Trends and Takeaways from NPA 2019
Experiencing the 68th Annual National Parking Association (NPA) Convention as the culmination of my first 30 days as FlashParking’s EVP for Marketing & Strategic Partnerships was an almost overwhelming experience. This industry has clearly changed so much in the eight years since FlashParking was founded and the message from every speaker and every company was “Buckle Up.”
Macro-Level Trend: Mobility
My primary goal for the show was to better understand the parking industry, identify key companies and segments driving the change, and to understand where FlashParking fit in. Interestingly, before I even checked in, the signs and brochures caught my eye with the show headline, “The Mobility Revolution.” That theme dominated everything from speaker sessions to booth conversations throughout the show. Presenters were specifically focused on helping the audience understand what’s occurring in the industry, guiding them in how to respond, and identifying what the shifting environment means for owners and operators going forward.
Jumping right into these discussions made me more confident than ever in the massive opportunity that FlashParking is seizing in the marketplace. And it seems others are taking note too – everyone is trying to get to where FlashParking is. Beyond the traditional players, new mobility services that utilize Flash’s unique platform are beginning to scale and drive change in consumer behavior and demanding technology like frictionless access, enabling a new level of business intelligence, and the ability to manage a portfolio of garages from a single dashboard.
At our FlashParking booths, conversations and demonstrations centered around our current products and solutions, especially how they act as the foundation for the broader scope of what we offer – which is a platform for mobility infrastructure. We inspired current and future customers with insights into why the industry is changing, when to invest, and how to get a seat at the table to shape your Smart City.
Most of the discussions I took part in were structured around what occurs yesterday, today, and tomorrow. In other words: what has happened in the industry up to now, what is prompting the changes we see today, and how can we successfully navigate what happens next.
The trends that define where the industry is today include rural to urban migration, population growth, e-commerce, and the rise of ride-share and scooters/e-bikes all with a backdrop of exploding vehicle counts. The result? We are living in an age of mobility largely characterized, and unfortunately hindered, by congestion.
Cities recognize the challenge they face today – but they need to realize the reality of solutions for tomorrow. Failing to act will plunge cities across the country into debilitating traffic and pollution. Taxes for TNCs and fees for scooters are just going to raise the cost to consumers. If cities don’t recognize parking lots as assets can absorb congestion and logistics activities, every city street is going to be its own parking lot.
Micro-Level Trend: EV Charging
At a more granular level, the specific tech trend that stood out to me was electric vehicle charging. A lot of attendees visiting our booth asked about navigating the investment and technology options for EV charging integrations, but the conversations varied by region. Today’s demand for EV charging is much higher in areas like San Francisco, where electric cars are so common that the municipal government has implemented a law requiring garages with more than 100 spaces to provide EV charging stations for at least 10% of the spots.
However, electric vehicles and charging are just emerging across the rest of the country. One conversation in particular really struck me: a woman from Birmingham, Alabama had bought a Tesla and actually ended up returning it because she couldn’t find enough charging spots and the battery was not big enough to get her to the edge of the state where her mother resides.
This is the innovation curve: while some parts of the United States are looking to reach zero emissions, others are just starting to see the rise of electric cars. In order to make a real impact in the industry, we need to be advising customers about what is happening in the San Francisco’s and the Birmingham’s of the United Sates.
Adoption is accelerating rapidly, but there is a fear of making investments today and “giving up” a parking spot. For me, one of the key things to understand is that introducing an EV charger into a garage doesn’t make that spot obsolete for other cars – it increases that spot’s functionality. When the transition does start taking over cities like Birmingham, it will be incredibly fast. Investing in technologies like EV now solidifies the position of garages for the present and the future.
The Big Takeaway
This brings me to my overall biggest takeaway from the week, which spans from macro-level mobility to micro-level EV charging trends: education.
We have an opportunity to be the subject matter expert, to educate city councils on the value of excess capacity in parking assets, to coordinate with partners on the demand side of the marketplace and to help our customers shape the future and position their business and asset successfully.
Neil Golson is FlashParking’s new EVP of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships. Neil leads FlashParking’sefforts to help isolated parking assets transition into connected mobility hubs that will be at the core of the smart city. Prior to joining the FlashParking team, Neil served as Head of Marketing & Sales Operations for Residential Energy at Tesla and Sr. Director of Business Development for SolarCity. Before that, Neil spent seven years at The Coca-Cola Company leading the McDonald’s Division for Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa and as the Senior Brand Manager for the Coca-Cola brand in North America. Neil earned a B.A. in Journalism and Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his M.B.A. from Auburn University. He currently lives in Austin and enjoys spending time with his two girls.