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Bid for success

Published:  30 September, 2008

With its distinctive black and red logo, Q-Park is a recognisable brand in many of the UK's city centres, including Glasgow, Belfast, Liverpool and Sheffield.

Adam Bidder is new to the helm as managing director of Q-Park, having taken over from Allan Ashby nine months ago. Previously, Bidder was financial director of Q-Park, and prior to that he worked for the RAC and The Kelda Group, which provides water and sewerage services to domestic and business customers across the UK. Despite neither of these businesses having any relation to parking, Bidder sees similarities between how each is run.

"I see a link with Q-Park as regards infrastructure-related business and looking after assets over the long term, making sure a business runs efficiently," he says, referring to the long-term commitment and 35-year leases Q-Park has with its car parks, as opposed to short-term management contracts. "There are also links to customer service, as the RAC is a customer-focused brand."

Bidder's aim is to secure management of more city centre car parks. "We've come out of the airport industry and back to city centres where people are given the option to come back to the same car park frequently," he says, adding that he's very passionate about improving customer service.

"We listen to our customers and we're also beginning to form particular relationships with developers such as Grosvenor. We'd like to do that with Hammerson, Land Securities and British Land.

"It's always a challenge for the developer in terms of whether they run their own car park or get someone in to do it. I very much believe in letting what we do speak for itself."

It's at Grosvenor's Liverpool One scheme that Q-Park has really begun to make a name for itself, after securing the contract to build and manage all three car parks on site. Key to the success of these has been a partnership with the owners and the retailers.

"We're doing a lot of marketing with Liverpool One," says Bidder. "The volumes in Strand Street have doubled from the first week of opening, and that means we've also doubled our revenues."

Bidder meets up regularly with chief executive Joanne Jennings and with the asset management team at Liverpool One. "We're going to rename two of the car parks," he adds. "Strand Street will become Liverpool One and Gradwell Street will be renamed Hanover Street. We think it'll help customers better understand the relationship. Q-Park isn't as well known a brand as NCP in Liverpool, so this partnership is an example of where we've worked closely with a client and the local council. People said our profile would take years to develop, but we've done it in days and weeks."

Currently Q-Park is operating in 10 countries across Europe. In the UK it is the fourth largest car park operator after NCP, APCOA and Vinci. In Germany Q-Park is the third largest operator and is the first or second largest in all other countries. "The aim is to be in the top three in all countries, but not necessarily the largest, because we're focusing on being the best," says Bidder, who adds that Q-Park still wants to expand at a certain pace. "If we could get 10 new-build and 10 refurbishments this year I'd be pleased," he says.

While the Liverpool car parks were all new-build, Q-Park will take over the running of existing car parks as well, but a refurbishment is always top of the agenda in these cases. In one of its Glasgow car parks, Q-Park took over an existing multi-storey facility and spent £2m on its makeover.

"We want to invest in quality if we take over a car park. By taking it on for 35 years we can afford to invest in the best quality and maintain that quality. Customer service doesn't cost anything in itself, it's just a different culture."

Top priorities in a refurbishment project include lighting, increasing the size of spaces (even if that means reducing the number of spaces overall), painting bays the standard Q-Park colour, changing the circulation of the car park so that it's more efficient, improving the signage, introducing shutter doors at the entrances and exits to ensure added safety after hours, and building in a customer reception lodge.

Q-Park's new St Paul's Sheffield car park is an example of innovative architectural design which helps distinguish Q-Park from traditional concrete car park structures. Bidder insists his European design team is another reason for developers to go with Q-Park on new-build projects.

"It's a shame sometimes when a lot of money has been spent on a scheme and the car park hasn't had a lot of thought," he says.

Certainly, this type of innovation is exactly what's needed to change people's perception of parking.