A snapshot of an industry in flux and how facilities managers can succeed.
By Kate Rockwood
Ask any facilities manager (FM) responsible for parking lots and pavement, and they will tell you — what happens out in the world is inevitably reflected in the places where we park our cars. From the commercial and economic effects of the pandemic to the growing nationwide push toward electric vehicles, the parking lot is a microcosm of the world at large.
And right now, parking lot managers are seeing countless echoes of these global shifts in their facilities. They’re closely watching as new trends take hold across the industry and staying informed to develop more effective strategies for their own parking lot maintenance planning.
Preventative Maintenance Strategies and Data-based Decisions
For years, the game plan in parking lot maintenance has often been to not fix what isn’t broken, waiting until the asset appears to need a full replacement. Why? Because prevention costs money, and the industry saw little reason to spend that money until absolutely necessary.
Now, however, FMs are realizing that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. They’re solving smaller facilities pavement issues as they arise and taking active measures to mitigate a higher cost and higher liability problem later.
But how do you determine which issues to address and when? “Data is king,” said Brian Hess, CEO of The Pavement Group, whose company functions as a pavement management company for large pavement asset portfolios. “When you make decisions from data rather than by comparing the opinions of several contractors, you approach maintenance more efficiently.”
Those at the forefront of the industry are now using evaluative measures like the PASER scale to address issues when they’re still manageable, ultimately extending the life of the asset. “Facilities managers are becoming more proactive, since regular maintenance work tends to cost less and help you avoid larger maintenance repairs,” said Kevin Smith, Chief Operating Officer of New York-based Ferrandino & Son. “Today’s FMs are filling cracks now instead of dealing with potholes later on.”
And this evaluative approach to parking lot and pavement maintenance results in major financial wins. “Our goal is to reduce the cost per square foot of ownership,” Hess explained. “We assess every parking lot in the portfolio, create an inventory of problems and present it to clients on a simple level that helps them decide what to do next. We give the client a snapshot of their whole portfolio and asset values then create a financial plan for them.” And Smith said facilities can more often than not extend the life of a lot by five years or more with targeted preventative maintenance, cutting down on what is often one of an FM’s bigger spends — a full parking lot replacement.
Supply Chain Issues Are Shifting but Not Over
Both Smith and Hess agreed that while the extreme supply chain woes of 2021 are somewhat behind us, there are still significant sourcing challenges. The degree of severity differs by region, Hess said, “from no disruption in some parts of the country to double the price of asphalt or completely unavailable concrete in others.”
And the raw materials themselves aren’t the only stumbling block. There’s also the cost of getting them to your site. “The fluctuation of the price of fuel is a major issue,” Hess said. “It’s been an interesting couple of years.”
Smith echoed this, saying, “As fuel costs go up, asphalt does too. We can’t guarantee an estimate over 20 days out, because of the fluctuation of the cost of asphalt.” As companies continue to adjust to constant fluctuation, Smith recommended close communication and full transparency with stakeholders as pricing changes arise.
Parking Lots Are Used Differently, and More Changes Are on the Horizon
The ad hoc parking lot planning of the pandemic era has come to an end, and in its place is a new focus on perfecting the design and utility of curbside pickup, BOPIS, ROPIS, BORIS and click-and-collect economy.
What does that look like in practice? According to Hess, it manifests in several ways: “There are a ton of retrofits happening for curbside pickups and other forms of on-the-go shopping,” he said. “National retailers are redoing dozens of stalls with solar lighting that allows customers to complete purchases without stepping foot into the store. They’re redesigning spaces for pick-up services like DoorDash and Uber Eats. And they’re making their drive-thrus wider for larger capacity vehicles.”
Smith also points out the proliferation of EV charging spots in parking lots across the country. The trend will only increase in the years to come, given that the United States government has set a goal to reach 50% electric vehicle sales in 2030, with California and other states pushing towards even higher zero-emission goals by 2035. “EV is going to become a driver of traffic to your parking lot,” Smith said, explaining that the resulting needs will provide further challenges — and opportunities — for the industry.
“Customers will need a hotel with EV charging, so they may need to reserve a room and a charging station,” Smith continued. “Or if they have six restaurants to choose from, they’ll choose the one with the charging station.” The list of considerations goes on — and FMs around the country are in the process of thinking them through.
Regardless of the exact customer nature or maintenance needs of the parking lots in an FM’s portfolio, the message is clear. Data-based planning for long term solutions and regular preventive maintenance are crucial to a business’s bottom line and customer satisfaction.