Observations and Musings from the Last Ten Years
A number of month’s back I reached the nine-year employment marker with T2 Systems [originally through Digital Payment Technologies] and it got me thinking… I realized that I could no longer allow myself the padded landing of ‘I’m new’ as I am currently in my tenth year. Ten years as a Parking Professional. Ten years of receiving blank stares from the airport customs agents when I provide my job title upon request. A decade ago I likely would have laughed at this; let’s be honest, who grows up with this dream in mind! I definitely did not. Nonetheless, it is now my reality and I am proud of it and excited for what the next ten years has to offer me. Therefore, I thought I would take a minute and put to paper some rambling thoughts and musing of lessons learned over the last ten years.
Yep… it is a Real Industry
I am sure we have all encountered the same types of looks that I referred to above, from either our family or friends, or from other professionals we find ourselves in conversation with. I was first introduced by a friend of mine who was a Regional Sales Manager for Digital Payment Technologies [any guesses how I ended up working there myself?!] and our group of friends had many conversations behind his back about how he couldn’t actually be in ‘parking’… there wasn’t actually an industry for that right…? He must be a spy! CIA! IRS! He worked odd hours, didn’t seem to report to any real office, travelled all around the US without much rhyme or reason… Plenty of ammunition to suspect he was hiding a dark secret. We in fact teased his wife that perhaps he was trying to cover up a secret family down in Miami; wife, 2 kids, dog… the whole gamut. Not sure she appreciated the ‘joke’. In fact, I learned quickly that we are not only a ‘real ‘industry, but a booming one to boot [pun intended]. Some recent data I pulled from the web stated that due to a projected YOY [Year Over Year] CAGR [Compound Annual Growth Rate] of 12.1 %, our industry revenue worldwide is set to hit over seven billion dollars by the year 2018. This is staggering… and certainly earns us the ‘real industry’ kudos.
Bring on the High Heels
Christian Louboutin? Jimmy Choo? The forever-dependable Nine West? It matters not. I recall the first trade show that I attended in 2008 [IPI in Dallas] and remember feeling like an anomaly on the trade show floor. Most other vendor representatives were male, and a high proportion of the staff and executives of each organization we spoke to at our booth were also male. I had a good inkling when I took the job that I was going to be in a male dominated industry but I really had no idea of how much, until this first experience. Since then, each year I see more and more females stepping up into both sales roles and high-level executive roles within Municipal, University and Private Operator’s organizations. Some of our greatest thought leaders are female and parking professionals all over are looking to them for guidance. This is a very exciting time for everyone in the industry. While I am a proponent of having the best person hired for any particular job, and not necessary to tick a required box, I believe [generally speaking] that men and women have inherently different and unique strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, the more diversity and balance we bring to our work life, the better off we are all going to be for it. Looking around the trade show floor at IPI this year, I would almost bet that there was a 60/40 ratio now, which is so encouraging. We are definitely moving in the right direction.
Looking into the Crystal Ball
The parking industry in North America has historically been a bit slow atadopting technology trends. In 2008 when I entered the scene, I would hazard a guess we were positioned somewhere in the mid-90’s at best, when compared to other industries. Ten years ago, Pay by Plate [PBP] was hardly considered and the lack of organizational structure often led to the inability to deal holistically with available technology. Cash still ruled the day in mostcases and mobile payments were just starting to show their face. Today, PBP is the benchmark to achieve, mobile payments are offered in almost every parking environment, unified data houses with open API’s and easily accessible key performance indicators are shaping the way our departments are working with each other internally and externally and outside forces such as Uber and Lyft are changing how we plan for the future. With the prevalence of software-based solutions, we wonder what effect it will have on parking hardware in the future? With shared and autonomous vehicles being our next reality, parking revenue for Municipalities, Universities and Private Operators will be affected. The ripples will hit us all whether we work in the private or public sector. I unfortunately don’t have a crystal ball handy to project exactly how we will all navigate this new world [I know, the title of this paragraph was misleading] but I have no doubt that it will be an exciting ride for all of us involved.
Network, Network, Network
It’s not only technology advancement that has given our industry the reputation of being old school. I have come to witness time after time the fact that our industry model’s foundation is based on face-to-face interactions. Relationships built on trust, mutual respect, the good old fashioned handshake and eye to eye contact. Although there is the occasional situation where WebEx meetings and Skype calls can accomplish a needed dialogue, our successes mostly land from in-person communication. Due to this, we have a magnitude of opportunity to learn from our counterparts and enhance our own job performance. I look at my own personal social media and notice more and more, ‘parking people’ are taking shape on my contacts and friends lists. Does this mean I need to be a bit careful of what I post? Sure. But I try to live on social media as if my mother was always watching…because… my mother is always watching! Whether we are looking to move to a new organization or brainstorm with other thought leaders to solve a problem in our own organization, the network and relationship building opportunities that that Parking Industry provides us is bar none in my opinion. Regional Associations provide an amazing opportunity for this type of networkingactivity. Getting involved with geographically similar minded people can broaden our own set of experiences, which in turn can help us do our job more effectively.
Competition is Healthy…
If you are in the public side of our business, then this might not ring true to you. Skip down to ‘Work hard, Play hard’. But if you belong to the private sector, that of a parking operator or vendor, you may relate to what I’m saying next. With the exception of a few players that don’t like to share space in the sandbox [or worse yet, pick up the sand and throw it?], I have come to determine that there is place for us all and in fact we all make each other stronger and better. There are keen rivalries in our industry; we all like to ‘win’. However, after the close of business I have witnessed many competitors at a company level or at a sales representative level come together over a drink and share stories. There are many situations where, as competitors, we need to work together with integrations to enhance a client’s environment. Where we need to collaborate and share the business for the greater good. It shows integrity to have such relationships and integrations in spite of the competitive nature that is all around us. With technology changing us each day, as competitors we inspire and push each other to new heights in order to best serve those around us. It’s hard work, but…
Work hard, Play hard
Trust me; we play just as hard. I’m sure anyone reading this has experienced highs and lows in their chosen position and organization. Some weeks we are putting in twelve-hour days, seven days a week and feel completely overwhelmed. Turn us all loose at a SWPTA Scavenger Hunt or at a Minute-to-Win-it games night at TPTA and it will become abundantly clear that we are a fun loving and social group. We are able to find balance for those long days given the numerous opportunities to play within our industry. Regional Associations are more often than not hosting annual conferences that are highly interactive and focus a great deal on building relationships and creating learning, in fun and active ways. I have witnessed many public organizations with a strong sense of community that plan outside of work events to kick back and let loose. I know the same can be said on the private side…
As I am now hitting the ten-year marker, which must allow me to wear the official ‘parking nerd’ hat, I realize I could ramble on about parking and our chosen industry for hours. I will therefore use some self-control at this point and sign off. Whether you are brand new to the industry and a little scared of what is coming next, a ten year Parking Professional like myself, or a seasoned veteran who has experienced it all, I hope this has created some spark of excitement about where the Parking Industry sits today and the future we have to look forward to.