Published Jul 30, 2003

Earlier today I ran to Staples for some fax toner. After circling a couple of times, I found a spot in their very packed parking lot. Then i drove about 20 seconds to move to the OSH parking lot, to pick up gardening items. I had to switch spots, you see, because the two adjacent stores had nearly adjacent, (far too small) parking lots, with prominently placed “Tow Away- Customer Parking Only” signs. I didn’t want to get towed, you know.

One nice thing about malls — even strip malls — is that you don’t need to worry about parking, you just park. Now, I’m definitely not in favor of the strip mallization of the world, but they do have the right idea about parking. Suppose OSH and Staples and Lamps Plus got together and built a single parking structure? It would be pretty inexpensive split three ways. And then imagine that each person who’d gone to one of the stores thought about making a quick visit to one of the others? If each store got just 5% of the customers going to other stores to come in and make an impulse purchase, that’s a lot of money!

With the proliferation of “big box” stores, this kind of cooperative action may make more sense than it did in the past. In urban areas, you just can’t find the large open space that developers use to make strip malls for the big box stores. Then you get situations like the one I encountered today, too many stores with too many small parking lots, all near each other. If all the stores got together and developed just a little parking structure, well, customers will shop at more than one store.

Cities could do this — and often do — but companies should also think about making an investment in parking. It’s got a potential big payoff, if customers who would otherwise move their cars do just a little bit of impulse shopping..