The Eyes and Ears of the Parking Industry
The idea of “cutting out the middleman” is often said as if it’s a positive thing. But quite often that middleman — which is one way to describe dealers and distributors in the parking industry — serves a greater purpose than just putting a client together with a product. Armed with extensive knowledge of the parking industry and responsible for the service and maintenance of the products, dealers and distributors serve on the front line when it comes to customer service.
The fact that many of these companies are family owned (often multi-generational) and have often been in business for decades (some longer than the manufacturers they represent) is a testament to the role they play within the greater parking industry.
At its most basic, parking dealers and distributors are the conduit between a manufacturer’s product and a client. But before that product is represented and sold, most dealers first make sure that it does what it says it does.
“Our role is to evaluate the various manufacturers that are coming to market,” said David Scripture, president and CEO of Tech Control Systems, which has offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco. “Once we establish that a particular group fits the needs of our clients, we do the homework to know that the product works well and then provide the support for parts and software.”
“We take great pride in assisting our customers to find the product that best suits their specific needs,” said Mark Curtis, president and CEO of the ParkingZone in Vancouver, Washington.
Biff Nelson, director of sales and marketing for DGM Controls in Seattle, agrees. “We are looking for the equipment that best suits the needs of our customers,” said Nelson, whose company does business with tech giants Amazon, Facebook and Google. “We develop relationships with the company and in turn they will contract with us or turn us over to the general contractor, which makes communication much more streamlined in new construction.”
Nelson pointed out that the first step is to meet with the client and find out their exact parking needs and make sure that nothing is overlooked. “We want to get a handle on what the end use of the facility is going to be and then try to develop an equipment package that fits that need,” said Nelson.
For instance, Nelson said that some clients might say they won’t be charging for parking — that it’s just for employees and clients — but then might change their mind or the use of the facility and want to add revenue controls. “We always try and build the infrastructure to be flexible so a monthly parking facility can turn into a revenue-generating facility without having to add infrastructure or tear up existing conduit and concrete,” said Nelson, who mentioned the biggest challenge he is dealing with now is finding qualified technicians to service and install the products.
Technology and Software
Part of staying on top of industry trends these days is dealing with all the new technology being offered. “We’re still seeing an influx of new technology companies, seemingly every day,” said Paul Hutchison II, president of PSX, which is headquartered in Philadelphia. “This is good for all of us, but there will be a bit of discomfort as we learn (and re-learn) the lessons of why we do what we do and how it all goes together.”
Parking dealers and distributors are the conduit between a manufacturer’s product and a client.
Hutchison sees all the data currently being compiled as key. “The future is in all those archived SQL databases we’ve been stockpiling,” said Hutchison. “It’s in identifying trends and making smart business decisions using business intelligence.”
For Curtis that automation means a minimization of cash handling and the addition of even newer technologies. “Personally, I am interested in how drone technology will be utilized in the parking industry,” said Curtis.
All this change means that testing and re-testing new products to make sure that they do what they say they’re going to do is a continual effort. “When a manufacturer has come out with new software I always ask if they’ve set up a beta site first,” said Scripture. “I need to touch it, feel it and test it.” Scripture said he won’t take it to the client until he’s tested it out himself. “We’re the watchdog for the end user to make sure they’re getting what they bought,” said Scripture. “They rely on our expertise.”
That expertise also means being available should there be any issues. “A lot of new vendors are trying to go direct,” said Nathan Hobbs of Mitchell Time & Parking, based in Austin, Texas. “In my opinion, that is bad idea for the parking operators because the equipment is human interfacing. And when that is the case you need a distributor to provide service or troubleshoot a problem in a timely manner.”
As the old adage goes: time is money and that’s especially true in the parking industry. “Our customers use the revenue from the parking to subsidize a lot of their operations so when a parking system is down the lost revenue affects their bottom line,” said Hobbs. “We are able to fix the equipment with minimal down time.”
Michael Givens, president of ITR of Georgia, based in Tucker, Georgia, agrees that the local touch is especially important. “It is our people, our commitment to customer service and support and our preparation for the future, as well as for today, that maintains our edge,” said Givens. “We never take our longevity in this industry for granted.”
Givens’ company has been in business since 1969 — as has PSX — so longevity is a common theme. “As a whole, dealers have been around for years,” said Scripture. “They’re family businesses like ours, which is going on four generations, and we survive because of the quality of the work for the companies and for the customers. Reputation is everything.”
Ultimately it comes down to providing good customer service. “Being a good distributor is service,” said Hobbs, part of the third generation of his family to work in the business. “People want good service. That’s why they created distributors.”
Ann Shepphird is a technical writer for Parking Today. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Some Dealers Turn to Each Other
for Support PARC Group and PARCSIG Group
With continued success predicated on staying up to date on the latest trends in equipment and technology, some dealers and distributors have turned to a unique source: each other.
PARC Group was started 30 years ago by a group of dealers affiliated with Federal ADP. “The group came together because the manufacturer tended to be sparse with information,” said Larry Wanat, the founding president and current meeting planner for the group. “We became the ad hoc distributor organization.”
When Federal ADP ceased to exist in the mid 2000s the group realized that what they’d enjoyed about the group — sharing information and networking with people in the same industry — still existed, so they reinvented themselves and continued, holding meetings twice a year. “We bring in speakers from the industry to talk about best business practices,” said Wanat, who said it’s also about the connections created. “For me and most of the guys, it’s the camaraderie and lifelong friendships that have been the most important.”
The PARCSIG Group was formed more recently — about four years ago — and although most are affiliated with TIBA, the group was specifically designed to be “an independent organization of leading PARCS distributors,” according to Harry Katsoudas, president of ASPIS Parking Solutions in Atlanta, Georgia, one of the founding members.
“We bring in manufacturers to educate us and train us on new products and cutting-edge technology,” said Katsoudas. The group is exclusive to distributors and Katsoudas said its mission is to educate current and potential customers, operators and consultants with what’s new in the market.
David Scripture of Tech Control Systems, who is also a member, said he appreciates the ability to talk about best practices and introduce products to each other. “It helps our business grow in a positive way and it helps the market,” said Scripture. He also pointed out that networking and knowing which dealers in different regions of the country to recommend is also a plus. “If I have a client nationwide, I can refer them to a dealer that I know is a good dealer.”