She was cute - but not worth it!
October, 2004I learned a hard lesson a couple of months ago. I had been sniffing around garages all over the country, finding problems and offering solutions. The problem was, I had neglected my home turf.
Yes, I have a customer who has me on retainer and for whom I had conducted many audits. However, even though I made monthly visits, I simply got distracted (was it that cute little poodle at the pet store?) and didn't continue my regular surveys of the operation.
Then, one day, the police reported to the owner that they had noticed, early one morning, that someone was moving a car in and out by the entrance dispenser, and it looked to them like something weird was going on.
I got the call and immediately panicked. Someone was pulling tickets, and I didn't think it was the matinee crowd for the theater.
Oh my goodness, it was the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
The monthly reports had shown no lost tickets, zero, nada. Now for a place running more than 100,000 tickets a month, no lost tickets was virtually impossible. However, the reports showed none. That little fact alone should have triggered the audit. But no, I had my nose where it didn't belong. She may have been cute, but she had cost my customer a bundle.
My buddies at Edison Parking had always told me that the only way to be sure that a ticket issued was valid was to use a treadle/loop combination. Well, they were right. The loops alone didn't work. These guys were issuing hundreds of tickets to be swapped with earlier tickets. (The treadles are being installed as we speak.)
And then there was the way the ATM was handled. The folks at the ATM got free parking but had to turn in their receipt, and it was to be attached to the ticket. Well, ever walk around an ATM? There are hundreds of receipts lying on the ground. The smart guys were simply picking them up, attaching them to paid tickets and pocketing the difference.
Oh yes, there was the manager who was cutting side deals with the parkers who were supposed to park in the bowels of the structure at a substantially reduced rate, but were being allowed to park in the most expensive spots. The "nesting" feature forcing them to park downstairs had been turned off. That took 30 seconds at the keyboard to rectify.
And how about the neighbors who put cars on the surface lot with "For Sale" signs and left them for weeks? When sold, they brought in a second car, and took the first car on the new ticket and then paid the daily max for the lost ticket.
Or how about the cars that were in the lot so long that their tires were flat; however, the cards assigned to those cars had activity every day? Two cars in on one card. Turning the anti-passback controls back on took care of that.
Both those problems were handled with an overnight audit, and then booting all the cars in the facility more than two days.
Then there's the fact that the food court concessions were able to validate one hour at no charge. McDonald's alone validated more than 7,000 tickets a month. A new lease arrangement still allowed validations, but the merchants had to buy the validations. McDonald's validations went to zero.
Of course, the fact that a number of employees were discovered with homemade validation stamps didn't help, either. That problem was solved by firing every parking employee at the facility.
In the three weeks after the firings, the cash income increased just under $20,000, as compared with the previous three weeks. Add that to the increases with the validation changes and proper enforcement of the monthly rules, and the increase in income was $500,000 per year.
Whew! All this because I was cavorting in the pet shop, rather than doing my semiannual audits. This place was a textbook case for my buddy Larry Donahue. Nearly every one of his "ways to steal" was exemplified by this location. What a mess.
The moral -- If you are going to collect all the money due you, you must -- that's must -- audit. That's even though you have a topnotch revenue control system and the best operator available. An independent audit is the only way you are going to be sure that the money is being collected and the garage is being run properly.
We corrected the problems in my facility, but not before $300,000 or more had been lost, gone forever. And remember: That is money off the bottom line. That is all profit.
There are a lot of red faces around the parking office now; I know