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A Parking Business Gets Stuck in Park

One entrepreneur's plan to publish parking guides detours to success when she leverages existing assets.

This story appears in the May 2010 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

The Original Plan: Margot Tohn launched her Park It! Guides publishing venture in 2006 with a guide to garages. Her intention was to model her on the Zagat restaurant guides, selling the parking guides via outlets and printing custom guides featuring the logos of real estate brokers, and other potential clients.

The Problem: The overhead involved and the costs of printing and distributing the guides were prohibitively high. Plus potential sponsors didn't see the value of offering parking guides as giveaways in a challenging .

Plan B: "I had really good relationships with all the garage operators," Tohn says. "So I decided to leverage those relationships to match garages up with people looking for monthly parking."

The Differentiation: Tohn's new business approach is fully automated: Visitors to fill out an online request form and receive a link with all offers. Garages pay Tohn a referral fee (a percentage of the first month's rent) every time they sign up a new customer. She generates traffic to her site by creating relevant content and links. (Tohn also is the transportation writer for Her only overhead is for and the cost of part-time help to make follow-up calls to customers after deals are struck. She also just started giving away $10 gift cards to consumers after they close a deal with a garage. "If it's a $10 cost of sale, that's not bad," Tohn says.

The Next Phase: Tohn plans to develop sites for , , , , and Washington, D.C., this year by leveraging her relationships with New York garages that also operate in those cities--and to expand the business to finding spots for commercial businesses. "I've been working on making sure the system works perfectly, then I'll approach brokers," she says. "Everything I'm trying to do now needs to be scalable."

The Upside: Tohn had predicted that her publishing could generate as much as $500,000 in annual . "I think this is a much larger opportunity. My overhead is under $500 a month," she says. "And as the economy gets better, more people will be getting cars and parking."

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