Something that Bothers Me

We watched The Parking Lot Movie the other day on Netflix. Now, I love my Netflix for these oddball documentaries. (That and bad sci-fi, but that’s not relevant to this post.)

But something has nagged at the back of my mind for a while. One of the employees admitted that he would arbitrarily charge different prices to different customers regardless of how long they parked because of judgements he would make on their personal status in life.

I realize that as a parking lot owner, you’re probably not that concerned about lawsuits, but having an employee admit it, and then say that he gave the company all of the extra profits from these duped customers, that just screams bad news all around. There’s just something about that admission that doesn’t sit well with me, even though I don’t think I’d fall into the categories of people the guy would charge double the actual fees.

I do recognize that there are plenty of circumstances where people pay different prices for the same goods or service even from the same company – airline tickets or anything from Amazon are the first things that come to mind. But when there’s a posted uniform rate agreed upon at the time you park and then an employee makes a snap decision that isn’t based on time, service, or demand, but on personal traits he doesn’t like in customers, that doesn’t really seem kosher. Is it lawsuit worthy? At the very least, it seems like it wouldn’t be worth the hassle to park there since you never know when the parking lot attendent will have his panties in a twist over something you may have done that offends him – like breathe.

Another thing that stands out is that they described the hiring process which is essentially, “I know a guy.” Okay, that’s fine. Except there were no female employees at all. God forbid if a woman ever applied for a job there and was turned away. I guess what bothers me is that the parking lot featured (in Charlottesville, Virginia, btw) really put itself out there to advertise shady business practices and a hiring process that may not be on the up-and-up. This doesn’t seem like something most small business owners would actually want to do.

Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps the parking lot in the movie has had even more business than ever. I admit to being thoroughly entertained by the documentary, I’m just not sure that I actually trust anyone associated with the business not to rip me off even if I play by all of the agreed-upon rules.

9 thoughts on “Something that Bothers Me”

  1. In my experience the “I-know-a-guy…” method of hiring employees probably accounts for roughly half the job hires; regardless of whether the business is roofing or database design. “There’s-a-guy-I-went-to-school-with…” is the method that accounts for a huge share of the business-to-business contracts. In many cases, HR departments are just there for the exit interviews.

  2. Oh, I recognize that. And I’m not opposed to it because in those cases, you actually know the quality of the worker. But I just find it a little odd that not a single person employed over the three year period the filmmaker was there was a woman. I believe there was only one minority male.

  3. No, I hear you. It’s kind of like when you go into a chain restaurant at an airport, say a KFC or whatever, and every single person there belongs to the same tiny ethnic group–Georgians or Somalis or what have you. You think there was an open, merit-based hiring process there? At the end of the day, business owners who choose to allow their investments to be turned into private fiefs where perks and preferential hiring are under the control of low-level employees probably deserve to go broke.

  4. Spend any time in software sales? The whole “charge different prices depending on customer circumstance” is normal, accepted (by the seller at least) business practice.

    A certain large database vendor is notorious for changing a large 10M/year customer 100K for a product and a Mom-and-Pop 5K for the exact product. All because the larger customer makes more money and can thus afford to pay a larger price. Isn’t the software business wonderful?

  5. Regarding software sales, I’m in engineering, but know my company does the same. Our goal is to extract 1% of the annual IT budget. No small potatoes when talking to Fortune 500 types.

    I viewed that movie with the same morbid fascination and disapproval as a documentary on modern American pimps or drug dealers.

    There is nothing honorable about that business. You can argue it’s classic supply and demand, but I’d be skeptical of viewers who empathize with the employees too much.

  6. Oh, I have no doubt other industries work that way. However, most of those don’t have a publicly posted list of prices that you agree to upon doing business with them and then have a system where you can be arbitrarily charged more.

    I think the reason it really bothers me is because the guy who owns the lot apparently hires almost all male liberal arts majors. The one who was talking about how he would change the prices on people tried to justify his actions as a case of he knew who was worth discriminating against – I’m sure that’s the same excuse used by those who would charge minorities more, too. He also spent a good part of his time on camera ranting about how horrible sorority girls were, and to a much larger degree than he did other groups he didn’t like that included males (like frat boys). So maybe it’s because I could see that he may well have been charging women more for no other reason than issues with gender.

    The whole thing just rubs me the wrong way. While I laughed at the movie and thought it was worthwhile entertainment, I just wish that such backwards thinking was from a script instead of a real life business across from a major university.

  7. What bothered me about it was everybody that worked there was a holier-than-thou hipster douchebag. If it was the last parking spot on earth I wouldn’t support those jokers….

  8. I don’t know, I thought that was part of the unintentional comedy. Especially when the follow-up was how they were in bands no one has heard of and not really making use of their graduate degrees.

  9. Your comment about charging certain people more jogged my memory of my time in Guam.

    Guamanians remember WWII.

    What will cost an American $5, like entry into a club….will cost a Japanese tourist, $15…….and many restaurants don’t have prices printed on the menus……

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