PT Editor Meets the Press
Author’s note: I had the pleasure of interviewing John Van Horn, Founder and Editor of Parking Today, for the 20th anniversary of the magazine. Read our conversation below to learn more about how PT got started, how it has adapted with the industry, and what JVH predicts for the future of parking. SR
Suzannah Rubinstein (SR): John, you’ve been doing this for 20 years, and you went from a print publication to also having a trade show, as well as having multiple websites. I’m curious to know more about that, and about the biggest changes you’ve seen in the parking industry.
John Van Horn (JVH): To start out, you can’t say there haven’t been changes unless you talk about technology. When we first started, people were running garages in cigar boxes, and today they’re running garages without gates. The way money’s being collected, the use of pay-by-cell, the use of credit cards – all of these things have made huge changes in how garages are operating and how they will be operated in the future.
SR: When you started Parking Today 20 years ago, what gave you the inspiration to start what is now one of the biggest industry publications?
JVH: Initially, I was working for a company – we were selling gates and ticket “spitters,” and I was looking for a way to market that. There wasn’t any real marketing tool or media in the parking industry, so I felt it was time to start one. I identified 15,000 names of people in the parking industry. We started the first magazine and mailed it out, and the rest is history. Our goal has been two-fold: to offer a vehicle for manufacturers to present their wares, but also a way to communicate between people who have problems and people who know the solutions.
SR: It sounds as if Parking Today was a great tool to help people communicate within the industry and to provide a good advertising platform. Did you feel as if this was a real gap that existed before you came in?
JVH: Yes. When we began Parking Today, there were two organizations within the industry that provided information: One was basically operators, and the other was public sector. And those two didn’t really get along well, didn’t communicate well together. I felt there was a need to reach out to everyone in the industry, both private and public – airports, hotels, operators, owners, cities and universities – and get them talking together. And to understand that there are differences in their parking applications but also great similarities.
SR: It’s really important in staying relevant as a trade publication to adapt with the current trends of the industry that you’re in. And you’ve managed to do that for a really long time. How do you stay up-to-date and make sure you know what’s current?
JVH: Well, I travel a lot. I put 75,000 to 100,000 miles a year on my frequent flyer program. I go all over the country, to Europe, to Australia, to Asia. I go to meetings, I visit factories. I visit installations where equipment and technology have been installed. I talk to people about different ways that things are done in the industry. And, in the end, I try to develop relationships with people I trust who can tell me the truth about what’s going on; about what works and what doesn’t; about what’s been tried and hasn’t been tried.
SR: As far as what those changes are, you mentioned a big shift that you were seeing in the industry in terms of hardware and the technology that people are relying on. What have been some of the other impactful changes you’ve seen throughout the past 20 years?
JVH: One of the biggest changes, of course, is the way that money is being collected. When I first came in, there was a cashier sitting in the lane, taking the money, giving change. And now the cashier is a dying breed. Everywhere is fully automated today. The majority of money is being collected through credit cards. This has changed the way parking operators have worked, changed the way auditors have worked. It changes the way we look at how the entire business of our industry is being run.
SR: In the past, a lot of this technology focus has been around hardware, but now it’s moving more and more toward software, especially within the realm of speaking about “smart cities,” autonomous cars, and the future of transportation in that way. How do you see parking fitting into that picture?
JVH: What we’re seeing is that the technology, software, programs, and apps are already there. So I can, before I leave home, find where I’m going to park, pay for my parking, know how long I’m going to stay, and know how to get there. I can do that from my laptop. I can do that from my cellphone. And within a very few years, I’ll be able to do that from the dashboard of my car. So, everything will be pretty much fully automated. The whole concept of what we do now – of placing mechanical devices in lanes, of photographing cars, of having machines to accept the money – will slowly go away.
SR: What can operators and hardware companies do today to make sure that they don’t get left behind and can stay a part of the parking picture?
JVH: The key to all of this is not going to be to remove the humanity. Just because we can automate it doesn’t mean that we should. And although we can automate part of it, we still need people to keep the human side of the parking industry going. That’s the most important thing right now. We need to have a concierge-type person in the garage to help guide, secure, do all the kinds of things that are necessary in a garage. They can move around, they can assist people when they’re lost, they can help people carry things to their cars – it’s all to make the parking experience a better one.
SR: We’ve spoken a lot about trends within the parking industry that you’ve been able to share and communicate. How have you been able to continue to reach people with all the changes in communication that have come with the Internet?
JVH: I have surrounded myself with people who know how to use tools that have been provided to us by Silicon Valley, so that we can reach out to people, whether it’s on their smartphone, on their desktop; whether it’s through email; whether we send them a magazine. We approach it from all the different ways you can communicate.
I think that if you take just one of them and say, well, we’re going to have the magazine be online only, you’re going to lose a lot of potential readers, particularly people of a more advanced and wisdom-filled generation.
But on the other hand, if you don’t have the ability for them to communicate through their smartphones, through their Internet, through blogs (which give more immediacy to the publication), then you’re going to lose the other half. But you need to communicate with both. And that’s what we do.
SR: We’ve spoken about how Parking Today got to where it is today. What’s next? How do you plan to expand the company, reach more people and continue to stay relevant?
JVH: We’ve already determined that our circulation may be too small. We have identified another 5,000 whom we can reach. We’ve already contacted them online, and now we’re asking people whether they would read the magazine online or in print. We’re learning how to expand our readership in that way.
More important, we need new content. We need young people coming in and helping us bring a different outlook and viewpoint to what we’re trying to do. And you’re going to see more of that. We’re going to ensure that we have the best content and also the timeliest content. We want to be constantly engaging, we want to be dynamic – hence, we’re always changing. We want to ensure that we’re innovative.
SR: This has been eye-opening to see how Parking Today has become so established and what to expect for the future! Thank you for taking the time.
JVH: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.
(This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.)
Suzannah Rubinstein is Senior B2B Marketing Strategist at SpotHero and editor of its ParkingExec publication. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.