Valet Parking and Front Door Services with Evolution PGS' Michael Malatin

September 1, 2021 | Episode 7

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Valet Parking and Front Door Services with Evolution PGS' Michael Malatin

September 1, 2021 | Episode 7

Eric Grundhoefer is back, and today Mike Malatin is the guest on Becoming Legends. 

Valet Parking might not seem like an incredible industry or a great opportunity for entrepreneurs, but Michael will be the first to tell you that valet parking can be a competitive, and sometimes difficult, business to get into. 

Evolution and Parking and Guest Services, or Evolution PGS, is Michael Malatin’s 3rd business as a thriving entrepreneur. As always we’ll get to hear a bit of Mike’s Batman Story, starting from the unlikely roots of being a valet himself, and then starting a small parking company, Healthcare Parking to pay for law school. 

Shows some real grit and determination doesn’t it? 

It’s really no wonder Michael Malatin was able to build a huge national company that contracts with luxury hotels and resorts in just three years. Of course, Mike doesn’t think there’s anything special about starting a company to pay for law school at 26 years old. For him, starting a business was all about knowing his stuff and learning how to build personal credibility to compete in the parking industry. 

Eric and Mike Malatin talk about the importance of hard work and commitment when it comes to moving up and creating opportunities. They’re not just talking about being an entrepreneur though, Michael’s lessons can apply to just about any aspect of life. 

Learn about Michael Malatin’s hopes to turn Evolution PGS into a family business, and more of his secrets to building a successful business in just 3 years.

To learn more, visit


Eric: All right. And we are back with Becoming Legends. I’m your host Eric Grundhoefer. Today with me is founder and CEO Mike Malatin. He founded, Evolution Parking & Guest Services. Mike, thank you so much for being here. I really really appreciate it. This is amazing. Please tell the listeners who you are, what you do, and why you do it.

Michael: Thanks so much, Eric. Well, I’ll tell you we started this company about three years ago. And it’s a third business of mine through my years of my career. Always been in parking. And this is really, almost a legacy project. My most exciting, also my most challenging project But in essence this parking company has become literally a national formidable provider of services to the best and largest luxury hotels and resorts throughout the country. And when we grew that from literally nothing three years ago.

Eric: That’s amazing. So, I know your story and I want people to get like, everyone listening, I want them to get really good value out of this. You are an entrepreneur purebred. I love it. You know, I know some other stuff you did. If you could just kind of tell people your background a little bit, tell them where you started and how you built all that up into the monster that Evolution is today.

Michael: I’ll tell you, when I hear the term entrepreneur, I always hear someone who is highly trained and skilled at doing something well. And looking back at myself, I really never took a business class in my life. I don’t know if I’m an entrepreneur so much as I am as just someone with an idea that ran with it, in sometimes the most primitive of ways. You know, I started off as a valet parking attendant through high school and through college up in Cincinnati. When I graduated in 93, I was accepted to law school and decided to forego my law school seat for a year just to park cars, right, to create this little parking company that I could take the money and then use it for law school. 

That parking company became my first company, it was called Healthcare Parking. Healthcare Parking was this little parking company in Florida. I had one one little hospital that gave me a chance as a 26 year old kid. And I was running cars and I had hired two other people to work alongside me. And the director of that hospital took such a liking to what we were doing and our service that — and again, I had really nothing. I had no platform, no training, no magic secret sauce, we were doing, I just parking cars. And he began to promote me amongst his directors of security at various hospitals throughout Florida and then throughout the country. And I felt like I had something going on here. But again, I’m 26 years old, I was a political science pre-law major, didn’t know much of anything, right? Except how to read really well. 

And so I said, Wait a second, I can do something with this. He’s introduced me to the Ohio State University Medical Center. He’s introducing me to Florida Hospital in Orlando, one of the largest health systems in the country. I can do something with this. And so I really decided to study what the industry was about that I was diving into headfirst and found ways where I could build credibility because I was very insecure in starting a parking company without really, how can I sell to these 70-60-year-old gentlemen who are executives or board members of these big — and I was extremely intimidated. So, I can’t just come in there saying hey, we park cars, and we’re Healthcare Parking and that’s why you should hire us. I had the name, a very descriptive name. So, I said we’re going to specialize just in this and I got to find ways that we can be more specialized. And that turned into me identifying the Joint Commission, which is the governing body that oversees hospitals. And got in with them, after a lot of convincing, I said really, I want to pay you to help me create a program that’s very specialized so that the valets can be very specialized in what they do. 

