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Putting the brakes on parking frustrations

Shoppers walk past a sea of cars that fill a parking lot at Oakridge Centre mall in Vancouver.

DARRYL DYCK/darryl dyck The Globe and Mail


Richard Joffe and Daniel Cohen wanted to ease one of the most frustrating experiences faced by people around the world: parking.

Their idea was to create the first "brain" for a parking lot. But they didn't have experience in this field and money was tight.

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Park Assist was co-founded by Mr. Joffe, a graduate of the University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of Business, and Daniel Cohen, who had a background in law, after the pair met while working in the corporate jungles of McKinsey & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., respectively, in Sydney, Australia.

Mr. Joffe and Mr. Cohen realized that while buildings like airports, casinos and shopping malls had infrastructure technology laced throughout the facilities, "the car park" remained a concrete slab with no intelligence and a continued source of frustration for visitors and owners.

Drivers know too well the endless circling to find an empty space, the trek to purchase a ticket from the kiosk and the panicked search for their car.

Mr. Joffe and Mr. Cohen envisioned a product that could monitor each individual parking space using a sophisticated sensor network.

Using a smart phone or touch kiosk, customers could:

  • Automatically be directed to the nearest available parking space.
  • Be shown a photo of their car, and the exact location of their vehicle.
  • Make automatic payments.

Park Assist was born. But how could they create such a sophisticated product when neither were engineers and they barely had enough savings to pay rent for a year?

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In 2005, Mr. Joffe and Mr. Cohen convinced Westfield Group, one of the largest shopping mall owners in the world, to purchase a test pilot of the product before it was even created. Westfield was sold on their revolutionary concept: Park Assist would change the experience of visitors to parking lots around the world while generating greater profitability for the lots' owners.

With a purchase order worth $300,000 from Westfield, the duo spent the next five years refining the product. They raised $8- million from strategic partners and hired a top engineering team.


Since then, Park Assist has grown to 30 employees. The company has just launched its latest version of the product, the M3, and has seen 200-per-cent revenue growth in 2011, with demand outstripping production capacity.

Park Assist has received more than 400 requests for the right to distribute the product around the world. One of those was Amano-McGann, a leading parking equipment manufacturer, which locked up exclusive rights North America even before the product was launched.

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Installations are now going global in places ranging from the United States to Britain to Australia. They have been picked up by major retailers and shopping centre developers such as Westfield, Ikea AB and Cadillac Fairview Corp. The first system in Toronto, where Park Assist is headquartered, will go live this November at RioCan Hall.

Mr. Joffe credits Park Assist's success to a focus on customer problems. "So many entrepreneurs invent products they think are great ideas, but the key to success is to validate your product with a purchase order before spending a dollar on development," he says.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Chloe Tergiman is an assistant professor of strategy and business economics at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.

This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Report on Small Business website.

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