Tag Archives: TPP-2012-08-

Not So New

TPP-2012-08-Not So NewBy Isaiah Mouw, CAPP, LEED GA

The first purpose-built garage was constructed in Chicago in 1898. Again in Chicago, the earliest recorded multilevel parking garage was built in 1918. Less than a year later, as World War I came to a close, downtown Louisville, Ky., welcomed its first parking facility: the Morrissey Garage.

Originally called Bosler’s Fireproof Garage, the Morrissey Garage incorporated several sustainable and citizen-friendly initiatives that many parking garages fail to incorporate nearly a century later. For example, it had ground floor retail that over the decades has housed businesses such as a fruit market, bookstore, surgical supply store, Goodrich Tires store, and a garage equipment store. By providing space for these retail establishments, the garage helped reduce urban sprawl and negated the need to develop on previously undeveloped land.

The garage was designed to relate to the accompanying street and surrounding architecture, and its façade provided architectural continuity with the other buildings along Third Street. Unfortunately, many garages today in downtown Louisville—and elsewhere—display little architectural synonymy with their surrounding environment.

It also provided amenities such as vehicle detailing, polishing, and minor vehicle services that allowed drivers to accomplish such tasks without leaving the facility.

Having not parked a vehicle in decades, the Morrissey Garage now faces extinction and is currently boarded up to keep it from being an unattended homeless shelter. In 1983, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it is now listed on the list of Preservation Louisville’s 10 most endangered places. When the time comes for its indubitable demise, Joni Mitchell may well sing about paving paradise by taking down a parking lot.

Louisville is home to another historic parking landmark as well: the Garage Experts Association of Louisville received a patent for the design for the Kehler Garage in the early 1920s. This garage was one of the first to incorporate continuous sloping design (both the ramps and the floor plates were sloped), minimizing the length and severity of the needed slope. Parking garages such as this followed in Detroit and Cleveland, and sloping floors are part of many garage designs used today.

Parking garages in modern cities are sometimes considered eyesores that remind urban dwellers of our nation’s excessive dependency on the automobile. The City of Louisville, though, has made tremendous strides with its three most recent central business district garages.The Clay Commons Garage, Glassworks Garage, and First & Main Garage have all been erected in the past decade and have two things in common: technology and sustainability.

Operated by the Parking Authority of River City (PARC), all three garages use an automated cashiering system that allows users to pay on foot while walking back to their vehicles at the end of their time parked. This method helps eliminate vehicles idling to pay in the exit lane, thus limiting carbon emissions. The decision to go automated was not easy.

In the municipal world, where citizen approval means everything, would automation add to or take away from the customer service experience? Prior to implementation, PARC personnel visited numerous municipalities that had embraced parking automation to see if it would work in Louisville. They then implemented parking automation into one of their garages and studied the citizens’ ability to adapt to the technology. What they found is that parking automation may not work for every municipality, but it was a perfect fit for Louisville. After rolling out an effective marketing plan and signage package, they began transitioning cashiered garages to automated garages one at a time, using what they learned from each experience to improve the next. By implementing a state-of-the-art customer service command center, complete with audio intercom and visual cameras, and training ambassadors, maintenance, and security personnel on the new technology, they were able to keep their customer service standards high while decreasing vehicle entrance/exit times and improving ease and speed of payment.

Going Green

Environmentally-friendly features were incorporated as well. All three garages house bicycle racks that are available to the public, allowing safe, secure, and covered storage for cyclists and giving daily parkers the ability to bike the last mile to work. PARC is currently in the process of implementing more than 100 bicycle racks in all of its facilities, including 70 bicycle racks in one central garage that will be designated as a bicycle hub.

In 2005, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson held the city’s first bike summit and set a goal to become a gold-level bicycle friendly community by 2015, as defined by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB). The city reached the bronze level in 2007 and is currently working on the silver level. “Bicycling is important to Louisville city government administration, which is driven by the community; therefore it is important to PARC,” says David Gross, administrator of facility operations for PARC.

All three garages use smart lighting technology that’s equipped with a wireless control system to manage light performance through dimming, light sensing, and motion detection. This technology allows PARC to conserve energy and save money when the sun is bright and an abundance of lighting is not needed. Other advances include automated emails to PARC staff when a light is out or ballast is defective, and the ability to adjust light output through the lighting company’s user website.

PARC is also in the design stages of implementing a stormwater management system, complete with valves and cisterns to capture, store, and re-use rainwater for landscaping, irrigation, and other municipal needs. Depending on a demand study, PARC is considering implementing several electric vehicle charging stations that would allow drivers to charge their electric vehicles while parked in the facility. Several electric vehicle charging stations are currently being used daily in a University of Louisville campus parking garage just outside the central business district.

