If you aren’t forced to aggressively adapt to new flexible work lifestyles, consider yourself one of the lucky ones. At the upper echelon of affected businesses, parking has had to weather immediate shifts in loyal commuters who are working from home. Now, lingering effects and an uncertain future have taught companies like Parkway two things: this is no longer a “short term” situation, and the flex work week is the new normal, requiring an emphasis on best practices.
Parkway isn’t a stranger to the evolution of work. The Philadelphia-based business has more than 91 years of experience navigating the changing tides of parking behavior by exercising risk management. The company owns or operates nearly 90 facilities across the USA and Canada.
Dominic Giacobbe has seen it all as a 20-year employee. As the Manager of Operating Revenue Systems, he’s responsible for reconciling back-office data, installing new customer technology across facilities (like FlashParking), and working with location managers to optimize operations. He has been on the front lines of innovation—always aware of the threat of telecommuting.
“I was never personally concerned about the Google car. It felt like the Jetsons to me. I was always concerned with people working from home. That was it. That's the killer.”
Giacobbe is vigilant about what the future might bring—but he’s not scared. We had a chance to speak with him about what he’s learned over the past few months. Ahead, read our interview to learn how Parkway is adapting to the future of work.
FlashParking: Parking, like many businesses, had to deal with immediate fallout from the pandemic. What actions did you have to take in March 2020 to mitigate damage?
Dominic Giacobbe: Suddenly, the emphasis was on touchless transactions. It was essential to give people a sense of confidence when they came into Parkway’s facilities. We’ve implemented more touchless features through third-party integrators like ParkWhiz/Arrive with which Flash has made it easy to integrate. This helps bring ease and confidence back to the customer. As a company, we’ve disinfected our equipment and other touchpoints and have informed customers through signage that we were cleaning the equipment constantly.
[Editor’s Note: FlashParking has now merged with Arrive. Learn more here.]
It was amazing that FlashParking came up with a FlashMotion product so quickly. I never expected it to be out in three or four weeks. Within very short order, after locking down in March, we had all of our kiosks—where you would come into an entry and pull for a ticket—updated.
“Who’s going to pay for monthly parking when they used to be in the city somewhere between 20 and 22 times per month, and now are only coming about 10 to 12 times?”
FP: The future of work is shifting fast. What changes have you seen in customer habits since the increase in flexible work? And how have you adapted so far?
DG: In the past, conventions would always have a futurist keynote speaker, and many predictions featured doom and gloom about parking. The speaker always seemed to be concerned about things like the Google car. I was never personally concerned about the Google car. It felt like the Jetsons to me. I was always concerned with people working from home. That was it. That’s the killer.
One of the things we’ve done is targeted “X” amount of “monthlies” (monthly tenants) that we realize have stopped parking with us. Who’s going to pay for monthly parking when they used to be in the city somewhere between 20 and 22 times per month, and now are only coming about 10 to 12 times? We tried to target those folks and ask [ourselves]: “How do we prepare so we can retain them as customers, knowing that they’re not going to be monthly? [How do we] keep them as recurring, loyal transients?” We’re in the process of that, and some of it has to do with third-party integrations we rolled out last summer with companies like ParkWhiz, as well as partners such as FlashParking providing a better experience for the end-user.
FP: Aside from seeing fewer monthlies, are there any other ways you’ve been impacted so far?
DG: You don’t have as much evening business, so your off-peak times—evenings and weekends—were hit hard because restaurant and event activity was either reduced or, as it is right now in Philadelphia, completely shut off. The Avenue of the Arts, an arts cultural district on Broad Street, has been dramatically impacted by COVID—which subsequently has hurt off-peak business related to plays and performances in our facilities.
FP: We identified some of the immediate changes you had to make, like going touchless and getting the confidence back in the customer. Have you identified changes that are likely long-term?
DG: A good amount of people at Parkway believe this is going to be long-term or, possibly, just the way it’s going to be moving forward. We’re also hearing about organizations that are deciding to reduce their presence in cities—that’s going to put a dent in parking. Lower commuter density may actually make it easier to drive and help parking in some areas. One possible solution is to find ways to offset that loss of revenue by using the parking facilities in different ways. This is what the ownership of Parkway is going through and thinking about.
