What a Parking Garage Delay Teaches Us About Entrepreneurship

It’s that last step before the end of a long trip: leaving the airport parking garage.

Recently, a parking garage exit that normally takes 5 minutes lasted nearly an hour. It was frustrating not only to me, but also to dozens of drivers who were held up at the end of their trips.

And the problem was completely avoidable.

Consider how this situation was mishandled, and what it teaches us about growing a business as an entrepreneur.

Communicate the Problem

I was at Lambert Field in St. Louis, my hometown, leaving terminal 1. As I slowed down for the payment booth, I noticed 4 cars in front of me- unusual for late on a weeknight, I thought.

The terminal 1 exit on the top level has an automated, credit card only booth on the far left, and one ticket booth was being operated by staff. I tried the automated booth, which didn’t have a line- no luck.

After getting back in line, I noticed that the car at the second booth didn’t move for over 5 minutes. The person working the booth would occasionally lean out and speak to the person in the car.

The lesson

If you have a problem that is impacting customers, tell them. People are willing to have some patience (and still do business), if you alert them immediately that something isn’t working, and that you’re trying to resolve the problem.

At the airport, and sign should have been posted- immediately- at the credit card machine explaining that it wasn’t working. The people staffing the ticket booth should have also posted a sign explaining that there was a problem. Why not walk to each car in line to explain that there’s a hold up?

If you care about customers, this step makes common sense.

Identify the Problem

As it turns out, the parking lot’s computer system has crashed, and cashier’s could process payments. The computer system affected the credit card machine.

Was this the first time that a computer crash happened?

It sure seemed like it, because no one seemed to be taking any action. I would have expected a parking lot official to show up to work on the problem. Instead, we sat there for 20 minutes- no one left the ticket booth, no one new showed up, and no one offered an explanation of the problem.

The lesson

Smart businesses of all types operate using a written procedures manual, which documents every routine task. Now, one of those tasks has to be: what do we do when a computer crashes? A tech issue may affect your website, the POS system in your retail store, on your online payment processing system.

What are you going to do when that happens? Who- specifically- will take action? How will you communicate the problem to customer, apologize, and start a process to solve the problem?

Write it down.

Creating and updating a procedures manual will help you get back to business faster, and minimize any loss of customer revenue.

Who Takes Responsibility?

Disgusted, I called the St. Louis Airport Police, who promptly showed up. Now, I may not have been the first person to call, but two officers arrived on the scene. They explained that the computer system had crashed.

Can you imagine if your customers had to call the police to understand your business problem?

“OK, great”, the guy in front of me said. “Just open the gate- we’ve been here for 45 minutes.”

“Not my call”, said the policeman.

Which I totally get.

It wasn’t the policeman’s problem.

I should also point out that a worker showed up for his shift, was told that the computer system was down- and stood for 10 minutes staring at all of us waiting in our cars.

No attempt to explain the problem, no apology, and no cell phone call TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM.

I used all caps, because I was fed up by this point.


So guess what?

A parking lot manager finally showed up, had the gates opened, and let everyone out for free.

A nice gesture, but the problem was solved 45 minutes later than needed.

With proper training, a procedures manual, and some common sense, the problem could have been solved in 10 minutes.

Worker calls manager, manager tells worker to apologize and open gate- letting people out for free until the computer problem is fixed.

After all, it’s not the customer’s fault.


What I’m describing here as the right thing to do takes time and effort. If you know someone who is struggling in business, ask yourself: are they making the effort required to keep customers informed and happy?

If not, entrepreneurship is not for them.

Food for thought- good luck!

Ken blogs at Accounting Accidentally.com.

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Image: Bullseye, Jeff Turner CC by 2.0