It is embarrassing when adults seek extra love and attention by showing off. They purchase huge watches or diamond rings in order to cry out, ‘Please like me. Please notice me. Please think that I am important’. I used to suffer from this ailment. I would purchase expensive clothes in the hope that someone might think that I am cool or hip. Many of us grow out of this. Some get worse. Like needy teenagers, corporations embarrass themselves when they shout about something that is not worth shouting about. Like when they place ads saying ‘Just $10’ or ‘Only $10’ or ‘For a low $10’, or ‘Amazing $10’. I once exclaimed, ‘Statements stand perfectly on their own. Embellish them with adjectives, and they leave some doubt.’
When Secure Parking shouts its price by using a font so large, that it dwarfs every other statement on the board, it makes me wonder what it is really trying to say. It seems to me that the more that a statement is amplified, the more one needs to be careful.
Last week I gave Wilson Parking a serve for their silly tactics. Sadly, Secure Parking is just as bad. Here’s why.
I have been parking in such car parks from the time I could first drive. And in all my many years, I had never seen a community of people gathering around the payment machine in protest. People are normally shy. They never speak with each other in lifts, and certainly never around the payment machine at car parks. Yet, this week, there was what looked like a union meeting. Strangers complaining to each other about the utter confusion, each one raising different aspects of the various signs at Secure Parking’s Cinema Centre Car Park. I joined the discussion and took some photos to explain why this company, successful as it is, just does not cut the mustard.
First, why must it shout about its parking starting from $6? That sign and the font that displays the number ‘6’ is taller than the average customer! Why is it shouting when, in the end, customers are disappointed. Normal people feel ripped off. They are confused. They feel let down. They feel misled. One woman was walking around like a school principal on playground duty, reading all the signs, scratching her head, arguing with her friends, and pleading that she was certain that she was promised $10 parking. The entry-point to that car park is littered with signs and prices, that it would not be so odd for someone to have glanced at one of the many signs and assumed that the offer applied to them. The woman saw me taking the photos and she presumed that I was going to complain on everyone’s behalf. I protested and said, ‘Everyone here must complain. People rarely take matters further than this, so please be sure to complain.’ In other words, I was urging her to not rely on me. ‘More of us need to take action,’ I said.
Why is it so jolly difficult to park a car? Why so many price brackets? Where are the economies-of-scale? This is a concrete building. Why must it speak in terms of segments and brackets of half an hour, then one-to-two hours, and so on? We are not purchasing jumbo jets from Boeing. Why all that inducements and incentives by hourly brackets? Just make it simple. Sell parking by the minute and be done with it. Phone companies realised this ages ago.
So we are lured by an offer of ‘From $6’. This is childish and totally out of touch with the market and with the service being sold. Here’s why: the sign says, if you enter after 5:00 pm on Friday or Saturday nights, you can enjoy parking from $6.00. How stupid. I would challenge Secure Parking to reveal to us how many people enter a car park on a Friday or Saturday night and stay for thirty minutes. For that matter, who goes out on a Friday or Saturday night, whether it be for a show, movie, or event, and departs in less than four hours? I bet that most customers who go to the city on Friday and Saturday nights are there for some major event, meeting, or entertainment. The jolly car park acknowledges this. So much so that it is officially called the ‘Cinema Centre Car Park’. By the time a customer drives in, parks, walks to the cinema, meets friends, has a meal, watches a movie, has coffee, and departs, it is four hours. So for goodness sakes, why are they selling their concrete spaces by shouting a price for a unit of time that would not represent the bulk of what customers need?
I have plenty more to say about this. For example, their price-list as you can see starts at $6 then $13 then $25, then $34, and finally $45 for the night. Why the mess? Why the confusion? If we work these out on an hourly basis, they come to these respective equivalents: $12 per hour, then $13, then $12.50, then $11.33, then $11.25. So all that fuss and nonsense that confuses the hell out of people, just so that they can sell their increments from the equivalent of $11.25 per hour, up to $13 per hour. In the end, not much difference either way. This is a useless way to sell a service on a Friday and Saturday night when party-goers are unlikely to spend less than four hours in town. What a palaver!
Dear Secure Parking, why don’t you just take the four-hour rate with which you seem to be happy? It amounts to $45. This works out at $11.25 per hour. Why don’t you just say that from the start, and be done with it. You can announce, ‘Come and park here for $11.25 per hour.’ How shameful is that? How impossible is that? How outrageous would it be for your company to reveal the naked truth about your price-list? Just tell the truth, damn it!
Better still, sell it by the minute and let people come and go as they please. Just say, ‘Park with us for 20 cents per minute.’
