Keeping Secrets: Business Tips from BlueStar Parking | Business

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While working for corporate valet services in San Francisco, Travis Hawley was struck by how companies hired random drivers — with no resumes — just to start a franchise.

He found it strange, their questionable ethics, their inauthenticity and their lack of connection to the community. So when a serendipitous opportunity brought Hawley to Santa Barbara, he was inspired to put down roots and shape a business worthy of the people it would serve.

“I thought not every valet business needed to be a franchise where you use company names and logos, and just hire random people and do it,” Hawley said. “There should be a niche. There should be a company that fits the market, and for me that market was Santa Barbara and Montecito.

Twelve years later, with nearly 100 employees on the payroll, BlueStar Parking serves many restaurants, venues, businesses and private parties in the community.

But it was Hawley’s first account that made his career. And it happened on a beautiful sunny day in Carpinteria.

“The Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club was our flagship account, and it kind of grew from there,” Hawley said. Coming out of the gates with a big customer allowed BlueStar to provide top-notch customer service to polo customers, and word spread quickly.

“I like to say, ‘We’re a valet company, but car parking is just a small aspect of what we do,'” Hawley said. “We are a customer service provider first, and car parking is just one of the ways we serve customers.”

Keeping secrets is one such service. This comes in handy when a party guest gets drunk and forgets which car they were driving, then puts you down for delivering the wrong car until registration proves they own the vehicle. Yes, it really happened. But that client’s identity remains in the vault. (Update: The man made it home safely, and he’s a regular customer to this day.)

“The valets know the secrets of the customers, and there are a lot of skeletons in those closets,” Hawley said. “We don’t talk, so my trade secret is that I don’t divulge secrets.”

Hawley explained that the best business advice he’s heard is to know what you don’t know. “It is better to grasp this notion in advance,” he said. “Then reach out to people who know and use these assets and tools to your advantage.”

For example, when Hawley’s business started, he told his employees that an owner didn’t need to be particularly good at running a successful business. It’s about agreeing to do one thing – or a few things – very well and getting help when needed. Hawley said he was good at leading the team, but outsourced anything tech or marketing related.

You’ll find BlueStar grabbing the keys at Sansum Healthcare campuses, nonprofit galas, or any of the nearly 1,000 public and private events each year in Montecito, Ojai, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Carpinteria.

“When I started BlueStar Parking, I didn’t want to build a business just to sell for scrap and go, but rather create something that would last,” Hawley said. “All service and involvement with the nonprofit sector is because I want a lasting legacy.”

Megan Waldrep is a freelance columnist and editor, currently living on a 34ft sailboat. To learn more about Megan, visit meganwaldrep.com.

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