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Private Property Impounds — Presenting a Solution

Jun 1st, 2012 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

I do a lot of driving in my little Honda Civic. Quite a change from the days of running impounds. I’m still conditioned to recognize potential impound business, however. When I drive around, I notice cars parked in fire lanes, or crowded lots in busy business districts, or cars in disabled parking without permits. I also notice private lots without signs, or with signs that are broken or covered with graffiti. These were things I looked for when I was a driver and later a manager. When I was a swing-shift driver, I would write notes and give them to our sales staff as leads. Sometimes I would stop in and inquire myself, if it wasn’t too late in the day. When I moved into management, I routinely made sales calls. At one time, in the market I worked in, there was one company that did about 90 percent of the private property impounds (our company). When I started working there in 1986, we had no salesman. A few years later, a shoe salesman came into our office one day and convinced our boss that he could increase our business. And he did. The PPI business grew probably 100 percent over two to three years. It also gave our competition the idea that they could put their own salesmen out in the field, which they did, though not with nearly as much success.

Over the next five to ten years, the PPI business became very competitive in our market. A lot of small companies popped up, many of them owned by our former employees. Some gained a significant market share. I often wondered how the growth appeared from the perspective of the customer. Our primary customer was the property owner or manager. Most of them dealt with parking problems in a low-key manner for years. There were properties that had major problems, like a Safeway in downtown Portland that would generate maybe ten impounds on a busy Friday or Saturday night. Some properties have never been visited by an impound company rep. Now, suddenly, you might have reps from four different companies wander in to your office in one week. If you had a parking problem, it could be worse. How did those property managers see those reps? As saviors or pests?

The impound market, I’ve often said, is unique in that it is created by the illegal parker. If no one parks illegally, there are no impounds to be done. Simple as that. As soon as someone parks illegally, the potential for an impound tow is created. It’s a reasonable — and convenient — rationalization. I won’t backtrack from that claim. However, when competition between impound towers becomes hot and heavy, the market is expanded by the companies providing the service.

This is illustrated by a sales tactic we used routinely: you don’t have to take business away from someone else to increase your business. There are properties everywhere that could generate impound tows, if the property owner is aware of the problem and the solution you present. You just have to educate them. Sometimes there are good reasons for doing this. If a business is losing customers because they have limited space for customer parking, and another business’ customers are in their lot, you are doing the business owner a favor by presenting a solution. If a property is in danger of having action taken by the Fire Marshall for vehicles in fire lanes, you are helping them by presenting a solution.

Let’s think about a different scenario. Say there is a residential property with 200 units. You drive through there on a weeknight and the lot is maybe 60 percent full. Now, if you make friends with the property manager and convince them to implement a permit system, with tow trucks patrolling at random times for violators, and the property generates 20 tows the first month, then settles down to maybe five or six per month, have you presented a solution that has helped their business? Hard to say. You’ve presented a solution that helps your business for sure. Who is getting towed? Visitors of the residents? So now the lot is 53 percent full every night. Maybe you’re taking advantage of something there.

As I drive around now and see properties that might generate 40, or 14, or four impounds a month, I sometimes catch myself and think about how the impound business preys upon the misfortune of others. I use “misfortune” loosely, but it is misfortune to not pay attention to where you’re supposed to be parking. I warn everyone I know to never take a chance on where you park. Make sure you know you’re okay in that spot, I tell them. I know, first-hand, of too many cases in which the impound company got around the law, or used a loophole to justify a tow, and got away with it. No signs? Well, you parked on a government property, and the government isn’t required to have signs. Permit fell off the rear-view mirror? Well, that’s unfortunate, and unfortunately your fault, even if the driver has seen your car there with the permit displayed every night for the last two years.

Towers in the impound industry have an obligation to both the industry itself and the general public to conduct their business ethically and responsibly. The businesses I worked for were ethical and responsible, but sometimes their employees weren’t, and when that happens, it’s innocent until proven guilty, right? I don’t have a solution for this. The solution is not regulation, I know that. Self-regulation is the only regulation that works. One thing’s for sure — it’s an interesting topic of conversation.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper