Want Fries With Your Parking

March 25, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Imagine parking your filthy mud-stained SUV in a ramp on a Monday morning following a heavy weekend of off-roading, and then finding it all shiny and spiffy-looking when you climb into it after work.

Or how about getting into your car on a Friday after a hard week at the office and seeing those Bruce Willis videos you wanted to watch on the weekend sitting on your front seat.

If either of those ideas tickles your fancy, then you’re probably ready for the latest trend in the parking business — serving customers with more than just a place to park.

“People may start putting more amenities in just to keep parkers coming into their garages, especially in the bigger cities,” said Kim Jackson, director of professional development at the International Parking Institute in Virginia.

A few other services being offered at ramps around the country include oil changes, dry-cleaning delivery and pick-up, shoe shining and gift buying.

“Such amenities are a growing trend, depending on new construction and where you live,” Jackson told Time magazine.

That service-oriented idea hasn’t escaped the city’s Parking Services Department.

“We find this really very interesting,” said Parking Services Director Ted Perez. “We haven’t ignored the value-added aspect of the business.”

For years, Parking Services has been assisting customers with a number of car-related problems as a courtesy. Department workers have helped with such things as lockouts, dead batteries, flat tires and empty gas tanks. In fact, Parking Services Supervisor of Security Tom Conrad reported that they came to the aid of 750 parkers last year and were successful in helping them 95 percent of the time.

“This activity has produced more positive comments for the city than anything except public safety,” said Perez.

Mayor John Logie told parking commissioners to think about what additional services the system could offer, and then bring those ideas back with them for discussion at an upcoming meeting. Logie said the key was to figure how they could give time back to their customers by doing things for them that they may not have the time to do themselves.

But he also cautioned commissioners.

“I don’t want us to turn into a retail center and compete with private-sector business,” said the mayor.

Logie added that the amenities could help downtown office buildings hold and attract tenants because the system would be competing with suburban office complexes that offer businesses free parking at those buildings.

This value-added approach to parking has been going on for a while in major markets like Boston and Chicago. For example, APCOA/Standard Parking has been offering customers a wide range of amenities at its O’Hare Airport garages.

“You can order roses, a box of Fannie Mae candy and a Barbie doll, and have it all waiting on your front seat for you when you get in,” said Deborah Capraro, a deputy commissioner at O’Hare. “It’s all about customer service and trying to give the customers what they want.”

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