Bill Lerner, President and CEO of iPark (formerly Imperial Parking Systems), grew his company from a small, family-owned business to one of the largest parking management companies in New York City.
Mr. Lerner shared with us the most valuable insights he’s gained during his 40+ years in the parking industry.
ParkingExec (PE): Your father founded Imperial Parking Systems, which is now iPark. Did you always want to be involved in the parking industry?
Bill Lerner (BL): It was a natural transition because of the family-oriented nature of our company. I was always in or around our garages as a child. I’ve often worked in the facilities, stationing vehicles, cleaning, and just overall soaking up every elemental variable that makes up this industry.
PE: What lessons did your father teach you about parking that still hold true?
BL: My father was a brilliant man. The value of his lessons were immeasurable. But if I had to zero in on defining lessons that have an impactful prevalence in my thought process, then these lessons were key:
The quality and satisfaction of hard work: Putting in the time and care to nurture and develop your company is what will define and sustain your operation for years.
Having the foresight to adapt and implement future functions for your company: My father’s instinctual ability to understand and decipher business trends that would directly affect our market was an amazing talent. He instilled in me that being prepared, and avoiding conformity and complacency, were key to business survival.
PE: Your company is known for being very customer-centric. Why do you think customer service is important to parking?
BL: Our patrons are our lifeline. There is no way about this. Even if our business is rudimentary, it does not excuse us from applying the same quality customer service practiced in other industries.
PE: More and more drivers are relying on technology to get around and find parking. What’s been the biggest way technology has impacted your operations?
BL: It’s become essential to be technologically capable. Our customer base has become primarily a tech community. The amenities they enjoy in other markets have to be available in ours in order to retain business.
The pros of these advances have affected every level of the parking business. From the accounting systems in the back office to the automation at the point of sale, technology has become imperative to embrace.
PE: Have online marketing channels contributed to your organization’s success? If so, how?
BL: They absolutely have. By opening up new methods of access to us, we’re tapping into the customer who was previously apprehensive of parking. The new offers are attractive and popular. This translates to additional business.
PE: At one point, integrating with new technology may have seemed intimidating. What’s another perceived risk you took that paid off?
BL: It’s difficult to key in on one instance. Every business decision comes with risk. On the financial end, acquisitions of new properties and leases always present an unforeseen variable that can have an upside or downside.
PE: What’s been your greatest business challenge during your 40 years of experience?
BL: As we’ve grown over the years, maintaining the focus on customer care through a large work force has presented a challenge. The company’s philosophy has to be consistent from the oldest employee to the newest employee.
PE: How do you balance having a lean organization and making sure your teams have the bandwidth to accomplish everything they need to?
BL: This is very difficult. It’s a fine line to walk. Controlling your team’s DNA is crucial. I’ve always believed in redundancy. And that my team should be skilled in multiple areas, which in turn, translates into optimizing the customer experience.
PE: What would you say is the greatest challenge facing the parking industry today, and how can the industry adapt to combat it?
BL: The primary challenges are the mounting costs that go with operating in a metropolis. The rise in Real Estate taxes, the increased value of properties, and the evolving components of long-term leases that will dictate your future profitability are all daunting issues.
Also the ever looming proposal on congesting pricing into the city of Manhattan poses a large threat to our industry.
PE: Looking back on your career, what’s something you would have done differently now?
BL: I think that one thing I would have done differently is focused more on purchasing properties opposed to simply directing my resources into the parking business alone.
PE: How can operators create a niche for themselves?
BL: Our business is part of the Real Estate world. As the adage proclaims, it’s about “location, location, location”. Acquiring locations that are both profitable and visibly marketable is ideal. Carving out a niche for yourself starts with this. Once you have an established location, your service is what will determine your identity.
PE: We know you’ve started a nonprofit, Billy4Kids, which provides shoes for children globally. What inspired you?
BL: I have been actively involved in charitable works for many years. Whether it was through direct donations, volunteer work, or sitting on the board of directors for some organizations, it’s something I’ve always felt strongly about. The idea had been germinating for many years until I saw a documentary about parasitic diseases that truly sparked my call to direct action.
PE: What piece of advice would you give someone just starting their career in the parking industry?
BL: The parking leaders in the industry are looking for individuals that will lead them confidently into the next century. Being multi-faceted and proactive are keys that will help someone excel in our business.