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Group Listening


Research can really help guide decision-making. You may have done some formal or informal marketing research for your organization. Easy access to SurveyMonkey and other online surveying tools have made polls a snap, though I feel strongly that without the assist of a bona fide marketing research expert, questions can be poorly worded or worded to invite bias and result in useless or erroneous results (but that’s a post for another day).

Years ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was a client of mine when I worked for the Washington, D.C. advertising/public relations agency Henry J. Kaufman & Associates.Sullivan post graphic

My wonderful FTC client liaison, Nancy Sachs, and I became good friends during a stretch of years when we developed public service announcements to help educate consumers about everything from the FTC’s Funeral Rule to buying used cars. Before each campaign, we did marketing research that included conducting focus groups with eight to 12 people.

These two-hour sessions were carefully moderated by a professional marketing researcher and recorded. Focus group rooms are generally equipped with two-way mirrors so ad agency personnel can watch without becoming a distraction (with full disclosure, of course).

What great entertainment–and so enlightening– to hear people express their feelings on a topic that matters to you or your cause.

Here’s the point: Listening—not just reading results, but really listening–is very valuable when it comes to customers and others you want to reach or serve.

What made me think of this today? I am sitting at gate C in Terminal A at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. I’m at an eatery that features at each station an iPad with menu, a plug to charge my phone, and a credit card swipe. From this vantage point I can see my gate which is only about 40 feet away. There must be at least 60 of these stations in this central gate area and travelers are digging it! I charged my phone, ordered breakfast, watched CNN, swiped my credit card to pay, collected a receipt, and was on my way.

Someone did some really good thinking to develop this system and my guess is some good focus-grouping was part of it.

What would bringing together a group of your community, customers, tenants, patrons, students, faculty, staff, or other stakeholders do for your organization?

Is it Really a Garage?

David Hill

Today, I am thinking about my garage.

It is a quite a nice garage: It’s a double-car, concrete slab, heated, insulated facility. There is a nice shingle roof and the siding matches the house. There’s ample wall space for a tool board or for some of those cool neon garage signs, and some nice sliding windows, lots of electrical outlets, and bright fluorescent lights. Overall, it’s a pretty decent little facility, just right for housing two large trucks and associated automotive gear. Appreciated by human males everywhere.

Looking around, though – and thinking deeply about things the way I do – I consider the garage a theoretical construct, a space, a residential element, and a concept for future lifestyle. I note that in some planners’ and architects’ visions, the garage will become an occasional and optional living or “people” space, and with the long-sought, much-anticipated, incessantly talked about by urban planning zealots, and apparently soon-to-be-realized obsolescence of the motor vehicle, I really wonder if the whole concept of the garage is still appropriate to modern times.

So, let’s test the theory. The authoritative Free OnLine Dictionary defines “garage” as


(gə-räzh′, -räj′)


1. A building or indoor space in which to park or keep a motor vehicle.

2. A commercial establishment where cars are repaired, serviced, or parked.

Is this definition still meaningful and accurate? I look to my own garage and add the following definition items:

3.  A building housing 11 old kids’ bicycles in various sizes and states of disrepair, usually stacked against the back wall and jammed together so that if you try and move one, they will all fall over and skin your leg and bang your foot.

4. A building containing your father’s old tools from 1950 or before the invention of electricity, which were only used three times and are too good to throw away.

5. Activity space for the stacking of garbage bags and recycling boxes and contents when it is raining or snowing, or when the garbage bin at the end of the lane is full.

6. Wall space for the display of storage cabinets, antique hunting and fishing gear, and the mother-in-law’s old landscape paintings.

7. Floor space for the situation of spare lumber and panelling pieces, random exotic power tools obtained on Father’s Day but never used, and piles of sawdust not yet cleaned up by resident teenagers.

