Winner, 2014 Faces of Entrepreneurship award
Patty Rodriguez was studying Public Administration at the University of San Francisco when she was hired by Frank Miranda, the manager of valet parking company ExecuPark, to assist him with his administrative work. Frank became her mentor, sharing his fifteen years of experience in the parking industry as they served ExecuPark’s many clients. He referred her to a startup parking company, where she helped organize the back end of the business, setting up employee files and accounts receivable and payable. She enjoyed the work and began to think about starting her own parking business. Toward the end of her first year, a few of the business’s contracts were coming to an end, so in October 2011, she started operating SF Parking and secured the expiring accounts, retaining the old employees who would have otherwise lost their jobs.
Patty and her parents emigrated from El Salvador to San Francisco’s Mission District, where she grew up. She knows people – friends, neighbors, and family members – who chose the wrong path and served time. Jobs are hard to find when they try to pick up their lives. One of her motivations to start her business was to give people a second chance, to provide economic stability, and to teach a solid work ethic. If they’re willing to work and learn, she’s willing to hire them. Some of her employees hadn’t graduated from high school when she hired them, but have been able to move on and get other jobs thanks to their time with SF Parking. Both her brothers were looking for work when she began running SF Parking, but because of their records, no one would hire them. One brother still works for her; the other one became part of the Ironworkers Union.
Every small business owner knows it’s difficult to own a business; that’s especially true in San Francisco’s parking industry. The Tax Collector Office requires that all parking businesses have Revenue Control Equipment (RCE). Every year business permits and valet licenses increase, and in 2011, Patty needed to spend thousands of dollars per location on new equipment – money she didn’t have after taking money out of her 401K and borrowing from her mom to start the business. She went to the Office of Small Business at City Hall for help, who told her about Working Solutions. She met with Lorena Roman and was approved for a microloan in the fall of 2012.
“They were able to give me a $25,000 lump sum to invest in the equipment so I could be compliant with the city,” said Patty. “If it wasn’t for them I probably wouldn’t still be here, never mind doing well. Lorena broke everything down and gave me different ideas on how to manage the cash flow and increase profit.”
A few years later, Patty decided to drop the valet business and switch her focus. “It was high-liability and there wasn’t really much profit from it. It just got really hard for me to manage, so I decided not to continue with the valet part of it,” she explains. Fortunately, she landed a contract as a subcontractor to manage San Francisco Airport’s parking garages. She has a great relationship with the main contracting company and considers them as mentors.
Now Patty’s setting her sights even higher. She was able to get the Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) certification, which will enable her to apply for statewide contracts. With the help of the company that subcontracts her, she is in the process of obtaining a contract with the San Jose Airport. “For us, it’s awesome, because I’m growing on a different level thanks to these huge contracts,” she says.
Shuttering the valet part of her business a few years ago meant reducing her staff numbers. But now that her company is more stable, she is able to do right by the six employees she currently has. Now all of them are part of the 665 Teamsters union, which means they get good benefits. Through the airport contract, Patty gets reimbursed for those benefits. And with the addition of the San Jose contract, she’ll be able to hire more staff.
Meanwhile, Patty’s relationship with Working Solutions remains strong. “If I have questions I always make sure to go to them for any resources,” she says. In fact, they recently helped her consolidate the $25,000 loan and approved a new loan for her to expand her business. And they aren’t the only business assistance organization that Patty goes to for support. The Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) has helped her with connections and networking to navigate the bureaucracy of working with the city. ”If I need connections to anyone within the city or county of San Francisco, they help me a lot,” she says. “If I didn’t have those organizations to help me, I don’t think I’d still be around.”