Parking the car is seldom the highlight of any trip, but it often becomes a memorable event for all the wrong reasons. Opaque pricing, prerecorded messages and dirty, outdated machines that cannot read currency can drive even the most patient of people to the limits of their patience. However, sunlight is finally coming into these dark caverns. Belgium-based OPC is leading the way to a more pleasant and rational parking system.
“We have a vision,” states Peter Lamens, Founder and Managing Director of OPC. “We focus on the complete parking strategy.” A veteran of parking management, Mr. Lamens felt the industry needed to be revamped. “After working in parking on an international level for more than a decade, I was restless. I felt my entrepreneur’s heart beating, so I took a sabbatical to develop a more refined business model that I could apply to my own company.”
Since its beginning in Oklahoma City in 1935, paid parking has remained the domain of cities and municipalities. “We had to work very hard to bring our strategy to the market,” states Mr. Lamens. “Parking is a special business because you have to work very closely with the local authorities. Initially, our guards could not even check the tickets or levy fines due to legal restrictions. This led to inefficiencies and duplication. We wanted to show local governments that our model was better. By working with local authorities and examining the laws very carefully, we managed to change things.”
Once OPC was empowered to participate in every step of the parking process, the company was able to realize the full market value. “It makes it much more attractive to a municipality if they can hand over their parking management to a private company,” explains Mr. Lamens. “They still set the fees and zone the locations, but we now do all the management such as collecting the fees, maintaining the locations, checking vehicles and keeping the grounds secure. Because we have the know-how and are much more flexible, we are able to follow market developments more closely. In fact, we have shown the municipalities that income increases under our stewardship.”
OPC strives to define itself by its attention to customer service. “We really want the public to understand why we are different,” stresses Mr. Lamens. “Our staff dress smartly and are highly trained. We treat our customers well, even if they are angry or confused. We can assist divers in understanding the terms and conditions, and we have flyers available on-site in four languages.” OPC also offers a variety of extras to customers. “Parking is more than a place to put your car, so value-added services are very important,” states Mr. Lamens. “OPC customers can park free on their birthday. They can use our free bikes. We even offer free umbrellas when someone reserves for a whole day.”
For today’s customer, time and convenience are important. “We are working hard to modernize parking,” explains Mr. Lamens. We built an interactive website where people can apply for a parking slot online, as well as make payments. We provide digital maps of parking opportunities in various cities, and we have several mobile solutions including parking apps and parking via SMS.”