8. Floor space for the accommodation of large boxes full of baby clothes and learn-to-read books.

9. Additional space accommodating extra boxes of records, gadgets, olds stereo parts, broken furniture, and stale pizza boxes left over from when the last teenager moved out, moved back in again, and then moved out again to a smaller apartment, saying she would be back for all of here valuable stuff “very soon.”

10. Location of the beer fridge.

11. Location of the spousal collection of ancient and dysfunctional family curiosities, for which the spouse remembers the original owner and context but disremembers the actual purpose or function.

In fact, as I look at my garage, the only definition elements absent from the building are those that have anything to do with motor vehicles.

I guess my garage is a modern, visionary, and fully actualized facility after all.


Mission, Vision, and Values

Mark D Napier

Most organizations have a mission statement. Why? Because that’s what we read in some management text. It might appear on a poster in the lobby or be included as part of an annual report. However, the employees do not see it or the value in embodying it and after the tedious nature of drafting it, administrators pay it little attention. A mission statement alone is practically worthless past the organizational window-dressing it provides.

Imagine your organization as a car on a road. Mission only tells the vehicle in which direction to point. Vision is the gas in the gas tank. Vision inspires. Every meaningful thing in human history has occurred as the result of vision, not mission. Values define the boundaries of the roadway. They serve as guideposts for how we move forward. They have to be real and exercised and must be alive in the organization, both internally and externally. We cannot expect our people to value our customers if we do not value our people.

The message here is simple: To have a high-functioning organization you have to possess mission, vision, and values. Of these, the one of the greatest importance is vision. It is also the one most often absent. Most organizations that are idling on the road are essentially going nowhere because their leadership has not put gas in the gas tank (vision).

Generating vision is hard work. It is work that cannot be done by memorandum, a cool poster on a wall, or by good intention. Leadership must get out from behind the desk and speak about vision frequently and passionately. Why do we exist? Why are we special? Why is what we do important? Where are we going? Inspired people can do amazing things.

Ensure you have all three elements to make your organization the best it can be. People will generally not act in a manner that is incongruent with their vision of themselves. Craft that vision and watch your organization excel.

Teddy Roosevelt and Watering the Grass

Shawn Conrad

I like a good quote. Every year, I’m the guy who shops for those desk calendars that have a quote attached to each day. I am especially fond of the ones that place a special emphasis on quotes from former U.S. Presidents, particularly the 16th, Abraham Lincoln.

Recently, though, I have been fixated on another president, the 26th–Theodore Roosevelt. Yes, the Rough Rider, the former secretary of the Navy, governor of New York, running mate of William McKinley (the unfortunately short-termed 25th president). Teddy Roosevelt was the U.S. leader at the turn of the 20th century and most of his speeches and meetings were captured for historical purposes. He coined “speak softly and carry a big stick” and, like Mr. Lincoln, did not have speech writers help him make his point, but instead developed his own messaging. It’s interesting to note that his words were used for many years by a coffee manufacturer when, after drinking a cup at a Nashville hotel, he quipped the blend was “good to the last drop.”

One Roosevelt quote I am extremely fond of places an emphasis on giving back to one’s occupation or community. I came upon this quote when I first started my own career in association management and have placed it at the top of the many special sayings I have kept over the years. Roosevelt believed strongly that:

Every man owes part of his time and money to the business or industry to which he is engaged. No man has a moral right to withhold his support from an organization that is striving to improve conditions within his sphere.

I was recently reminded of this quote as IPI sent out our biannual Call for Volunteers, seeking those interested in helping IPI advance the parking profession by volunteering to serve on one of our committees or task forces. Having worked with other industries before coming to parking, I have been amazed with the overwhelming response we receive from hundreds of eager members looking to become more involved. These volunteers are integral to everything we accomplish. Here’s to all of you!  I believe Mr. Roosevelt would be very pleased with your commitment to your profession. I know I am.
I’ll leave you with one more quote whose author is unknown. This one, I think, applies to almost every aspect of our home and work life: “The grass is not greener on the other side; the grass is greener where you water it.”

