Chris Forest founded Unparalleled Parking in 2008. “I worked for another company. I was young and ambitious. I thought, I can do this better.” The company started small, with just a few locations, and three fundamental principles, Forest said.
“First, presentation is most important.” Reflecting the military background of Forest and his general manager, Unparalleled Parking staff stand in a straight line at the curb, wearing black slacks, black belts, and polo shirts tucked in. “People say, ‘I feel like the President,’” Forest said. “Sometimes the staff asks why they have to stand in a straight line — that’s why. We’re making the guest feel special.”
Second, Forest said, is professionalism. “It isn’t just how we dress. It’s how we speak, how we drive, how we help the elderly man across the street,” he said. Most of the staff at Unparalleled Parking are males aged 21 to 25, but “we have had every walk of life. As long as they fit within our presentation standards and hospitality expectations, we give them a good shot.”
Finally, Forest believes, “driving cars is secondary. Hospitality is what our service is about. We’ve done a good job of changing the expectations for what upscale service is.” He calls his approach “aggressive hospitality.” As an example, Forest said, one valet waded out into a puddle with a shovel and unclogged a street drain. “At first I was a little shocked — ‘what are you doing, standing in the puddle in your shoes and black pants?’ He pointed to an 85-year-old lady who couldn’t hop over the puddle. She couldn’t get into the restaurant unless he shoveled, so he didn’t give it a second thought.”
Is this your busy season?
It’s astounding how many calls we get in this fall season. There are venues that generally don’t have valet parking, but some restaurants are bought out for the evening, and 500 people are coming to the one door, and they’re all coming at once.
What’s the best part of the job?
It’s a fun job — you stay in shape, moving around, you meet great people. It’s fun to see how the team meshes. There’s an Unparalleled Parking fantasy football team. In the summer, they play basketball on Sundays — they got me out there one day. We actually have a recreational hockey team. We try to keep it fun.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Keeping warm. We provide a very warm jacket, gaiters and hats. It’s hard to stand outside at five degrees, get in a warm car for five minutes, then go back outside.
Are some venues more difficult than others?
In Dinkytown, we’ve had seven parking lots shifted in the past three years, progressively further away. In the heart of downtown, the difficulty is tight quarters. Out in the suburbs, two guys will park 50 cars. Downtown, you need 10 guys.
Do you observe valet parking when you travel outside the Twin Cities?
I think it’s my biggest downfall on vacation. Sometimes I have to sit with my back to the valet because I know I’ll focus on them. In Los Angeles and Miami, it’s in every establishment. In Phoenix, it’s dominant. People in Minnesota are becoming more comfortable with it. The thing is, nobody wants to give their car away. You have to put yourself in the best position by being presentable and approachable. □