Even with all these technological advances and sustainable initiatives, the city’s newer parking facilities are aesthetically pleasing. For example, the First & Main Garage was designed to match the architectural character of downtown Louisville’s Main Street. The then-mayor formed a committee to choose a garage design that best matched the character of the historic area. In the end, a company that specialized in historical preservation was chosen to design and construct this award-winning garage and indeed achieved the committee’s goal.

Transportation specialist Erik Weber estimates that at least one-third of Louisville’s downtown surface area is dedicated to parking. In a recent New York Times article, author Eran Ben-Joseph, Ph.D. estimated that in several other cities such as Orlando and Los Angeles, parking lots cover at least one-third of the surface area, making parking lots “one of the most salient landscape features of the built world” (see more from Dr. Ben-Joseph in the May issue of The Parking Professional).

The problem with this is that excessive and vast parking facilities contribute to the heat island effect, increase stormwater runoff, and encourage the use of single-occupancy vehicles. A recent study by Georgia Tech showed Louisville’s heat island to have grown more rapidly in the past half century than any other of the 49 cities studied, including Atlanta and Phoenix. The study did not cite the cause for Louisville’s rapid heat island rise, but abundant parking is sure to be one of them.

The bottom line is that Americans have a love affair with their cars. Just look at the fact that we almost spend more on the health and well-being of each vehicle ($2,536 per year) than on each family member ($2,747 per year). And the amount of money we spend each year on buying and financing each vehicle is three times the amount we spend educating each family member.

As people continue to drive downtown, whether in a Hummer or an electric vehicle, they will continue to need places to park. With any luck, parking operators such as PARC will continue to use technology and make sustainable decisions for the next 100 years of parking.

Isaiah Mouw, CAPP, LEED GA, works for Republic Parking System. He can be reached at imouw@republicparking.com.

TPP-2012-08-Not So New

Before I Do

TPP-2012-08-Before I DoBy Brian Mitchell

The average parking facility operator or owner may be involved in one or two major purchases a year, while the average parking sales rep is involved in hundreds. At any given time, a sales rep could be involved in initial discussions with a potential customer, preparing a proposal, giving a presentation, or signing a contract for a new installation. During 12 years of parking sales experience, I have experienced the same sales cycle with all types of equipment and customers. I have witnessed the evolution of the industry from basic fee computers and gates to remotely monitored, fully-automated facilities. I have worked with many people to see their parking projects reach fruition.

Some of these projects have proceeded smoothly with barely a ripple of discontent, while others have been very challenging. The products and customers have changed over time, but certain principles are as relevant today as they were 12 years ago. The difference between success and failure comes down to a few core elements that continue to repeat themselves throughout the sales process.

The nature of parking sales—and sales in general—is that the job attracts people who are very driven toward success. There is no consolation prize for second. Request for proposal (RFP) awards are a zero sum game, which means that for every contract awarded, there are several losers. This is the nature of the game and every salesperson can spin a tale of saving an amazing deal from the jaws of defeat.

As a result of such intense competition, sales reps have developed a set of strategies that help us win our fair share of the business. We all pay our mortgages or feed our families on the deals we close, so we’re very adaptable. The variety of selling styles is as diverse as the number of personalities in sales. Some people are constantly pressing for the close; other people use a much softer approach. A reasonably experienced salesperson will develop a style that works well with most people they encounter.

The pressure of competition causes many salespeople to use specific tactics to gain an advantage. Anyone considering purchasing a parking system should be aware of some of the more common tactics that salespeople use to manipulate sales. Here’s your inside look and my tips to make the buying experience as positive as possible.

The Gimmick
The gimmick is a trick that salespeople use to convince a customer that a particular feature is absolutely essential to the success of the parking facility. Usually, the gimmick is a standard feature of the sales rep’s product, but either the competition does not have it, or it is a costly add-on. Sales reps usually try to weave these gimmicks into RFPs and bids to give them an advantage. The shelf life of a gimmick is usually about two years; after that, the competition adapts or the novelty wears off.

Most manufacturers produce competitive products that are equal to each other in important features and functions. Any feature that is truly useful will quickly be copied by others. Ask yourself how often you will use a feature and what it is really worth to you. You may find that the feature isn’t worth the cost to obtain it.

The 1 Percent Rule
Most manufacturers will guarantee that their product will work 99 percent of the time—this is the 1 percent rule. Sometimes this rule is revised downward to 95 percent reliability. The highest level of perfection that can be achieved by human engineering is 99.5 percent, or six-sigma. Unfortunately, nothing in the parking industry is manufactured to six-sigma standards, so the 1 percent rule is a reasonable measure of quality.

