PARK ‘N FLY INNOVATED OFF-AIRPORT PARKING BUSINESS
By Rick Mullen, Busline Magazine Associate Editor
According to Park ‘N Fly® CEO/President Tony Paalz, when the company, headquartered in Atlanta, GA, began in 1967, it was the first to enter the off-airport parking segment.
“There were really no other companies in this business at that time,” Paalz said during a recent interview with Busline Magazine. “We are in year 47 right now, which is pretty good for a mid-sized company.”
Park ‘N Fly currently operates 16 facilities throughout the country. In addition to its own facilities, the company has an affiliate network, consisting of about 82 locations nationwide. Paalz explained the affiliate network was created to allow corporate partners to book reservations with non-Park ‘N Fly facilities through the company.
“For example, let’s say we have a corporate customer who has an office in Denver, Colorado, where we do not have a company facility,” Paalz said. “We have an affiliate in Denver that will honor reservations made through our network. Our affiliate network is really important to us and our corporate customers because we have the ubiquity of the United States, which no one else can claim.”
As is the case with most successful companies in the passenger transport industry, Park ‘N Fly officials recognize that operating clean, attractive and state-of-the art vehicles can be a differentiator. Park ‘N Fly maintains a fleet of 205 cutaway buses to transport customers from Park ‘N Fly lots to the airport. In California, because of environmental regulations, Park ‘N Fly has been in the process of converting to compressed natural gas (CNG) buses.
“In San Francisco, our fleet is 100 percent CNG,” Paalz said. “We are at 100 percent CNG in Oakland and will be 100 percent in Los Angeles by year end. We are moving to CNG vehicles in San Diego and will be 60 percent converted by end of 2014.” In the ongoing process of maintaining a world class fleet, Park ‘N Fly has partnered with Turtle Top, of New Paris, IN, which specializes in manufacturing small to mid-sized buses and specialty vehicles.
“We have been purchasing Turtle Top vehicles for more than a year,” Paalz said. “The buses are beautiful inside and out and people love them. Our program to purchase top-of-the-line vehicles is key to maintaining the high end brand image we strive to have for our company. We want our buses to be world class — the nicest inside and out.”
Paalz praised the people at Turtle Top for how helpful, innovative and cooperative they have been in providing comfortable, smooth-riding buses with the desired amenities.
“At the end of the day, Turtle Top’s personnel are like us. They are trying to delight the customer,” Paalz said. “They are great and have been delighting us for about a year and a half now.”
The ‘Disney’ Of Parking Paalz explained the initial progression of a typical customer’s interaction with Park ‘N Fly begins with the reservation process and proceeds through the parking lot gate, pulling into a parking spot where a driver and bus awaits. Then there is the short trip to the airport. The process is reversed somewhat when the traveler returns from his or her trip. The goal is that each step in the customer’s experience be as easy and enjoyable as possible.
“We are a service business,” Paalz said. “Whether it is the first time or the 100th time a customer has used our service, our goal is the treat that person like it is the first time and blow him or her away with our service.
“We believe, and this has been true with the vast majority of our customers, if we can get you to try us one time, we have you for life. We are proud of our lots. They look good and they look new. The lighting is right, the buses are awesome and people love them. It all ties together.
“We have a saying that we want to be the ‘Disney’ of parking, because when you go to a Disney facility everything is immaculate. The hedges are perfect. The ground is cleaned. The garbage cans are emptied regularly. The vehicles and the rides all look great. We strive to be the same way. We want any thoughts a customer might have about Park ‘N Fly to be nothing but good — that we are the best of the best.”
More Than Just Parking Park ‘N Fly’s motto is “More than just parking.™” Along with its top-of-theline buses, the company is in the process of implementing various innovations, both at its lots and in the buses themselves.
“We claim that we provide more than just parking and we do that to make our customers’ lives easier,” Paalz said. “And not just easier when they travel from our parking lots to and from the airport, but also easier in other aspects of their lives.” For example, Park ‘N Fly recently opened its first Jiffy Lube franchise.
“While customers are away from their cars, they can get them serviced, the oil changed, etc.,” Paalz said. “We also offer car washes at most of our locations. Customers can have their cars fully detailed inside and out or opt for a basic wash. We will clean the customer’s car the morning he or she will be arriving back from a trip.”
The company also has a contract with Pet Paradise, a pet care chain. Pet Paradise facilities, located on or near participating Park ‘N Fly lots, are open 24/7, offering travelers a convenient place to drop off their pets no matter what time their flight arrives or departs.
“The Pet Paradise locations are like a camp for dogs,” Paalz said. “There is a pool at all the locations and all the dogs play together. We have customers who drop off their dogs there while taking short trips just to let their pets play with other dogs.”
One of many projects Park ‘N Fly is implementing has to do with the buses themselves, particularly the new Turtle Top vehicles. Paalz explained all the new buses are, or will be, outfitted with TVs. By way of Wi-Fi and GPS technologies, pertinent information will be shown on the TVs, such as weather reports for major destination cities and flight information.
“When the customer is on our shuttle, he or she can see on the TV what their flight number is, what gate it is leaving from, is it on time, etc.,” Paalz said. “The customer will know all the information about his or her flight without having to check the boards in the terminal. On shuttles with returning passengers, we will have traffic information on the TVs and other local information.”
Paalz said he was hired five years ago, “To breathe some life into a company and an industry that has been around for a while.” With his background in high technology, it is no surprise that under Paalz’s leadership, technology is playing a significant role in making Park ‘N Fly not your grandfather’s, or even your father’s, off-airport parking company.
