Parking for Patrons

Retailers are aware that consumers’ fast-paced lifestyles demand a certain level of convenience during their shopping experience. Customers want to be able to find the products they need and checkout without any hassle, wasting a lot of time, or spending too much money. The good news is that this desired experience is within your control as you plan your store layout, select inventory, set pricing and employ a customer-friendly staff. Yet there are elements outside your store, and perhaps your control, affecting your traffic flow and ultimately your bottom line.

As city centers look for paid parking profits, retailers are quickly losing their convenience and curbside appeal, making the effort to reinvigorate downtown impossible. Taking a comprehensive approach to downtown retail parking is important because of the significant differences in a downtown environment compared to the competition (suburban malls or big box retailers). The suburban malls and big box stores have several obvious parking advantages over downtown areas, and these include:

• Plentiful land on which to provide cheap or free surface parking.

• Simple, easily understood access, characterized by direct lines of sight from the parking lot to the store(s).

• Generally high levels of service through short walking distances, generous parking stall widths, etc.

• Single ownership and control of dedicated parking resources.

• Increased ability to control employee parking behaviors through direct management.

For this reason, downtown businesses, including the independent retailers lining Main Streets nationwide, have begun to voice their opinions to their local governments. Lynchburg, VA, for instance, recently plagued by the threat of paid parking, caused business owners to band together in a battle for survival. News station ABC13 reported on the recent showdown between downtown business owners and the city parking authority, saying, “Downtown businesses say paid parking can drive people away from downtown. The owner of Celebration, a downtown shop, says the meters are not user-friendly and scare away business.” And while these business owners are worried about parking inconveniences, including meters and limited spots, a clean slate is not a logical possibility in downtown environments when it comes to parking. But there are some basic principles relative to effective retail parking strategies that can be employed to give retail a fighting chance downtown and place control back in retailers’ hands. Possible parking resolutions include:

1) Promoting an effective and consistent parking enforcement function, with the primary goal of enforcing the rules, promoting on-street space turnover.

2) Having an effective combination of time limits to support the specific uses of downtown retailers. For example, coffee shops and dry cleaners have different needs than restaurants and clothing stores.

3) Offering to validate parking, paying for part or all of their parking if they make a purchase.

4) Providing directions and parking details on your website. If you have limited parking outside your store and have a B2C site that helps you communicate with your customers, then it might be a good idea to offer up directions to available parking on your website. You don’t want them driving by and deciding to turn back home without ever stepping in your store.

5) Leasing parking space from a neighboring business. If the neighboring business has some available spaces or perhaps traffic downtime, it might be a good idea to lease the parking area for your customers who otherwise would be without a spot