A 1 percent failure rate seems excellent by any standard; in school, a 99 percent score would be an A+. The problem for our purposes is that it skews the perception of time. If a parking manager had to deal with an equipment problem three times per year (or 1 percent of the time), it would not be a huge problem. Unfortunately, most parking manufacturers base their failure rate on the total number of transactions instead of time deployed. A ticket dispenser that works 99 percent of the time could still fail several times a week, depending on the number of people who have taken tickets. A busy garage could see as many as 10,000 transactions a day. Under the 1 percent rule, that means dealing with approximately 100 problems related to equipment failure or glitches every day.

Most customers underestimate the equipment failure rate for their garages and are surprised to see technicians and repair bills show up every other day. The customer should have a firm understanding of what 1 percent means: will they deal with three angry customers per day or per year?

Value Engineering
Value engineering is one of the most seductive traps in the parking industry, and occurs when a customer only has a budget to buy equipment up to a certain capability, but needs more power to achieve the desired results. The customer tries to achieve the desired result through a series of shortcuts or bending a product’s features to produce a benefit the product was never meant to deliver. The sales rep becomes sucked into this vortex, and nobody ends up happy.

I have never seen a value engineered project work to the satisfaction of the customer. Value engineering inevitably produces an abomination that will never function correctly and will sour the relationship between the customer and the sales rep. The sales rep will deliver a product that cannot possibly meet the customer’s expectation for performance, but meets the price point. Even if the customer acknowledges that the product was not designed to deliver the desired results, this is still a no-win situation. Several years down the road, no one will remember how much the equipment cost, but they will remember if it works to their expectation or not.

My advice to customers is to either pony up the money to get the features you need or delay the purchase until those funds become available. No matter how seductive or easy it appears, do not fall for the value engineering trap.

The Specification
The typical RFP is an ad hoc collection of 20-year old specifications that have been cut and pasted into a semi-coherent document. In many cases, the specification will actually contradict itself. The problem that most customers have in creating a specification is that they get too technical in an effort to impress bidders with their knowledge of parking equipment. Most specifications I read are so convoluted that I cannot actually provide a proposal based on the information given.

Most specifications are too specific in areas that are unimportant and vague in areas that are most important. A bidder wants to bid the minimum price given a level of risk or uncertainty. The more uncertain the specification, the more risk the bidder assumes. Risk translates into higher prices; the industry term for this is “fear money.”

A specification should be exact when it comes to quantities. If the quantity of ticket dispensers is not stated exactly, a sales rep will always assume the minimum. A specification should also state which features are absolutely necessary and not include any additional features. Many customers try to cover themselves by asking for every feature ever produced. Frequently, this ends up creating contradictions in the RFP and adds unnecessary costs. If you don’t need a fluorescent pink ticket dispenser that speaks 18 languages, don’t ask for it.

Civil work often leads to confusion. If the customer wants the civil work to be the responsibility of the equipment integrator, they must be able to answer very specific questions regarding conduit locations, sources of power, and internet availability. My recommendation to most customers is to leave the civil work out of the bid. There is too much uncertainty to bid this work on short notice, and if the equipment integrator is going to use a subcontractor, the customer ends up paying more.

Apples to Apples
Everyone wants a deal. Who wants to pay too much for too little? Most specifications and RFPs that I respond to have detailed technical sections that require the bidder to answer a series of questions that are specific to the needs of the garage. Most customers, though, do not read the technical specification and skip right to the price. Honestly, I could write the technical response in Swahili and no one would notice as long as the price was clearly defined.

Customers have an almost irresistible desire to compare vendors “apples to apples,” which means comparing price to price. If all parking vendors sold the same product and had the exact same level of local service, this would work well. Unfortunately, manufacturers and product integrators are very diverse in the level and quality of products they offer. A customer has to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a vendor’s reputation against their price.

A fundamental question that is seldom asked is whether the vendor has technicians who are local to the area. Whatever product the customer buys, it will almost certainly break down at some point. Can the customer get local support in a reasonable amount of time, or does the call get forwarded to India where a technician will be dispatched next time they are in the country?

No one will remember what price they paid for a parking system three years after the purchase, but everyone will remember if the product and service meets their expectations.

Buying a parking system is a daunting task, and in a lot of ways, it’s like getting married. Every system has its own individual idiosyncrasies and peculiarities that the buyer will be required to live with for the next 10 or more years. The cost of a wedding is about as an accurate a predictor of how long a marriage will survive as the initial cost of the parking equipment predicting how well it will work.

You are swimming with sharks who sell parking equipment every day. My advice to the many minnows making their first major parking purchase is to do your homework. Don’t allow anyone else to do it for you.

Brian Mitchell is senior account executive at Whitaker Parking Systems. He can be reached at bmitchell@whitakerbrothers.com or 301.873.7279.