FP: There’s an idea that when people come back, they’re not going to be using mass transit, they’re going to use personal vehicles. Have you thought about that scenario and any creative marketing or incentives to capture people’s attention?
DG: Yes, we thought about that right off the bat. The transit system volume in Philadelphia was down dramatically. No one wants to be in that cattle car situation, so that’s helped us. When COVID is in our rearview mirror, we expect that customers may opt for comfort and convenience by driving in and foregoing mass transit, but another interruption is something that can happen again in the future.
We did successfully adjust rates and encourage former monthlies to take advantage of early-bird rates, but that is a temporary solution. Our marketing has heavily focused on the touchless entry and exit options, which created customer confidence, and on the payment options (in-app, text-to-pay, tap-and-pay), which make the whole customer experience easy. Reducing friction and risk are always good ways to attract business, in good times or tough ones.
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FP: You mentioned Parkway was thinking about various ways to utilize space or technology to adapt to the flex work week and the future of work. What are some of the ways Parkway might begin to do that?
DG: One of the big things is third-party platforms we’ve joined forces with—ParkWhiz/Arrive, Parkmobile and others. They’re actively out there looking for customers and giving them flexible parking options. We’re managing rates carefully and reaching out to former monthlies and turning them into recurring transients—they’ve wanted to park in that facility for a reason, so whatever we can do to encourage them will help. Our 24-hour customer care center is also an advantage that helps us work with customers when and where they need us.
FP: Have there been conversations about leveraging assets to create opportunities for different lines of revenue?
DG: I’ve heard ideas of everything from 5G wireless antennas to delivery logistics to pop-up retail. Also, scooters and bikes are becoming more common, and we would entertain the idea of having micro-mobility connections. Electric charging options are also on the table. Great parking locations like ours have a lot of potential, and we are always looking at how to best get value from our assets.
“When you’re giving people options so they recognize that you care about making parking seamless and frictionless—that’s the key. That’s where it’s all going.”
FP: From an IT and operations perspective, what advice would you give to parking owners and operators preparing for a flex work week?
DG: Know your customers first. If you can identify where they come from and their parking habits and needs, you can gear marketing and services to maintain that relationship. That’s the key. You’ve lost people as monthlies, but you need to maintain them as transient customers two to three times a week. How do you do that? Through an easy, improved, and customized customer experience.
My thought with parking since 1991 is that you want it to be a non-event. Rarely do people come out of parking excited. It’s not like you’re buying a hamburger or handbag. So, just having a non-event usually provides a five-star rating—“I got in, I got out. I didn’t have to touch the equipment or wait in lines.”
FlashParking provides a text-to-pay service, which has gone gangbusters. The customer comes back to their vehicle and can type in their information—name, credit card, etc.—pay for their parking right there, and leave within 20 minutes without interacting with the hardware. They didn’t have to touch anything, which has been popular. When you’re giving people options so they recognize that you care about making parking seamless and frictionless—that’s the key. That’s where it’s all going.
FP: Do you think making a seamless experience is even more critical during the age of flex work?
DG: Yes, I think so. We think about people’s commutes all the time. When people drive an hour and sit in traffic, it’s frustrating. So, if they can get in and out quickly without having to wait long in our garage, that’s important. Maybe they’ll come back and be willing to seek out a brand they trust to give them a better experience. We’ve seen that in reviews. People say, “Wow, it was so easy coming in and out.” Maybe we’ll see them at a Parkway location next time.
FP: Where do you see the future of parking going, and how might Parkway fit in that future?
DG: Over the years, you’ve heard of the idea of getting away from hardware or being hardware-less. I think, to some extent, that can happen. When you think about that from the customer experience—no gates, no hardware—it becomes the easiest part of their commute. How do you make all that happen and secure the revenue so there’s no loss? That’s the difficult part.
When you have partners like Flash with technologies like LPR (license plate recognition), that’s helpful. It’s headed towards a more hardware-less experience connected to phones and apps. Our ownership has also always believed that the car itself will be more of a credential, which ties to LPR, but maybe more so than that—connected to a car’s identifier. I believe technology may make it so that you’re not dealing with hardware as much, making parking an even faster experience.
CLICK HERE to learn more about the Parkway Corporation.
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