Park place

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Dealers are eager for more showroom traffic, but are they making it easy for customers to find a place to park?

All high-end hotels have it — a “jewel case” of premium parking spots at the entrance.

The glimmering row of Italian and German sheet metal and carbon fibre is a statement. It says “exclusive” and “luxurious” and “elegant”. It states very clearly that 5-star hospitality starts in the parking lot.

You may not be selling — and your customers may not be pulling up in — the latest from Maranello and Stuttgart, but making your inventory look great and your customers feel even better starts in the parking lot.

To valet or not valet

In 2006, Lexus published a survey addressing Americans’ opinions about valet parking. Not only did 61 per cent of those surveyed say they had used valet parking, the vast majority of respondents felt that valet parking would improve their experience at their Lexus dealership.

No surprise there. Everyone loves valet parking. But is it worth the effort?

In some facilities, limited space makes valet much more justifiable. In most cases however, valet is considered solely for the experience. In either situation, valet is labour intensive, complicates insurance and offers a touch of luxury to an otherwise mundane function.

Valet parking requires dedicated personnel. Valet operations should be stand-alone or one component of a comprehensive automotive hospitality program including shuttle services, detailing, greeting and other customer contacts. If that scares you, steer clear of valet.

Ultimately, if your facility is high-volume and luxury focused, it may be worthwhile to bring in a third party to run your valet operation and consider outsourcing other customer contact points along with it.

If your facility is smaller and more pedestrian in positioning, best to stay in the self-park realm — but think about how to make it better.

Indoor parking

This is Canada. There’s weather. But not if your customers park inside.

The simplest way for most facilities to accomplish indoor drop off and pick up is a simple double-sided garage annexed to the facility. Customers drive in one entrance, leave their vehicle in the garage and register with the service desk. Techs then move the vehicle through the other end of the garage annex and into service.

Seems simple enough? Of course, if you want to use this annex for general valet parking for sales and service customers, see the above valet section.

Self park plus

There are roughly 800 million surface parking spots in the U.S. These spots service 90 per cent of U.S. parking demand. We spend more time in parking lots than in any other public space.

Yet despite their ubiquity, from a design perspective, parking lots haven’t changed since the advent of the automobile 100 years ago.

In “ReThinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking” (MIT Press, 2012) author Eran Ben-Joseph casts a critical eye on parking lots.

Ben-Joseph outlines some of the more interesting “off-time” uses of parking lots including farmers markets, concert and tailgate venues or county fairgrounds.

These off-time uses are obviously high friction. But imagine using some of them to get new audiences around your facility in a context totally divorced from the traditional car buying experience.

Ben-Joseph also catalogues some of the design concepts that acknowledge what parking lots are — your facility’s lobby — and give them the sense of occasion they deserve.

In broad terms, Ben-Joseph advocates plantings in the middle of the lot, not just around the edges; the use of a number of different materials to delineate parking space from pedestrian space; and the use of more natural materials in parking areas.

The idea is to make the parking lot more than a place to put your vehicle — it is a living space.

The system

Already have valet in a heated and air conditioned Garden of Eden? Then the next step for you is vertical or automated parking.

Much more common in Europe and Asia, these stacking systems allow your inventory to be displayed like a giant vending machine, all while saving space and giving your facility a major wow factor.

These systems can be fully automated, semi-automated, multi-level or any combination depending on the physical limitations of your facility — existing or purpose built.

These systems culminate in car displays. These vertical systems become a central feature of a dealership; allowing halo vehicles to be placed in street visible positions while still being available and accessible — the ultimate jewel box showcasing your best.

Being in the auto business, we all need parking. But just having it isn’t enough. With a little thought, planning and effort; parking at your facility can be a part of the experience rather than just a place to stick a car.

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