TPP-2012-08-Before I Do

Internal Affairs

TPP-2012-08-Internal AffairsBy Jeff Reichman

We often hear stories of the inventor working alone in a basement lab for hours, searching for a breakthrough. When that breakthrough comes, everything else just falls into place.

That might work for basements, but it’s not the case for parking organizations. Simply put, one person’s idea isn’t enough—large organizations don’t make decisions based on a single point of view or a single set of eyes, and one idea doesn’t mean much when it’s alone in the wild. If you want to implement an idea and change your organization, you need more than a fit of inspiration. You need consensus.

Before I started my own company, I worked inside large companies, consulting firms, and startups. Big or small, all of them had one thing in common: the best ideas were actually the sum of many smaller, good ideas. And the process of developing these ideas was the exact same process that built consensus.

There are lots of ways to find, develop, and sell ideas through your organization. Your approach will be influenced by your corporate culture, your interpersonal skills, and your agenda.

Step 1: Talk to People And Get Perspective

After a fit of inspiration, you need to prove a hunch. Talking to people is the best way to develop your idea and build consensus. Even though you understand the problem, you need to get perspective and understand how your colleagues view the same problem.

I recently researched theft prevention in private parking operations. My clients provided a system that improved the audit trail for cash transactions. They believed that greater transparency would change employee behavior and people would stop stealing.

When I talked to people working inside the operation, though, I learned that our hunch wasn’t exactly right. One lot manager told me that while some employees might still try to steal, the technology made sure he could catch them quickly. And when he confronted the thieves, he had irrefutable evidence. The problem was solved because he cracked down on theft, but it wasn’t technology alone that did the trick. The solution required a combination of technology and operational expertise.

By speaking with the people using the software and learning how it worked in the real world, we were able to tell a compelling story while communicating the value of the system to other decision makers.

Step 2: Identify the Right Problem
It’s easy to find persistent, annoying problems. But it’s something else entirely to diagnose the root cause of those problems and find good solutions. To build a convincing case for your decision makers, you need to start by identifying the right problem.

I once worked on a software development project that seemed confusing from the start. A hospital that used our client’s software wanted to format its daily parking passes to fit on custom-printed holographic paper. It also needed to work on their special printer and communicate with a proprietary system for managing daily passes.

From the beginning, the clients told us that they absolutely must print parking passes with the hologram to make sure there was no fraud. Midway through the project, as the scope started to creep and we faced system integration limitations, we started asking the right questions: Why holograms? Was that the only way to prevent fraud?

The answer was complicated, of course. The clients had purchased $500 worth of supplies and a special printer, so they were marginally invested in this process. Moreover, they weren’t sure about the risk. If there was no fraud in lots that used the holograms, would switching to a different system create new problems?

We proposed another way of formatting and printing daily passes—one that had about the same incidence of fraud as a holographic permit (we had a study to back it up, thankfully). And when no one stepped up to defend the expensive hologram approach, we built a faster, less expensive, and more practical system. During our end-of-project debriefing, we all agreed that the real problem wasn’t holograms or even fraud; it was a systems integration problem that we solved with better planning and focused execution.

Step 3: Know Your Audience
It’s important to communicate your problem in a meaningful way. I’ve seen good solutions go virtually unnoticed because they weren’t properly communicated to the correct people. Ask yourself: Who are the decision makers and why should they care?

If your project involves spending or saving money, chances are you’ll have a financial decision maker. These professionals care about the bottom line. Even if your project is going to improve the lives of everyone on earth, this person is focused on how much it will cost and/or save. Putting together straightforward financial models, such as a return on investment (ROI) calculation or a net present value (NPV) analysis, will go a long way.

If your project involves users (including staff and customers), you will probably have an operational decision maker to work with. At the very least, this person wants to make sure you don’t create more problems than you solve. He or she is often motivated by case studies and examples of success in similar environments.

If your project involves technology, you will probably work with a technical decision maker. This person wants to make sure your chosen technology works with everything else. If it doesn’t, you inadvertently create IT work that can rear its ugly head during reporting and auditing.

Step 4: Build a Business Case

Now that you know your audience a little better, you need to package your idea properly. Decision makers are often risk averse. In other words, they need to be convinced that change is not only good, but absolutely necessary to maintain current levels of performance. How you package your idea will likely determine whether it makes the cut.

Start by putting yourself in the shoes of a decision maker and ask: Is this a problem that really needs to be solved? What is the urgency? Why should this initiative be funded?

Before you build the presentation that changes the world, ask your colleagues if there is a preferred model the organization uses. For larger budgets, there may be a committee that reviews business cases and prioritizes the most important initiatives for discussion. In that case, following the standard model is very important.

