At social gatherings when people ask N Sathyanarayanan, an engineer from Bharathiar University in Coimbatore, what he does for a living, he tells them he is a "parking guy".
"Most people in India associate the parking business with ruffians," says the 42-year-old, whose company, Central Parking Services, provides parking facilities for cars and two wheelers in India's malls, airports and large scale weddings.
Braving preconcieved perceptions is paying off for the Bangalore-based entrepreneur, whose company aims at clocking revenues of aboutRs140 crore next fiscal. More so, as the business is one that he discovered quite by chance.
In 2005 he was running a technology services venture, Building Control Solutions that provided system integration facilities for large buildings. When Bangalore's first shopping mall, The Forum, was setup, the developers approached Sathyanarayanan to take over the parking systems.
"In building management we would install systems and then earn an annual maintenance but in parking management there is daily cash generation," says the intrepid entrepreneur who had to learn the ropes from scratch. On an average one parking bay generates aroundRs2,500 per month with a few busy lots like those within airports generating up toRs2 lakh of cash every month. His initial stint at the Forum mall proved to be a success and brought in newer projects from new clients such as the Select City Walk in New Delhi and Amanora Town Centre in Pune where over a lakh people visit malls every month. "We don't have the bandwidth to manage such traffic and it best outsourced to outside parties like CPS," says Tushar Mehta, Centre Director at Pune's largest Mall Amanora Town Centre.
Buoyed by this growth in the consumer retail sector, CPS soon emerged as the flagship division for the company. "It is a capital intensive business.
We have to investRs6-7 lakh per parking bay in any retail mall to make it functional," says Sathyanarayanan. The leap into the big league however came with the contracts to manage parking for Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 at Delhi Airport. In the same year, the young company also bagged the contract to manage 3,000 car slots at the Bangalore Airport. CPS now manages about 65,000 bays across 32 cities now.
Strong growth has helped the company attract the attention of risk capital managers. In 2010, early stage investor, Venture East put in $5.5 million (aboutRs30 crore now) in the company. CPS is also trying to change people's perception towards the business. Last summer, a customer's shirt was torn during a brawl in a parking lot managed by CPS in Greater Noida.
The customer asked CPS staff to sew the buttons. "Unlike the unorganised parking guys, our staff sewed the shirt just to demonstrate customer service," says Sathyanarayanan.
Another big challenge is retaining trained staff as semi skilled youth trained by CPS often switch jobs to food courts or air conditioned shops inside the same malls where they are employed."Its a dangerous job for staff in some of our installations in towns of Uttar Pradesh where goons take out country pistols when asked for parking fee," adds Sathyanarayanan. The company monitors parking bay occupancy at each of its installations through a command and control centre in Bangalore.