Lam: How did your father get into the parking business?
Lerner: His company was called LPS, for Lerner Parking Systems. He was sort of forced into the parking business. His father, my grandfather, ran a gas station down on Centre Street. Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away at a very young age and my father was forced to run the gas station and the parking lot that was adjacent to it. That's where he saw the need for parking in the city of New York, when people came to work during the day. And especially after World War II, when all the G.I.s were coming back from Europe and they had learned to drive Jeeps while over in Europe. They were given money by the government under the G.I. Bill.
So he saw the trend and the growing need for parking in the city. If you look at pictures prior to World War II in the streets of New York, you'll see a handful of cars going up and down the avenues, versus today when you can see—it's obviously jammed. So the volume of cars prior to World War II in Manhattan were minimal compared to what they are today, and it was really the result of the war and people learning how to drive that really sparked the parking industry. It really created a need to have garages in New York.
Lam: How many parking garages do you run today?
Lerner: We have 130 garages today. When I came into the business in 1978, my father had about 12 locations. He started with nothing; he was a true rags-to-riches individual. He built a chain of parking garages.
Lam: Why did you decide to open so many more garages?
Lerner: I believed in growth, and I have a love for the business. Also, computerization allowed me to grow at a much greater rate. In the past—in the 1970s and 1980s—we did everything manually. All our checkbooks were manual, tickets, billing of customers—it was hard to really grow and keep control of it. You can never manage the volume of business effectively that we do today if you run it with manual bookkeeping and manual billing. It would be impossible.
Lam: What's the day-to-day of running garages like for you?
Lerner: I have a great team. I still get around to all my garages, but obviously it gets harder and harder as we get bigger. Typically, my day involves meeting people for potential new business—landlords, people selling garages. I'm at my office for the last three or four hours of the day. Everyone will report to me what happened during the day: My supervisors, all my staff, and my office will see me so we can go over the problems and figure out a way to fix them.
Lam: What are the problems for a company that runs parking lots?
Lerner: I think the hardest problem is maintaining good manpower. As you grow, it's harder and harder to find good people to work in the field. First and foremost, we're a service-oriented business—so if you have a bad person working at one of your garages, it's going to reflect on your reputation as a good operator and your bottom line. The biggest challenge in the business today is hiring and maintaining a good staff.