In it for long term, FastPark takes its time with growth

It might be called FastPark, but the strategy for growing this airport parking business has little to do with grabbing the first available spaces.
It might be called FastPark, but the strategy for growing this airport parking business has little to do with grabbing the first available spaces.

Rather, this family-run company, with 19 locations nationally, is focused on legacy. No matter that it acquired four facilities in the last 12 months. Downtown-based FastPark, now in its third generation, wants to make sure its children have a company to take over. So every plan, every acquisition and every line-item expense has to serve not so much todays business, but tomorrows.

We dont set our goals in terms of numbers of square feet developed or number of facilities acquired, said Manuel Chavez III, 31, who oversees the expansion plans of FastPark. Our pipeline is long, and we spend years and years acquiring assets. Were not in the business of growth for growths sake.

Achieving that takes a lot of relationship-building, patience and commitment. Airport property is hard to come by and often expensive. It can take years for a deal to present itself, and when it does, members of the Chavez family want to be there, already known and trusted by the seller.

This requires a lot of networking. Chavezs job is to research which airports are growing and where the land opportunities might emerge. He gets to know the land owners and then just stays in touch, for years. It has to be the right land in the right place at the right time. And when he makes an offer, the terms are solid. The price wont go up if the deal is postponed by six months, nor will it go down.

This has translated to a year rich in expansion, with more construction under way. But the timing is white-knuckle. The top 100 airports have reduced their seat availability by 9.5 percent in the past year, according to the Official Airline Guide, an industry resource.

And airlines are not alone in the travails of high fuel prices; FastPark, in addition to parking, offers transportation to the airport. Its shuttle buses run all day long. Consumers, meanwhile, are finding ways to cut fuel prices themselves.

Its affecting everyone associated with the travel industry, said Roamy Valera, vice president at Timothy Haahs & Associates, a parking planning and engineering firm in Miami. People carpool, they take mass transit or they get somebody to drop them off.

Which means many parking service companies have had to reorganize, raise prices or, in the case of many small independents, sell themselves off.

The Chavez family benefits, in part, from being in the real estate business, through its Chavez Properties. Another part of the family enterprise is Parking Company of America, an urban parking service.

These came before airport parking, which the family entered in the late 1970s in Atlanta. A few years later, the company acquired farmland in Boone County, built its second FastPark facility, after Albuquerque, and relocated to Cincinnati.

Competitive industry

timHaas.jpgGrowth was steady and methodical over the first couple of decades. But in the past 10 years, FastPark expanded to 19 locations from five. Since the summer of 2007, FastPark acquired the Allright/Central Parking System near the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, as well as facilities in Milwaukee, Houston (its second) and Orlando, Fla. More growth is in the pipeline.

Nowadays, the Chavez family operates in a parking industry that generates $14 billion globally, according to Bonnie Watts, spokeswoman for the International Parking Institute. That translates to 25,000 garages and decks, plus 30,000 surface lots, for more than 90 million spaces. Of that, FastPark operates more than 36,000 spaces, 4,700 of which are in Cincinnati. It employs about 675 companywide, with 75 at its two local lots and 50 at its headquarters downtown.

Holding their own

But organic growth still seems to be the focus. For instance, asked to identify goals, Chavez said the objective in Cincinnati is to get the lots 85 percent full.

FastPark didnt cover a lot of ground toward that goal in the past year, but it didnt lose ground. Considering that the number of available seats on flights to and from the airport declined by almost 25 percent in the past year, FastPark looks to be holding its own. This is good for the airport, too, since FastPark pays a percentage of its gross income for access, said Paul Hegedus, manager of commercial and business development at CVG.

Melanie Chavez, 36, who handles construction and public relations for FastPark, said the trick was not raising its prices. Nor did it pull the bottled water or newspapers it offers its customers. And, importantly, it did not cut back on its shuttle buses.

No matter if its 700 or 1,200, you still have people who are coming all the time, and theyre not all on the same plane, she said. Youre ramping up all the time.

And so the Chavez family keeps its heart in the present while setting its gaze on the horizon. The company is in the midst of closing on a third facility purchase in Houston, while building an eco-friendly property in Orlando, its second in the city, with outlets for electric cars and solar panels.

And the family builds for the future. The succession plan can be described, at best, as very fluid, Manuel Chavez said, since theres no telling how many children there will be to pass the company on to. But the family discusses it regularly, and openly.

Were in this business for the long term, he said. Were really doing it for our children.
parkfast Parking America.jpgManuel Chavez III said FastPark is focused on providing a space for future Chavez family members, so it makes reasoned decisions with longevity in mind.
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