Weathering the Covid Storm


Weathering the Covid Storm

When the Covid-19 pandemic emerged two years ago, no one knew exactly how it would affect us. As time passed, losses were suffered, and people adjusted as best as they could.

The parking industry was no exception. Most people probably didn’t think twice about the empty parking lots they drove by and what impact that was having on parking companies across America.

Thanks to communication and constantly evolving strategic planning, Allpro Parking, which is based in Buffalo, New York, weathered the storm, and continues to roll with the punches as they navigate the new normal.

The Beginning

In early March of 2020, Rick Serra, President and CEO of Allpro Parking, and Patrick Phillips, Vice President, were on a road trip to Ohio for work.

“It was right at the onset as Rick and I were driving out to Ohio and COVID-19 news was breaking in the U.S. At first, we really didn’t know what to believe. The science and what was being reported seemed to be inconclusive and inconsistent,” Phillips said. “But on the way home back to Buffalo, the conversation changed. News began to surface about the potential for stay-at-home state mandates. It only took about two or three days for our perceptions to completely change.”

The immediate priority was, of course, safety.

“That Monday that everything shut down, it hit home for us even a little bit sooner, because one of the first cases in Erie County (New York) was here in our office building,” Phillips said.

“When we first heard how serious COVID could be, we immediately tried to figure out what our plan was because there was an indication that everything would be shut down,” Serra said. 

Like most people, Serra and Phillips thought things would be shut down for a brief period. It became quickly evident that wasn’t the case. 

“I looked at it as, ‘This is going to be two weeks, and then we’ll be back to work and it’ll be fine and it’ll pass,’” Serra said. “We really were not geared to be a remote operation. We’re in parking. It’s face to face. It’s hands-on.”

Tough Decisions

With so much uncertainty, the Allpro team tried to keep things running by having daily remote leadership meetings.

“We shut down every facility we had,” Serra said. “The only operations we had continuing from day one of the pandemic were the hospital valets.”

“The hospitals viewed our services as key to access and safety,” Phillips added.

Operations couldn’t continue as normal, but maintaining connection was of the utmost importance to Allpro’s leadership.

“We put on our strategic thinking caps,” Phillips said. “Very early on, we began to learn and embrace remote conferencing tools such as Zoom. At first there were challenges to communicating through remote conferencing platforms. As an example, some of our team members had unstable internet connections. We also had to be conscious of teleconferencing etiquette. I suppose that these challenges were familiar to most remote workforces. In the end, we became very proficient, and the important thing is that we stayed connected every day.”

As with nearly every other industry, the Allpro leadership team was doing everything they could to protect their business and employees while keeping up with the changing information.

“We furloughed every employee as soon as we knew this was shutting down and it could be for a while, that way, everybody stayed employed and they could collect unemployment so their benefits and seniority would stay intact,” Serra said. 

“We saw that it was snowballing and getting worse and worse, so we had to think on our feet. We had to make decisions on a daily basis based on the information that was provided and what was in front of us.”

There was naturally very little revenue coming in as people were staying at home.

“We were writing letters to our congressmen telling them that the parking industry was not going to survive,” Serra said. 

Even with the meticulous attention to detail and strategy, tough decisions had to be made. Key management was kept in place, because that was more important for the overall business than starting from scratch when a rebound took place. 

Other positions had to be let go for a period of time until things with Covid stabilized somewhat and employees could be brought back.

“Eventually, we ended up laying people off because we saw that this was going to go on for quite some time,” Serra said. “This was the hardest decision I had to make in my career in parking and the saddest day in my life. I spent nearly 20 years building up this company to nearly 500 employees and now had to let the majority of them go. How do you overcome that feeling of distraught?”

Conversations were also had with clients to find a mutually beneficial solution.

“We were very fortunate,” Serra said. “We have some great clients and landlords that worked with us and said, ‘Let’s adjust and let’s make it work so we can both survive.’ We figured out plans and we worked with each one individually to come to a solution that was good for them and good for us.”

Adapting to the ‘New Normal’

With staffing limited, new solutions were developed to adapt to the changing parking industry.

“Labor is probably your second biggest expense in this industry, so we realized with that minimized, we adapted as much automation at locations that we could,” Serra said. “We were already on that path, so this just moved it along a little faster.”

A touchless payment system for parking was implemented, and Allpro invested in a mobile license plate recognition camera that was added to one of the enforcement vehicles.

“We understood right away the evolution of the public’s payment habits, such as the growing embrace for touchless options. Meter payments began to decrease, and we experienced an increase in smart pay applications,” Phillips said. 

“Allpro supported the changing behaviors by implementing more cellular smart pay, hands-free options.”

The rollercoaster of the pandemic, weather, and the work from home dynamic have upheaved the parking industry, and Allpro has had to maintain a spirit of flexibility.

“Now we have to figure out what is the new normal,” Serra said. “We’re getting there little by little. You can see more and more people now feel a little bit more comfortable about going out.”

Serra said even though some things have changed, Allpro’s technological updates, as well as ongoing valet services remain a safe, efficient and convenient way for people to get parked. 

Whether they’re going out to dinner, taking in a theater show, or attending a sporting event, Allpro is ready to help them get where they’re going as our communities continue bouncing back with bustling activity.

“We’re up for the challenge,” he said.

Kristi Runyan, Communications Manager at Insight Communications. She can be reached at

Article contributed by:
Kristi Runyan
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