Don’t be shy. This is the time to get creative. When I was asked to review and prioritize business cases for an IT governance committee, I was surprised at how many people did the bare minimum. They described their projects without enthusiasm, and wrote business justifications that didn’t justify much. It was clear that they were filling out a form.

At the very least, try to show the financial, operational, and technical effects of your project. If you’re given the opportunity to describe your problem, tell a story that appeals to all of your decision makers. The research you perform in step three will make your job a lot easier.

Step 5: Keep Talkin’ and Keep Tryin’
Even with a bulletproof business case, there is no guarantee that your project will get off the ground. If you have incorporated good ideas from people across your organization, they should feel a sense of ownership over the outcome. Remind them and inspire them.

Let them know how you did. If you got feedback from decision makers, share it. Most of the time, people appreciate it when you go out on a limb for them, and your fresh insight can help “unstick” a problem over time. Another day, another battle.

My favorite byproduct of this exercise is getting to know the people in your organization. By talking to them about their ideas and weaving together a story for your organization, you really get to understand what your colleagues care about, and what motivates them. In a forward-thinking organization, there is always room for someone who takes smart risks and champions great ideas.

Jeff Reichman is a principal at January Advisors. He can be reached at jeff@januaryadvisors.com.

TPP-2012-08-Internal Affairs

General Direction

TPP-2012-08-General Direction

What could an Army general and former high-ranking government official have to say about parking? Turns out, plenty.

General Colin L. Powell (Ret.) served as the U.S. National Security Adviser from 1987 to 1989, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993, and Secretary of State under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005. He is author of the book, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership, about business, values, and—believe it or not—parking. He recently sat down for a conversation about all of that with The Parking Professional.

The Parking Professional: You tell a story in your newest book about visiting the State Department garage and chatting with the parking attendants there (see sidebar p. 24). Were you surprised by that conversation?

Gen. Colin Powell: I see them all the time. I know they do a good job. And they have a tough job, getting all the cars in there. That kind of work doesn’t surprise me—it takes place all over the building, with people who straighten up our offices and clean the floor and check the air conditioning system. They’re the infrastructure of the building. I thought I’d ask a few questions and bond with them, and I asked how they were and whether carbon monoxide was a problem. They didn’t expect the Secretary of State to ask them questions like that. Then, I asked them how they fit all the cars in in the morning. That’s where the fun started.

I’ve used this story over and over since then. I tell the story of them saying, “If you look at us and smile at us and lower the window…” and then at that point if I’m talking to an audience, all I have to do is raise my index finger in the air and say, “You’re number-one.” The audience gets it. They all laugh. I usually add, “Is this brain surgery? Is there something about this you don’t understand, or do you really need to read 12 leadership books to get it? You look out the window and see another human being who has the same kinds of dreams and anxieties and fears and hopes you have. By smiling and saying ‘good morning’ and ‘how are you,’ you bond with that individual and say you’ll help that person. I assure you that parking attendant will smile back, which says ‘I’m going to help you, too.’”

TPP: You write that mission, goals, strategy, and vision are useful in business, but that you prefer the term “purpose.” What’s the difference?

CP: I’ve been drawn to that word increasingly over the years. In a parking garage, the mission is to get the cars parked. The goal is to get 300 cars in in 17 minutes, let’s say. The purpose is to make sure everybody feels they’re being taken care of. You’ve gotten them into a space, and now they can be on time for work.
You have to look at the mundane aspects of a job—how do I park a car, how do I get them all in here, how fast do I do that—as the missions and goals, and those are great. But the real purpose is to have 500 people get to their offices on time. If you’ve done that, they’ll be happy. So you always want to go above the mudane.

The first time I thought about that, I was watching a T.V. documentary about the Empire State Building. It concluded with a photo that was shot in the basement of five guys standing there in their work uniforms, about to do something with thousands of bags of garbage that had accumulated that day. The camera pans up and someone asks, “What’s your job?” As if it’s not obvious that the job is to throw all of this stuff out of the building. But the guy doesn’t say it’s to get these bags out of here. He says, “My job is to make sure that when people come from all
over the world to see this building, it shines.” That’s his purpose.

What do you think is more important for the management team to be pushing? The fact that this guy knows his purpose is to make the building shine, or that his job is to get the bags out by morning? In terms of parking, I can’t get my job done—me, the Secretary of State—unless you guys in the garage get your jobs done. Your purpose serves my purpose.

TPP: You tell a story in the book about a passenger who wrote to a railroad to complain about bedbugs. He received a nice apology letter in return from the president of the railroad and all was well until he read a handwritten note clearly mailed by mistake that said “Send this jerk the bedbug letter.” What lesson is there in that story for people in the parking industry who likely hear the same complaints over and over from irate customers? Why are bedbug letters a bad idea?