4 Stars + 2 Dollar Signs + 3 Comments = Success

Casey Jones 4x5 (2)

Many of us are at the peak of conference season. Though it makes for a packed calendar, I love this time of year because I get to reconnect with friends and colleagues and build new relationships. I’m also a bit of a foodie and traveling gives me a chance to try lots of different restaurants. Conferences, friends, and food make a great combination.

Like many of you, when I go to an unfamiliar city I rely heavily on my trusty Yelp app to pick a place to eat. My strategy is to find a restaurant that has lots of reviews and at least 4 out of 5 stars. If I’m watching my budget I look at the number of dollar signs, which is an indication of how pricey my meal will be. I also dig into at least a few of the reviews to get a good sense of what to expect. This method relies on quantitative and qualitative data to inform my restaurant choice. I don’t rely on one thing, but many to decide.

In some ways, deciding if a conference has been a success is a lot like picking a good restaurant. We use many metrics, not just one. One thing that is relatively common at conferences, especially for exhibitors, is to fixate on foot traffic. It’s certainly true that having people on the show floor interacting with vendors, suppliers, and other business partners is important, but this ignores so much more that may go into building or maintaining a relationship with a client. It also suggests to me that the exhibitor who relies only on foot traffic may be missing many other opportunities to grow their business by participating in educational sessions or roundtable talk and, informally networking between sessions, at meals, or after the show floor is closed for the day. Simply put, we need to think much more broadly about what contributes to success than counting the number of people who come to our booth.

One vendor at IPI’s most recent conference in Las Vegas made this point clear to me. He said, the conference had been very successful for his company, but that “business isn’t conducted just on the show floor. It happens everywhere.”

Thankfully we now have tools like Yelp to guide us to great places to eat. These apps are reliable because they don’t just focus on one thing but many as predictors of success—a great meal in the case of choosing a restaurant. It’s time for us to expand this idea to our conferences where many things—not just one—contribute to a great show and productive business opportunities.

Have a great conference season and if you find exceptional restaurants along the way, be certain to write a review. I’ll be sure to read it.

Just Listen

Jeff Petry

The main parking line rings at my desk and I grab the calls when my co-worker, Heidi, is away. Our parking calls are the norm–where to purchase a parking permit, how to pay for a parking ticket, or inquiring whether a permit is available at an address in our residential permit program. Two of today’s phone calls, however, were cause for reflection and a reminder to just listen and enjoy every day:

  • Confused about jurisdictions: A resident called to complain about a vehicle stored on the street. We always lead with going to our website to report the stored vehicle to educate the public that this option is available any time and the information feeds directly into our officers’ smartphones to respond to the complaint. The resident was good with going online to fill out the information for stored vehicles. He had a second question, however, about a vehicle parked at the end of his cul de sac. My parking sensors immediately perked up, sensing that this may be a private road where the city does not have the authority to enforce the parking code. I checked the address in our geographic information system (GIS) database and sure enough, it was a private road; the development’s staff will have to address the issue.  Resident was not happy with this jurisdiction-shifting response but it was a private road. Since I was in the GIS database, I double checked the jurisdiction of the first complaint of a stored vehicle. Sure enough, the road segment was county managed and the city has no authority to enforce the parking code. Resident was not happy, again. The phone call concluded with a typical set of comments about government, jurisdictions, and overall confusion. This phone call has re-energized me to engage the county staff to see if an intergovernmental agreement can reached whereby the city can enforce storage/abandoned vehicle complaints on county property located within the City of Eugene’s boundaries in effort to better serve our community.
  • Survival Story: My second phone call was about 20 minutes long.  We enforce the storage on the street code on a complaint basis throughout the city. A woman had received our notice and needed to move her vehicle within 72 hours. She was upset that she was picked on because other vehicles on her street that don’t move were not issued the same warning. She asked why? Before I could respond, she began to elaborate: Her husband shot her in the head several years ago, she is trying to get by on disability, and her dog is being treated for cancer. Wow! After a big pause, I explained the program was complaint-based. She was satisfied with the response. I then noted that she was an inspiration and a survivor and I hoped she could enjoy the sunlight of this day. Listening to hear story and sharing my true admiration for her determination seemed to shift the conversation away from parking negativity to end on a truly positive note.

