Parking: the fast lane to success

Parking areas are the poor cousins of many hardware store complexes — the “outsiders” in a collective dominated by Interior Design, Stock Selection, Merchandising and Pricing.

Many long-established stores simply make do with the parking areas they have had for years, unable or unwilling to address increasing demands for spaces.

On the other hand, retailers who are constructing new premises often attempt to incorporate “the bare minimum” number of spaces as prescribed by local regulations in accordance with store size.

Smart operators, however, are recognising that generous (and preferably free) car parking facilities are fundamental to store success and business growth.

While many retailers are powerless to expand their parking bays due to high real estate prices or lack of available land, there is little doubt that stores with plentiful parking areas are better equipped to appeal to time-poor consumers who demand optimal shopping convenience.

As a general trend, Australians are more dependent than ever before on effective parking services.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics*, 76% of all Australians rely on cars for day-to-day travel, and 81% of Australians never use public transport at all.

Australia has the second-highest level of car ownership in the world**, with 630 vehicles per 1,000 citizens. Only the USA, with 773 vehicles, can claim a greater passion for automobiles.

By contrast, Germany has 543 vehicles per 1,000 people, and China has only 10! Laws governing the numbers of car spaces required for certain types of developments in Australia vary according to urban and rural zonings, commercial activity and population levels. Numbers of car spaces attached to a hardware retail business can vary from one per 30m2 of retail floor space in city areas to one per 100m2 in less densely populated townships such as Darwin.

Overseas, numbers of car spaces required per business are of similar proportions. Many municipalities in the USA (take the City of Brownsville, Texas, for example), stipulate two spaces to service up to 1,000 square feet of retail floor space, plus an extra space for every additional 300 square ft of retail area.

Such parking allocations may be appropriate in some cases, but associated matters of roadside visibility, ease of ingress and egress, proximity to store loading bays and surrounding business densities all affect the acceptability of “minimum parking requirements” as far as consumers are concerned.

In reality, parking must be assessed on a case-by-case basis taking into account local drivers’ expectations, likely store growth patterns, land values, increasing rates of car usage and general customer comfort.

The next time a Local Government authority decrees that a certain number of parking spaces must accompany a certain hardware retail development, it might be wise to construct the recommended quantity…and a few more to be safe!

By John Power