CP: I hate those letters. They’re a sign of disrespect to the person who made the complaint. Any organization that doesn’t take complaints seriously and try to do something that lets the person know, “We heard you and this is what we’ve done about it so it’s not going to be the same,” isn’t going to do well.

I doubt people in parking get as many compliments as they do complaints. Getting all those complaints gives you the opportunity to improve your performance, and responding to the complaints makes a difference.

The other day, I complained about an airline to somebody who knew the president of the airline. I got an email from that president; I’m not sure everybody would have, but I did. He said he was sorry I didn’t have a good experience and that he was going to try harder, and to let him know if anything like that happened again. I appreciated it. It wasn’t a bedbug letter.

Every organization that says, “Let us know how we’re doing,” had better mean it and had better respond. Getting an answer that’s not a bedbug letter is important. I’ve used this philosophy my entire career, and I’ve sent letters back and said, “This doesn’t answer the question. It’s a bedbug letter.”

TPP: A common phrase we hear a lot is that almost everyone falls into the parking industry. You make a point in the book that 99 percent of work is noble and that nearly every job is a learning experience with potential for development and growth. We talk a lot about parking being a vital part of keeping cities and people moving, but how can managers convey that to frontline staff members who came to their jobs accidentally? How can they instill a sense of pride into rookie workers who may feel their tasks are mundane?

CP: This goes back to purpose. In parking, I would line up everybody in the garage and say, “This building doesn’t get started until we get our job done. We’re important—we’re as important as anyone in this building. We need to get our job done efficiently, without damaging cars. We need to master getting cars into tight spaces, smile at everyone, say good morning, and let people know that we’re here to help and we want to get you in as fast as we can.”

I’ve always had good experiences with parking attendants. I park lots of places in D.C.—hotels and such—and I can usually go into almost any garage or pull in front of any hotel, give a smile, and get a smile back. I usually try to say something like, “I’ll be back in 30 minutes,” which means “please keep the car pretty close,” and they always do. I’ve had good experiences with parking professionals who seem to want to do their best, and I don’t think it’s because I’m General Powell. It’s because they were taught to do their best and display courtesy and professionalism.

TPP: The parking industry has undergone a technological revolution recently, embracing equipment and tools that were only pipe dreams just a few years ago. You talk about the importance of “permanently changing brainware” as a bigger priority. What does that mean and how can managers achieve it?

CP: You don’t just give people who have been doing things a certain way—a manual way—for decades a computer and hook up software and connect everything and that’s the end of it. You’ve got to change the way they’ve been operating. You need to train them to get the most out of it, send them to school if that’s necessary. If you don’t change the brainware, you’re not going to get the most out of this technology. They’ll only adapt to it if you train them how to use it.

We’re all getting used to these computerized parking meters. I’m afraid of them! I don’t know how to use them yet. I have to work on my understanding, but I still haven’t. Technology is driving all of us to new levels of expertise.

TPP: The International Parking Institute has partnered with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to offer First Observer anti-terrorism training to more than 12,000 parking professionals in the U.S. What role do you think parking professionals can and should play in fighting terrorism?

CP: They are the eyes and ears and smart people who can watch things. It’s unlikely you’re going to stop major terrorist activity. But you should be observing everything that’s going on around you as cars go in and out and people get in and out of those cars. You should be looking for crime and predators and all kinds of things. The parking attendants of America can be a first line of defense against pedophilia, abuse, crime, assaults, and terrorism. The training program with TSA is certainly good, but it’s more effective when you think in terms of TSA and everything else out there. Parking attendants are out there all day long. They know the neighborhood—not just the garage, but the neighborhood. They know everybody who lives there, and they can be a first line of defense. I’m glad the TSA is working with the International Parking Institute, and I hope parking professionals work with their local law enforcement agencies as well.

TPP: You write that “the more senior you become…the harder and more necessary it is to know what is going on six floors down.” How can managers and executives in the parking industry best stay in touch with what’s going on beneath them? Why is that so critical?

CP: Managers aren’t living in their garages. They have bigger responsibilities at headquarters. I’ve experienced headquarters as a commander of several agencies, and I found that I had to make time to go out in the field and talk to people and see what was going on. I’m sure folks at a senior level in parking understand this. You can’t run these kinds of organizations by sitting in an office putting together PowerPoint presentations. You have to go into the garage. Don’t tell them you’re coming. Drop down and pretend to be a customer. Walk around. Is your latrine clean? Is there oil on the floor that needs to be cleaned up? Is the office tidy? What kind of reception do you get from the first person who sees you?

