Playing Dominos for Keeps
At this writing, COVID-19 has been ravaging the world and our industry for the better part of 3 months, and when you read this, the world will most certainly be a very different place, only one short month later. The information and the landscape are changing so quickly. Parking operators have been here before. Not HERE mind you, but they’ve seen their share of difficult times and predictions of their demise. It’s par for the course.
Given these extraordinarily challenging times, I wanted to spend my time, this month, reflecting on what I know today and what I’ve come to learn about my colleagues in parking over the last month, when sh*t was really hitting the fan.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating in these very challenging times – parking people are the nicest people you would ever want to meet. I now know that to be true in good times and bad. What I appreciate now more than ever is parking people are also GREAT business-people and humanitarians. I will be the first to tell you, when I entered parking a relatively short time ago, I expected to find parking operators operating in the shadows and running transactions far from view of their parking facilities.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. I now have the great privilege to know and call many parking people my friends. Friends who take great care to count every ticket, account for each transaction with great diligence, and most importantly, run excellent businesses. And when “it” hit the fan last month, they didn’t just think solely about themselves – they refused to be the first domino. Let me explain.
When it became clear that my customers’ revenue was going to zero or very close to it, I fully expected to be on the receiving end of that goose egg. The leaders of Parker sprang into action planning how our business was going to remain standing in the long train of dominos called “the wheels of commerce.”
In other words, with death and destruction going on all around them, our employees were wondering if Parker was going to keep them employed and our suppliers were wondering if we were going to pay their invoices. We went to work cutting all types of non-essential expenses, trimming (but not eliminating) hours and adjusting services to conserve cash to pay those that really depended on us. To my amazement and delight, my customers responded in exactly the same way!
For sure, my customers are hurting, and their cash is tight, but they value our partnership and know that we have needs. too, so we’re building a plan to pull the wagon together. We’re nipping and tucking; we aren’t ripping it out or cutting it off.
Most of my conversations are going something like this – “we’d appreciate deferring this month’s invoice to help our short-term cash flow and then when we get to the end of the month, we’ll try to pay you something.” These are not unreasonable, selfish, win/lose business conversations. These are “we can get through this together” plans that make me prouder than ever to serve the parking industry.
For sure, we are not out of the woods yet, and I hope and pray when you read this that the world has returned to some semblance of normal. I suspect it won’t have. I also know that being “fair and balanced” can only go on for so long when there is no revenue coming through the door.
If May is as bad as April, all bets are off because business conditions will necessitate that we all approach our obligations differently. What will remain with me, irrespective of the stark business reality of that moment, will be that we led with partnership and not “me first.” We led with heart and symbiosis first, which, in my book, buys my customers a whole lot of grace when they have to “do what they have to do” to survive.
This dark chapter in parking’s history will go down as one of the most challenging and most difficult ever. In fact, I heard someone say the other day that our children will have the penultimate version of “walking uphill both ways in waist deep snow” stories to tell their children and, God-willing, my grandchildren. I think they might be right.
After all, both of my children had the final days, arguably their most fun days, of their respective senior years in college and high school wiped out… gone. Parking operators will have the same stories to tell their children and grandchildren about how they survived their own version of “the great depression” with dignity, class and a spirit of partnership never seen before.
They say that it’s easy to run a business when times are good, but you see people’s true character when the chips are down.
I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that Parker’s customers, many of the parking operators across the United States, demonstrated tremendous grace under pressure and delivered truly awesome Authentic Concern for me and for our business at a time when no one would call them selfish for doing otherwise.
For that, I am truly humbled to be their partner and eternally grateful. This too shall pass and when it does, I’ll have the awesome pleasure of serving an industry that demonstrated true empathy and refused to be the first domino to fall and topple us all.
I look forward to the next time I can see you all in the flesh to raise a glass and toast an industry of great resilience and fortitude! Until then, I will wish you all good health and toast you in the privacy and solitude of my own home. Cheers!