His Lot in Life
Guy Piccolo Turned a Simple Airport-parking Venture into an International Success
In a way, Guy Piccolos career began with a pizza pie and VW bus.
His father, Domenico, an Italian émigré and long-time owner of Piccolos Pizza in Windsor Locks, had purchased a lot of land in the early 1970s, with hopes of relocating his restaurant and, ultimately, lowering his overhead.
But as he kneaded dough, he began to recognize a different opportunity. Business at nearby Bradley Airport was booming, and the proof was in the passersby trudging past Piccolos Pizza with suitcases in hand.
When the parking lots at the airport were full, people would actually park their cars on the soft shoulder of the highway and walk in, said the younger Piccolo.
With a vacant lot in his possession, his father capitalized on the overflow. He started by waving cars onto the land, and later shuttling travelers to and from the airport in a bright yellow microbus.
By 1972, Piccolo Valet Parking was collecting $2 a day per car for the service, and business was bustling the idea of off-site airport parking was still a new one nationally. However, Domenico Piccolo never got to see the true extent to which his business idea would grow; in 1975, he succumbed to Hodgkins Disease, and though still in high school, his son assumed full responsibility for the business at the age of 17, maintaining it for more than 20 years.
By then, he said he was ready for a change but the industry his father helped create wasnt ready to let him go. And through the use of the Internet, this second-generation owner is taking a relatively simple business parking cars to a new and different place.
I thought I wanted to take some time off or try something new, but that only lasted about six months, Piccolo said with a laugh, noting that he sold Piccolo Valet Parking to a national parking outfit in 1997, only to purchase the existing Executive Valet Parking in Suffield in 1998. He pulled two partners into the venture: Tom Lombardi, former marketing manager at Piccolo Valet; and Bob Bielecki, an IT professional who soon found an intriguing niche in the business (more on that later).
Just because you have a great idea doesnt mean it will work, said Piccolo. Without all three of us, this business never would have taken off. We each bring our own expertise to the table.
In general, the timing was good for a new business. Like his father before him, Piccolo was able to respond to a parking shortage in the late 1990s, as Bradley constructed a new garage.
Three days a week, the lots were full, and cars were being redirected here, he said. Thats essentially what grew the business. We were getting 100 phone calls a day.
But there was one challenge that Piccolo hoped to surmount at the same time: marketing in his industry was expensive and time-consuming, and not as effective as he would have liked. It required making many print orders for flyers, postcards, and coupons to spread the word, and closing a sale often meant convincing someone over the phone in just a few minutes. Plus, in 1999, the Internet was still a new fad in many households.
But, saying hes lucky to have inherited his fathers business sense, Piccolo saw an opportunity on the Web. He and his partners launched executivevalet.com that year, directing travel agents, corporate clients, and others to the site to research and compare parking rates. He said that, with Bieleckis background in IT and Lombardis marketing prowess, the initiative matured as quickly as the Internet itself at the time, and the Web soon became his primary marketing vehicle.
It eliminated those printing costs, and all of a sudden, business exploded, so I stayed with it, he said.
Wheeling and Dealing
Instead of merely augmenting his first Web site, however, Piccolo decided to make a bigger move, further integrating technology into the Executive Valet business model. He purchased dozens of domain names related to airport parking and Bradley Airport specifically, such as bradleyairportparking.com, and other variations. All of these URLs directed customers to Executive Valet, and by the early years of this decade, the site was bringing in about $10,000 a month in sales.
That got Piccolo thinking again.
I thought, if this works here, this could work everywhere, he said.
Pooling their individual strengths, Piccolo, Lombardi, and Bielecki set out to extend their online presence to other geographical regions. They used the same tactic, reserving domain names, but this time targeted several major airports in cities such as Chicago, L.A., and Miami.
We bought as many names as possible, Piccolo said, but we had an idea to have one, national Web site doing business in several cities.
Eventually, the trio directed all of the domain names theyd reserved to one address, airportparkingreservations.com. Theyd forged relationships with eight privately owned airport parking lots and valet services in eight cities across the country, and travelers could log on to the site to reserve a space ahead of time. The new site launched on Jan. 1, 2000, and by June of that year, airportparkingreservations.com was serving 65 cities. Today, it serves 90 cities in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada, offering reservations at multiple locations in most cities. The site charges a nominal reservation fee of $5, and thats where the business makes most of its profits.
Further, the site has about 1,500 online partners, which link to the site when offering airport parking services. These partners are largely travel agents and online travel service providers, such as Orbitz, who are paid commissions by airportparkingreservations.com per booking.
Piccolo said growth was, again, explosive in the first few years, posting upwards of 200% annual increases. Now, its leveled off somewhat, but Piccolo still expects to improve on this years sales by 25% next fiscal year.
When we started, we were the only ones, he said. Now, Id say we have about 30 competitors, but were still the largest.
On the Fly
To date, airportparkingreservations.com has booked more than 1 million reservations, and for travelers using Bradley Airport, Executive Valet is still doing well in Suffield, just minutes from the terminal. Plus, the business continues to evolve. Piccolo said another new Web site, called ParkSleepFly.com, was recently launched. Through relationships with various hotels (about 800 of them in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Mexico), travelers can book a night in a hotel before or after a flight, and also park at the establishment during the trip.
And he says there are other ideas in the works along the same lines, such as ParkingUSA, which will offer parking reservations at the airports themselves, and CityParkingUSA, which will allow for reservations in lots and garages for drive-only travel to major cities, such as New York and Boston. Both of these projects are expected to roll out this year, in the summer and fall months.
The timing is right, Piccolo said. We started so early that we got way ahead of the competition, and theyre just starting to catch us now.
Indeed, the parking phenomenon Domenico Piccolo started in the 1970s is showing no signs of slowing with his son at the helm. And when asked about its beginnings, the latter is always sure to pull out a photo he keeps on his desk of his dad standing by the VW bus that started it all, still wearing his pizza shop apron, but looking off into the distance as if he knew big things were on the horizon.
Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at