IPI offers the Certified Administrator of Public Parking (CAPP) program, which is a rigorous two-year line of study for parking professionals. Apart from offering a solid educational foundation about the industry, why should managers invest in such programs for their employees? What messages might that investment send to workers who are offered the opportunity?

CP: It’s a terrific idea. People can always learn. For the most part, parking attendants learn on the job. You are showing them respect and putting confidence in them by sending them through the program. Taking them to school pushes them up to a higher level of proficiency, teaching them how things run at a higher level, letting people improve themselves. When you certify someone with a card or something they can wear that says, “I’m a certified parking professional,” that means something to folks. I’ve noticed in the last several decades that more associations have certification programs that give people three or four letters behind their names that identify them as being certified. There are lots of reasons to do that do that not only for management people, but for people who are parking cars too. Give them the pin to wear on their uniforms. It makes a big difference.

TPP: The book talks about constructive competitions between workers and after-project reviews that go beyond finding a winner or criticizing. Why are they so important?

CP: People want to be recognized. At the same time, it’s important for leaders to critique things that aren’t going well. If the criticism is honest, fair, and you’re straight up with that person, more often than not, you don’t have hurt feelings and they appreciate that you care about them and you care about the job they’re doing. Constructive criticism doesn’t mean chewing somebody out. It’s “Let me show you how to improve your performance and be more valuable to us.” Any organization not running after-action reviews or constructive competitions isn’t operating at top performance.

I’ve found that in every organization I commanded or managed, people wanted to be part of a good team. They don’t want to be mediocre. Competition gives people a chance to improve and gives them a chance to win something. There can be so many competitions that on any given day, anybody could win. Americans have that winning spirit—look at football, baseball, basketball. We like to win, so why not incorporate that into management?

TPP: You talk about “taking charge” being an instrumental lesson for new Army recruits. Why is that so important in a business such as parking?

CP: If somebody’s not in charge, then nobody’s in charge and we have an inefficient, fatally flawed organization. What we teach our soldiers early on is that when you’re at the gate, you’re in charge of the gate. You are responsible for everything else going on around there. It seems to me that’s a good value and virtue to build into parking employees. You’re in charge, so take charge. You’re watching and looking for anything that needs to be picked up, for anything that seems amiss. You’re watching for the security of cars, for flat tires, you’re looking to see what you might have to tell an owner when he or she comes back—your left taillight isn’t working or something. Taking charge means being responsible for everything in your space.

TPP: You write a lot about the importance of kindness, respect, and community involvement. Why are those important qualities for parking professionals? How can executives foster those qualities in their companies?

Those qualities are important for not only parking professionals, but any human being involved in a collective activity. After I met with the parking attendants at the State Department, I shared that story with my staff. I said, “You need to understand that there are people seven floors below us who are doing an important job for us. Treat them with respect.”

Managers need to hold their employees accountable. Tell them they’re doing an important job, and that the rest of us can’t do what we do without them, and they’ll take care of you. If you treat them as tools and not as human beings, they won’t do as much for you. They’ll go through the motions but they won’t be doing their jobs with pride and enthusiasm.

TPP-2012-08-General Direction

Strategic Planning Sustainability at its Best

TPP-2012-08-Strategic Planning Sustainability at its BestBy Rick Decker, CAPP

How do we incorporate sustainability into our parking operations and the strategic planning of our larger organizations? Frequently, budgeting and planning methods are already in place and can be difficult to influence. It appears a daunting task. Let me add some rays of hope.

There are three general concepts to keep in mind. First, you need to understand the outcomes your organization seeks. If a customer service mentality, staying out of the print media, or bottom-line profitability drives their motor, you need to know this. Second, you need to understand your operation and how it might contribute to these goals so you can align your actions and recommendations accordingly. Third, you have to communicate how your operations contribute to those key organizational motivators to earn your place at the decision-making table. Your operation can pursue secondary goals, but they cannot conflict with the primary goals or desired outcomes.

Organizations from hospitals to universities to downtowns are waking up to the key role parking services and facilities play in their services, costs, and revenues. This is especially true as they look at declining revenues and increasing customer demands (expenses). Our managers, legislative bodies, and budget watchers want to increase parking revenues during slow economic times to help their constituents. They just need to know they can look to us for professional assistance to meet their goals.

We have to provide the professional knowledge, ideas, and applications on the very broad range of topics that affect operations. These include ways to improve customer service, increase revenues, and reduce costs. They also include facility lighting, maintenance, audits, and staff training, along with the many technologies that can make our operations efficient, simple for our customers to use, and more accurate for us to operate. We must be prepared with customer service-based programs, ideas, and facility design improvements.