“This year, we will be launching our own game-changing technologies,” Paalz said. “In what we provide, convenience is right up there with safety in importance. In the near future, people will not be pulling tickets at the gate. This will be controlled by the customers’ phones or by a sticker in their windows. For example, when a customer makes a reservation, he or she will receive a QR code or bar code on their phone, which will open the gate.
“We are trying to make it so people don’t even have to roll down their windows. We are trying to make it so customers barely have to stop at the gate.”
In the near future, customers will be able to download an app that will show where their shuttle is located. With GPS technology, Park ‘N Fly will also be able to internally track buses. If a customer calls wanting to know how long it will be before his or her bus arrives, company dispatchers will be able to immediately relay that information.
According to Paalz, there are companies in the off-airport parking segment that compete on price. In contrast, Park ‘N Fly emphasizes value.
“There are a lot of choices when it comes to airport parking. There is the on-airport parking experience and then there are offairport providers like Park ‘N Fly,” Paalz said. “It is very competitive and many companies are competing on price. We compete on value and part of that value proposition is offering more than just parking.
“It is all about what a company chooses to provide. While our prices are usually lower than on-airport parking, might they be higher than other off-airport providers? — the answer is ‘yes.’ We believe, with our value proposition of being the ‘Disney’ of parking, to pay $2 or $3 more is not something our customers balk at, because the value is totally worth it.”
Net Promoter Score
To help measure the success of its efforts to offer the best in customer service, Park ‘N Fly uses a methodology called the net promoter score. According to the Net Promoter® Community website, “The net promoter score, or NPS®, is based on the fundamental perspective that every company’s customers can be divided into three categories: promoters, passives and detractors.
“By asking one simple question — ‘How likely is it that you would recommend (company name) to a friend or colleague?’ — you can track these groups and get a clear measure of your company’s performance through your customers’ eyes. Customers respond on a 0-to-10-point rating scale and are categorized as follows:
- “Promoters (score 9-10) are loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and refer others, fueling growth;
- “Passives (score 7-8) are satisfied but unenthusiastic customers who are vulnerable to competitive offerings; and
- “Detractors (score 0-6) are unhappy customers who can damage your brand and impede growth through negative word-of-mouth.”
“We ask each of our customers, ‘On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend us to somebody else?’” Paalz said. “A score of 9 or 10 is positive; 7 or 8 is neutral; and zero through 6 is negative.”
“When we first started doing this about four years ago, I wondered how many people would take the time to answer that one question,” Paalz said. “We get almost a thousand responses a day. With the question, it is also available for people to tell us why they rated us the way they did. As you can imagine, the written comments often provide more valuable information than just the numbers.”
Paalz explained how the NPS is calculated. The formula is derived by the number of positive (promoter) scores minus the negative (detractors) divided by the total number of scores, including the neutrals or passives. Each morning at about 2 a.m., each Park ‘N Fly employee, including Paalz, is sent an email telling how the company did the day before.
“This daily email tells us how many people filled out the survey the prior day,” Paalz said. “There might have been 600 to 1,000 responses. Since we have been asking the question, we have received thousands of responses and we have been averaging 75 percent.
“When we get a detractor, which is rare, that person will receives a phone call from us that day. If the person doesn’t have a phone, we will send an email. That is one of our lot managers’ top priorities each day. We want to know what we did wrong. Was the bus late? Was someone rude? What happened? We will do whatever it takes to delight a customer.
“In order to average a score of 75 percent, we have very few detractors. This is an accomplishment of which we are very proud. It is, as we like to say at Park ‘N Fly, ‘Putting our money where our mouth is.’ We are measuring ourselves and holding ourselves to the highest standards.”
Paalz estimates Park ‘N Fly will park about 2 million customers this year. Taking care of that many people at the high-level of quality that Park ‘N Fly demands falls to its 850 employees nationwide. “The people who work at the lots are the ones who really bring to life what our company is about,” Paalz said. “They are the people who touch our customers. We have drivers, cashiers, dispatchers, mechanics and local management at each location with the sole focus of delighting our customers. Perhaps the employees who interact the most with customers are the drivers. As many of the company’s drivers are veterans — some have been with the company over 30 years — they often form long-term relationships with riders.
“A lot of our customers have been coming to certain locations for so many years that they get to know the drivers. So, whether in Cleveland, Atlanta or Dallas or whatever the market, we have a following of people who are loyal customers and they see the same drivers over and over and they build relationships. This is part of our magic.
“In addition to working to delight each and every customer, we have a sharp focus on safety. We pay attention to both our employee safety and our customer safety and in general take safety very seriously. People can get hurt in this business. For example, we don’t operate buses while people are standing. This is just one of our rules.” The buses are equipped with cameras to help ensure passenger safety and to act as a witness of any incidents that might arise.
A Reservation To Park
According to Paalz, there are many ways people hear about Park ‘N Fly. A very significant portion of the company’s volume comes online. It is one of the few companies that has an online reservations system.
“A person might ask, ‘Who makes a reservation to park? People make reservations for flights, rental cars and hotels — but to park?’ About 35 percent of customers book online before they come to our lot,” Paalz said. “The reason is a number of our locations are full each day. At the places where we are pretty full and the airports are generally full, we get a lot of reservation volume. At some locations, over 60 percent of our volume comes through reservations.”
In light of all the improvements and technological advancements Park ‘N Fly is implementing, Paalz is excited and optimistic about the future of the company.
“It is exciting, because what I am seeing, after 5 years or so, is all the foundation that we have been building to bring our new technology to life is going to happen and is going to put us in a place that is far ahead of our competitors,” Paalz said. “During the next 5 to 10 years, it looks like we will expand to more locations. To make it almost 50 years as a mid-sized company shows we are a very strong business and I think we will be even stronger in the future.
“Another great thing I get to see is our people are energized and proud to work at Park ‘N Fly. It makes my day.”