These two phone calls reaffirmed that parking can create a better community by removing confusion of government layers and that sometimes, it’s our job to just listen and provide positive affirmation of our individual community members.

Customer Disservice: A True Tale


Once upon a time, there was an insurance company that courted a family for its business. “We’re guided by values,” the company said. “We’re grounded in outstanding service, financial expertise, high morals, and genuine concern for your well-being.” The family was charmed and the two enjoyed a lovely relationship for several generations.

After a long and happy life, one of the family members passed away and his descendants contacted the company, which offered its deepest condolences and immediately processed all of the accounts except one. A family member reached out about that last issue and spoke with a very nice gentleman, who sent forms that were filled out according to his direction and submitted … and returned to the family three weeks later for a technical mistake.

Now, this technical problem ran contrary to what the man on the phone had said and didn’t make a whole lot of sense, so a member of the family called again, was told the original form was the wrong one, and that a new form would come by mail. That form, sadly, never arrived, and so the family member called again.

And again.

And again.

Believe it or not, she called seven different times, spoke with seven different people, and got seven different answers as to what she should do about the policy-in-limbo; one of the answers was, “I don’t even know why they sent you to me—I don’t work in that department.” None of these answers had anything to do with a second form.

Finally, the family member lost her patience and called a higher-up at the company, who gave her yet another answer—this one involving jumping through several flaming hoops that no one else had mentioned. The family member voiced her frustration and suggested perhaps more training or a better manual was warranted in the service department, as eight different answers to eight different calls on one question seemed excessive.

“We don’t have a training problem,” huffed the director. So the family member shook her head, thanked the director for her time, hung up, and called back to speak with someone one step up the corporate ladder, who didn’t return calls for two days. That led to a call to someone just one rung beneath the very top of the company’s pyramid. That person was (finally) both authorized to take action on the initial problem (the ninth time being the charm, of course) and surprised her customer service people, through no fault of their own, couldn’t do their jobs. No one, she said, had ever reached out to tell her.

The moral of the story: Customer service training really matters. Are you sure yours is working?

Automated Customer Service

Frank L. Giles

The parking industry seems to be moving at the speed of light. That means fast everything, mobile everything, and automated everything! So what about customer service? What about the gentle greeting of a human cashier? Is it possible to get a top-notch customer service experience at a fully automated parking facility, or is there a tradeoff we must expect when ushering in this new age of hi-tech parking? I believe the former. I believe that the smart parking professional will be able to meet the customer with warmth and gratitude via our new futuristic doodads, but we may have to meet them before they get to the facility.

First of all, there is the obvious stuff. Make sure your customers can reach you. If the customer is paying for parking through a third party on their cell phone or just using their monthly access card to swipe through, it should never be a chore to contact management or get assistance whenever needed (yes, this means day or night). Even if they don’t need to contact you at the moment, it’s comforting to know they can, so contact info should be obvious on any platform.

Secondly give perks. A rewards program, coupons for local retailers, or simply offering safety tips or nuggets of wisdom that change daily, monthly, or by the season will create a connection with the parker The better the connection, the better the customer service.

Finally, respond quickly. When a parker needs to contact management or press that little call button, they are already distressed and as we know, each minute translates to an hour for someone waiting for an answer from parking. These are just some small things we can do so that even when our facility is space-aged, our customer service is still down to earth.

How do you offer top-notch customer service? Comment and let us know.

