Marketing & Downtown Parking Meters

parking meter

What do parking meters have to do with retail marketing?  Good question.  I think you’ll see the connections as you read about my recent experience.

I attended a meeting last night where a city planning consultant presented some preliminary results to a small business community.  This consultant was hired to figure out strategies to make our suburban city more successful commercially and more enjoyable for the residents.  One of the issues she presented last night was the hot potato topic of parking and parking meters.

A little background.  Some of the retailers attending didn’t believe our city had sufficient parking.  City code requires commercial businesses to have a specific amount of space designated for parking.  The consultant sees the code and the existing parking areas as a barrier to creating friendly inner city walking areas.

The consultant described two California communities, cheek to jowl.  One community, (A), was run down and had a high concentration of pawn shops, theaters and bars in its downtown core.  It was running on fumes.  The other community, ( B) ,had a high socioeconomic profile with a vibrant and healthy downtown community.

A newly elected Mayor of community A decided to install parking meters to the dismay of its residents.  This seemed crazy given that the downtown of A was already in decline, but it turned out that this Mayor was crazy like a fox.  He used the revenues from the meters to fund revitalization of the downtown.  It took some time, but today A is a healthy and vibrant downtown.  It is alive and prosperous.  All from the courageous insight of one crazy Mayor.

What happened to B, the community that had it made?  Well, B has experienced a decline over the same period of time.  Some of it is probably due to a loss of A shoppers since they now have a vibrant community  in their own backyard.  But another part of it is due to faulty management of its parking meters.  Seem the City officials of B decided to keep parking meter fees low so the residents wouldn’t complain.  The net result is the parked cars never move, which negatively impacts the retail businesses.  No parking turn-over, no retail store visitors.

So, again, what do parking meters have to do with the marketing one’s retail operation or small business?  For me, there are several connections.

One connection is the City officials in B who kept meter fees low only to discover this decision is negatively impacting their retail businesses’ ability to attract more visitors. I see this “keep it low” mentality all the time with owners of small business.  They try to compete with the larger merchants by offering massive discounts or less than profitable prices because they believe this is what their customers want.  They think this is how they will compete, when in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

STOP Discounting

Stop it right now.  Stop training your customers to only visit your store when you have a sale.  You can not survive playing this game and your small business is needed to keep your local area retail community strong and vibrant.  Get better at marketing and promoting in lieu of discounting.

Hang on to Your Vision

The other connection is with the Mayor of A.  He had a vision and the courage to implement that vision.  So must you.  Have the courage to stick to the vision of your small business.  If needed, learn new ways of marketing to make your business thrive, but don’t ever, ever sell your vision short.  It is what makes you unique.  Once you sell off your vision or give it away, you lose your reason for being.  Don’t!  You’ll be sorry and so will the community you serve.


Image by Slideshow Bruce via Flickr

Sheila Hibbard

Sheila Hibbard takes the fluff, hype and confusion out of marketing and social media. She provides small business owners with straight forward, no nonsense marketing guidance and techniques that produce results based on her 35 plus years in advertising, communications, research, strategic planning and social media. Author of Marketing Online Made Simple - WHO.

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