This question puzzles me no-end: Why oh why does Secure Parking (along with similar establishments) feel the urge to price each segment differently? Just why? How does it matter that it is half an hour or 2-3 hours or 3-4 hours? What happens to the concrete, that it matters? I can understand such pricing brackets if one were purchasing printing material from China. The quantity matters, and it affects the price of shipping etc. I am sure everyone understands the notion of economies-of-scale and amortised handling and shipping charges amidst fixed costs for customs clearance etc. The car park is a stack of concrete. What happens between 1-2 hours that differs so greatly from 2-3 hours? It’s just mumbo-jumbo.
And another thing: why are such companies so mean? They price their parking based on demand. That is a huge insult. It is so unprofessional. Go ahead, laugh. Sure, I understand all about price and demand. But it is sooooo mean-spirited when parking fees change based on need. When I really want to park in town, the fees are astronomical. When I am not desperate to park there, I am offered cheaper $10 flat rates. Please note that I have been in sales and marketing and management for many years, so I am speaking as a professional, and not ranting from the perspective of a customer. As a professional, who understands all about pricing, I am saying that it is insane to speak about a brand as having certain lovely qualities, when its actions are mean and nasty. Park with us when lots of people need our services, and you pay through the nose. When the city is not so busy, we will beg you to come to us, shouting with fonts whose height exceed 6 foot. When we need to fill the space, we offer flat rates and early-birds.
How hard would it be if a parking-station worked out its rent and expenses and what it needs to earn, and just distilled it all to a price per minute. They can then come out and announce, ‘Park with us, day or night, at any time, at your convenience, and you can always be sure that the price is dead simple. We charge x-cents per minute. You do not need a World War II code-book to decipher the fee schedule. You do not have to guess and wonder how we might be trying to con you. You do not have to remember any other number. Come park with us for one flat fee, day or night, at any time.’
In fact, if we average it all out, taking into account that the company is willing to charge $10 flat rates, and if we mix that with the current peak-period absurdities, we might find the middle ground, which might be around 12 cents per minutes, on the whole. By the way, I am not asking for a discount. I would not mind if Secure Parking or Wilson Parking charged ten cents or $50. The amount is not the point. It is the underhanded confusing fee schedule that adds no value. (Perhaps they need to show inflated fees to justify their price and fake-discounts to long-term corporate parking clients.)
As I mentioned, strangers were walking about, protesting. When strangers start talking to each other, you know that aggrieved people are on the loose. The whole car park is automated, so that night, customers had no-one to whom to complain. Sure, they could have pressed a button for ‘help’, but perhaps they did not like the idea of big brother shouting at them via a loud speaker (and believe me, that speaker is loud).
Like the rest of the docile crowd, I must have been an idiot too. I was unhappy with my stupidity because I really did not see the ‘From’. I really thought that it was $6 to park. Sure, I am stupid. Sure, I am blind. Yet, I was blaming myself. I was blinded by that 6-foot digit. After all that interaction, guess how much I was charged? $32. As you can see, I took a photo of the screen as it charged me for my parking. But I still feel like an idiot because nowhere on the board does it explain why and when someone is charged $32. So we add insult to injury that makes me feel completely lost. Where on the board does it stipulate $32? I can see $25 that jumps to $34. Goodness me. Compare this experience with the company’s website that says, ‘Secure Parking prides itself on creating superior parking environments.’ In its media releases, it speaks about ‘user friendly car parking’. I have argued with my Visa card company and American Express when my parking fees show up on my credit card statements under the wrong date. So if I park there four times over four dates, I see the bills all listed under one date, which confuses me and makes me wonder if I am being double-charged etc. Secure Parking’s web site boasts about ‘ground-breaking’ technology. Ha! Hardly.
Secure Parking manages more than 200 car parks across Australia, with additional car parks in Lebanon, Malaysia, Indonesia, Dubai, and China. They have been in the business long enough (thirty years) to mature. A mature company, like a mature person, ought to stop shouting. Presumably, the company has the confidence to avoid trickery and slimy sales practices that are more akin to the ways of wild youth. On its website, the company uses all the right words, such as: passionate; ground-breaking; highest levels of efficiency; convenience; best people; and so many other magnificent words and phrases (a bit sickly really). And that’s great to see. The intent is there. All they have to do now is convene a meeting where the Board of Directors will ask, ‘Are we delivering on our promise, or are we acting like cowboys?’
By the way, I searched my archives and came across these photos, taken no more than three weeks prior to the photos above. Note the price increase, which is fair enough. What intrigues me is why all other rates have gone up except for the one-hour parking which remained at $13.00. It is also interesting to note the ‘From $5.00’ sandwich board outside.