized to maximize income. He had people in the streets and was adjusting pricing minute by minute and stack-parking in the aisles. The city lots? They got the overflow.
The city lots closed at 11 p.m. They simply closed the booth and went home. The private lots stayed open. Since they had parked cars in the lanes blocking other cars, they needed to be there to let people out. They computed that keeping an attendant there for three or four extra hours was well worth it. They parked 100 more cars in those aisles. Thatís $1,000. The extra hours of staffing probably cost them $100. Not a bad deal.
Rule No. 1: Make your operator your partner. Everyone wins.
There was a surface lot that seemed perfectly situated but was never more than half filled. At first, I couldnít figure it out. Right in the heart of the club district, other lots around it full, but it didnít seem to do the business. Then I stepped back and took a longer view.
The lot was surrounded by one-way streets and had only one entrance. If you missed the entrance, you had to go around four blocks to get back to the lot. In doing so, you passed at least three other parking facilities.
If the owner added another curb cut on a second side of the lot, the driver would have a second chance at it. The cost would be minimal compared with the increase in revenue.
You think there might be a problem with the traffic commission? I doubt it; this lot was owned by the city and run by the traffic department.
When I asked the owner, they said they never noticed.
Rule No. 2: Get out there and look at your properties. And go at different times, including late at night. You will be looking at it from a different point of view than your manager and may see solutions (or even problems) he canít because heís too close.