One way to prepare is to become and remain aware of programs at parking operations similar to ours. When I present a new idea or recommend a change in our operation, I am frequently asked, “What are others doing and how does it work for them?” You can prepare for this by developing and maintaining professional networks of individuals you can call and ask. It takes some work to keep these going as we are all busy, but the effort is well worth it when you either know the answer or can pick up the phone and get it from someone you know and trust.

Helping you advance your professional education and network is one of the key roles of the International Parking Institute (IPI). Through seminars, conferences, webinars, the Parking Matters® Blog, and online information, you can find the resources you need. The information is wonderful but the people you meet through IPI are the key.

Each of us is responsible for our professional development, including how we contribute to our organizations’ strategic planning efforts. We have many tools, information sources, and networking contacts to help us along the way. The IPI Framework on Sustainability for Parking Design, Management, and Operations is one such tool. A quick review of this document shows the scope of the issues and the action steps IPI is taking to inform the parking industry. It also provides ideas for you to expand the scope of the sustainability considerations for your operation. This means that sustainability in now another topic we can professionally bring to the planning table.

As an additional resource, IPI has a very active Sustainability Committee that seeks to inform members on the broad scope of issues, informational resources, and individuals to connect you with valuable information.

Rick Decker, CAPP, is assistant manager, parking operations at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport and co-chair of IPI’s Sustainability Committee. He can be reached at rick.decker@mspmac.org or 612.467.0460.

TPP-2012-08-Strategic Planning Sustainability at its Best

Writing Specifications—Words Matter

TPP-2012-08-Writing Specifications—Words MatterBy Chuck Reedstrom, CAPP

When writing specifications, the wording you use can make all the difference in ensuring the client receives the exact product or service expected. Too often, the person writing the specifications includes wording that is not specific, not measurable, and just too wordy. Many specifications include wording designed to lengthen the specifications and provide absolutely no substance.

There are three very simple tests that should be used when writing specifications:

  • Avoid ambiguous wording. Include definable, measurable requirements that can be tested for conformance. The tests should be included within the specifications so everyone knows exactly what to expect and how the vendor will be expected to meet the requirements.
  • Provide timeframes for submittals and review with written acceptance by the owner or company representative prior to moving forward.
  • Provide penalties for not meeting defined timeframes or submittals.

Avoid Ambiguous Wording
One of the problems most often encountered in specifications is the use of ambiguous wording when describing certain requirements. Specification writers tend to use wording that does not offer any substance to the requirements. It is necessary to use language that will define exactly what the requirement is, how the requirement will be measured, and what the consequence is for the vendor not providing this function or failing to meet the required tests.

Provide Specific Timeframes
Specifications will be much stronger with the inclusion of specific timeframes for submittals from the vendor, the time required for review of each submittal by the owner, and that written acceptance by the owner must be received prior to the vendor moving forward with the next phase of the project. Requirements could be something as simple as:

Contractor shall submit installation schedule within 30 business days (or whatever timeframe make sense) from receipt of written notice to proceed. The schedule will be reviewed by owner and their representative, with written comments returned to the vendor within 10 business days. Vendor then has 10 business days to incorporate owner comments and return modified installation schedule to owner for final review and comment.

Provide Specific Penalties for Failing to Meet Requirements

There are numerous instances where the person who wrote the specifications did not include any penalty for not meeting the specific timeframe or requirement as required for the successful implementation of the project. This is a problem in that the vendor is not held accountable for providing the exact functionality required as an integral part of the project, and there is no method for the owner to require the vendor to comply with providing this requirement.

An example that incorporates elements of each of these three tests is as follows:

“Contractor shall provide record drawings upon conclusion of the installation.”

At first glance, this statement seems to be acceptable; however, there are numerous problems with this wording.
There is no timeframe included within the requirement, so the vendor does not know how long they have to create and submit the record drawings. A typical requirement might be that the record drawings must be received within 60 days of the date of final installation and testing.

The format of the drawings is not specified. Does the owner wish to accept paper drawings, hand drawings/sketches, or drawings produced on Mylar? Are electronic drawings acceptable? If so, in what format? Finally, the application to produce the record drawings is not defined.

There is no penalty defined if the vendor does not meet this requirement. Hopefully, the owner has retained a portion of the invoice payments (retainage) that can be held until the vendor has successfully completed all requirements within the specification.

When writing specifications, wording does really matter and can make the difference to ensure a successful project. Using the correct language will make the installation process run much more smoothly while encouraging a good client/vendor relationship.

Chuck Reedstrom, CAPP, is a senior practice builder with Kimley-Horn and Associates and co-chair of IPI’s Consultants Committee. He can be reached at chuck.reedstrom@kimley-horn.com or 281.920.6311.

TPP-2012-08-Writing Specifications—Words Matter