What Makes an Excellent Garage Operation?
August, 2005My editor asked me to focus this column on the positive side of parking. Well, that's no fun. It's not what I do. I'm an auditor. I look for problems and try to solve them. I don't go around handing out awards for the best run or the prettiest. But, OK, here is the best I can do.
I am convinced by my experience that well-run garages are the result of good management. And good management is the result of the managers actually going to the garages and sniffing around, as I do.
I have audited many garages where, although there may be a slight problem with the money, I could tell when I walked through the door that I wasn't going to find much. These facilities were clean, well-lighted, and the staff was well-dressed and courteous. If the front office looks like that, the chances are that the back shop is well-run too.
But how did the place get that way? The solution is that either the building manager demanded it or, as is the case most of the time, the area manager, the garage manager's direct boss, was on the job and in that garage often.
These are the unsung heroes of the parking business. The middle manager actually makes a difference every day. They review, check and double-check. They walk the stairwells; they drive the garages. They fill out checklists and require that their managers do their jobs well.
To them I give my "double woof" awards.
But how do they do it? There is only one way. They visit the garages and actually look around. They can't spend the time I do, but they are physically there, in the garage, talking to the staff, on a very regular basis - and in the garages I see, they are there at least once a week; at a minimum, once every other week.
So let's do the math: If a supervisor spends three hours every other week in a garage (including travel time), then it means that he or she could handle about 27 garages, maybe 30 tops. I'm not talking about picking up the pay stubs and dropping off payroll checks. I'm talking about spending time with the managers, walking the garage, getting things fixed, solving problems.
I'm not talking about schmoozing the customer. I'm talking about being in the garage.
This can be a challenge for some companies with many locations. They can be tempted to have supervisors handle more garages than the magic number. If that is the case, these harried folks become firefighters. They have no time to spend managing; they spend their time running from one disaster to the next. This means many of their locations seldom see them.
Quality parking operations -- and there are many -- don't put their managers in these positions. They give them the time and resources to do their jobs. And if those resources aren't available, it's usually because the customer has driven the price down so low that they simply don't exist. The only way an operator can compete in the market is to reduce something, and that something starts at management support.
A senior VP with an East Coast parking operation told me that he could tell by walking into the garage just how it was doing. And he spent a lot of time on the road doing just that. He would pick garages that he thought were problems and just visit them. I'm talking Vice President here. "It's the only way I can be sure. I try to visit at least one garage every day, either on my way to work or on my way home." Now that's impressive.
Here's the challenge - OK, all you senior VPs and CEOs, just how many locations have you visited in the past, what, week, month, year? I don't mean calling on the customer; that's a sales call. I mean actually walking the garage with the manager and talking to the staff.
It does make a difference.
Sorry, maybe that wasn't a puff piece on great garages. But the good managers are out there. And there are more than you think. All they need is time and resources.