So You are Thinking About Working in the Parking Industry?
Last week, I was asked to meet up with a good friend and mentor for dinner. Also in attendance was a candidate for the parking industry. My friend thought it was a good idea for this candidate to ask me questions and discuss life in the parking industry. He felt this because of my almost 20 years’ experience; also, this candidate reminded my friend of me almost 20 years ago. I am still not sure how to take that comment.
This dinner not only brought back memories of my introduction to the parking industry, but also reminded me how much things have changed. Some still relevant things through the years and things still very important today.
It has been said that none of us planned on being in “parking” and my case was no different. I had just finished my bachelor’s degree, paid for by a football scholarship, and missed out on making the Chicago Bears. The reason I just missed making the team was because of a knee injury (the knee injury sounds much better than the truth), and it has been almost 20 years ago, anyway. Besides, if I had made the team, I might have been playing in this year’s Super Bowl - and not writing this column.
At the time, I was in the process of becoming a deputy in our local county’s sheriff’s department, meaning I was passing all the requirements to be accepted into the academy. I then received a call from a company I had sent my resume to the previous week. Remember the Sunday “want ads”?
After the initial interview, I learned the job would involve managing parking facilities of some sort. I must admit, at this point, my only knowledge of parking facilities was they were something I hated to pay for and occasionally got sick in. Nor could I find a bathroom in them after a night in the city.
I also learned the salary range was between $18k and $25k, and this was more than the potential deputy’s salary of $16,500, which also required shift work. Looking back, I wish I had asked more questions about the hours these parking facilities were open. Anyhow, two more interviews and a polygraph later (yes, back in the day these were allowed) I was a Parking Professional.
I must admit, during the first couple of years I thought more about getting out of the parking industry than ways of improving myself in it. All I remember thinking was: I have a college degree. Why am I parking cars for a living, especially while wearing a suit every day?
I learned many things those first couple of years (even at times realizing how much more than my college friends who had chosen more prestigious and exciting fields). Not only did I learn how to drive and park every car possible, but I also learned how to break into those vehicles when customers or our valets locked the keys in them.
I also learned how to hire good employees and fire those who knew more ways to steal than Paul Simon had ways to leave your lover (for those of you who have forgotten, the answer is 50).
I also learned the night before an entire shift, including myself, was scheduled to take a polygraph for missing money, that the money suddenly appeared in the drop safe box, even though it had been missing for more than two days. And just in case you are playing the game Clue, the manager didn’t take the money in the library.
I learned to negotiate – or convince, if you will – employees working the 3-11 p.m. to stay on and work the midnight shift when those assigned to it called out. Later in the parking industry, I learned employees will work any time you need them to, provided you treat them as you would want to be treated.
I learned the laws of supply and demand in relationship to the rates charged by parking facilities. The more you are willing to walk, the less you are likely to pay.
I also learned the process for doing financial pro formas for new locations and existing ones. This also included the annual budgeting. In reality, I was the CFO for all the locations under me.
But more important, I learned the value of people and the skill of human interactions. We can all use more training in the field of getting along with people, whether in our business or social lives. You see, the parking industry covers all the fields my friends from college were involved in, and not only let me run my own business, so to speak, but taught me how to deal with people.
This, my friends, is what has gotten me to where I am today. Just in case anyone is left wondering, I wouldn’t even think of going back and choosing a different industry. The parking industry, in my book, is still one of the greatest industries of them all. However, I will admit that the possibility of playing in a Super Bowl might have topped that decision.
Robert Milner is Director of Parking and Transportation at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org