Holy Parking Challenges


Working for IPI and living in the suburbs of Philadelphia as the surrounding states and area brace for the September Papal visit has offered me an entirely different perspective on the parking and transportation planning necessary between now and then. All hotels in the tri-state area have been sold out for months. Rooms in regular homes are being rented out to accommodate the masses of humanity that will be pouring into the area. As a local to Philadelphia, I am curiously watching how the mass transit and parking challenges are being handled.

Photo credit: ©European Union 2014 - European Parliament.

Photo credit: ©European Union 2014 – European Parliament.

Our regional rail service has created an additional special announcement section to its website. Professionals there have marketed and announced the Papal visit day passes and the accompanying pricing for the Papal transit pass. These passes go on sale next week and are anticipated to sell out as fast as the 2015 Grateful Dead reunion concert. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has even created a new online ecommerce system that will launch when Papal passes sales begin. SEPTA has already announced regional rail station closings and which locations the trains will pick up and drop off passengers. This is in effort to accommodate travel demands and run express-type services. Just 18 regional rail stations will be in operation for the Papal visit. So this begs the question: Where will folks park? SEPTA is urging passengers to plan for a drop-off at or near the stations as crowds will be overwhelming and parking limited. Ridesharing and bike riding are means that are being promoted as to assist with the limited parking and seriously overwhelming crowds.

As much as I would like to see the Pope in person, my car will stay parked in my driveway and I will be watching the happenings and events of the Papal visit from the luxury of my home!

The Future of Parking and Urban Mobility: A UK Perspective

Christina Onesirosan Martinez

Earlier this year, The British Parking Association (BPA) decided to launch a special interest group to tackle an area that was rapidly gaining momentum: urban mobility. More specifically, the group was asked to look at where parking fits into this area, if anywhere at all!

Reporting to the BPA’s Operational Services Board, we are a small group with representation from commercial operators, municipalities, suppliers, and academia. It is proposed that we are more flexible than a special interest group and our group may even have a limited lifespan. As a result, lively discussions soon arise during our meetings! We meet on an ad-hoc basis with meetings called as required.

This somewhat non-traditional arrangement, we hope, will help us successfully achieve the group’s main objective: To provide a forum for a broad cross-section of members and interested parties to examine key issues surrounding the future of technology in relation to parking and the wider issues affecting the profession as a result of its use.

From our 1st meeting, one common message soon became our unofficial motto when discussing technology in relation to parking and urban mobility: one size does not fit all

Groups such as ours should be very clear when making recommendations on how technology can be integrated at various levels of an organization. The “one size does not fit all” approach should be made crystal clear. (Parking technology suppliers—are you listening?)

By creating useful documents such as a top-10 list of technologies being used with their associated pros and cons, our group aims to be the friendly face of technology.

Our draft terms of reference are clear:

  1. Inform members about trends and changes in new and emerging technology and innovations and advise on current government intentions with regard to the use of technology.
  2. Provide and deliver a platform for members and other stakeholders who are experimenting with new approaches in technology to share their experience openly and widely.
  3. Develop knowledge sharing and develop ideas and best practices in the field of technology, innovation and future parking trends.
  4. Inform and influence government about current and emerging technology, creating trust at both local and national levels.
  5. Identify collaboration opportunities with like-minded organizations, encouraging and fostering good working relationships between parking, traffic management, and urban planning sectors.
  6. Identify areas where change will take place and seek to stimulate debate and discussion and publicize the work of the BPA and its members.

If you, like me, are regularly asked the following questions, you will no doubt agree that this group will be kept busy:

  •  Does my parking lot really need an app for reservations? What type? Are there different types?
  • What is the role of parking in urban mobility and traffic management?
  • How will technology impact my current commercial models?
  • As mobility and technology changes and develops, do we need to re-envisage what the parking sector represents and re-focus on enabling mobility rather than being perceived to restrict/enforce?
  • What role does parking have in the smart cities and multi modal journeys/inter-connected journeys?