Not providing surgeries or any medical care, but the environment of care by which the valets work in exposes us to a lot of issues. You know, blood and infection control issues and psychiatric patients and crime and vagrancy and all the different things that we can tack on to our repertoire so that when we go pitch a new hospital we can say listen, our values are trained and how to handle age specific competencies and dementia and how do we handle, etc. We could be an extra eyes and ears security. And so that really got us somewhere. And that took the traction and that company built up from 1996 until 2007, we had about 300 hospitals coast to coast over $60 million in revenue. And it was just a little me running the show as you know a deer in headlights. But we did something right. Amazing people that I put all the credit with them in terms of how we took on every hospital from hospitals in California and Seattle to New York to Texas and everywhere in between. It just became an amazing monster, 6,000 employees. And I sold that in 2007, stayed on board for four years with the public company who had purchased us, and then moved on to the next venture. [crosstalk]

Eric: That is insane. I absolutely love that. I like your definition of entrepreneur and stuff. See, when I hear entrepreneur, and I think I saw this on a meme on the internet and it’s an entrepreneur, a person that jumps off a cliff and figures out how to build an airplane on the way down. That’s why to me you’re the definition of a purebred entrepreneur. You’re like you just kind of kept saying yes to things, seeing opportunity where it was and then not — I don’t want to say capitalizing on that. But you were making the right moves and providing a good service and then you scaled up from there and I think that that’s absolutely amazing.

Michael: I’ll tell you, you know, you’re right. And looking back on it, and I still am to this day, with what really pushes me and I think probably many entrepreneurs is first of all you have to have a passion for what you’re doing and you have to be really in love with this and you really got to know that you’re onto something. But at the same time, what pushed me to success was the fear of failure. So, fear to me was a big driver. You know, fear like I don’t want to go back to waiting tables again. I don’t want to go to law school. I don’t want to do that. So, this is i.t I got to get this done right. I’ve got to get this successful or I’m in deep trouble. So, fear really pushed me even to this day. Fear of failure, to me, is a really key driver to success.

Eric: Yeah, absolutely. I 100% agree. I think some people — I think there’s really two ways about it, right? Like, anytime I really talk to someone they’re like it’s fear that’s driving them and they’re more scared of losing than they actually really want to win which pushes them to win. Or it’s the people that just really, really, really want to win. And people live in those two lanes. So, I absolutely 100% agree. Now, was that your first kind of — you were 26th, you’re in college, was that your first kind of business or when you were growing up, were you the kid that was like lemonade stands on the side of the street or anything like that? 

Michael: Well, I had a lawn business. So, in Cincinnati, I would go around in my neighborhood and I think I had about seven or eight lawns that I would mow. I had a little push mower and then my dad would let me borrow the rider but he told me hey, if you break the rider you got to repair the rider. So, I was apprehensive. I thought everything should just be, hey, let me just use your stuff, dad. [inaudible 00:08:24] But he taught me, like, no. There are going to be some expenses, you got to clean the tractor. But yeah, he was a tough cookie. But he really allowed me to understand that business doesn’t come easy.

Eric: That was kind of your first taste of a dose of business and starting out and learning the ropes a little bit.

Michael: I just had the gratification. I like the gratification of completing something. I think it started with mowing grass. I mean, to me at least, it’s very satisfying to cut grass. It’s very kind of therapeutic, you’re going up and down the rows, you’re cutting it, it’s kind of your thinking, and it’s very therapeutic. But at the end of the day it’s very gratifying because there’s closure, right? You cut the grass, you see the result, looks great, you move on. So, I like that closure. And so I did this. In the wintertime, I’d shovel driveways, looked so nice at the end. And so I like that kind of thing. And that’s kind of what led me into the gratification of owning a business and the results of closing deals and the results and the gratification that comes along with that and hiring people that you see flourishing within your company, and a lot of gratification to me.

Eric: Absolutely. So, this is an amazing segue, actually then. Closure, where do you see Evolution? Like, what’s the end — Do you have an endgame in mind? Or is this kind of like because it’s your baby, you just are like how big can we build this, or do you have — What do you want it to evolve in, no pun intended, or is it exactly what you want it to be and you just want to grow? If you could shed some light on that, that’d be great.

Michael: So, to me, the evolution of the company, my gratification is not selling this company for millions of dollars and everyone gets a cut and moving on. My gratification is really getting the company to the point where it is growing so gracefully, that all of our systems and processes within the company are working so well that our growth provides, again, that gratification that I love and that my team also loves to see. But there’s different types of growth in business. You can go very fast, that can be a very painful growth, it can be very bloody and messy, and just, it’s no fun and the quality of life for our people are terrible. They’re working 90 hours a week, and there’s fires and it’s mayhem. 

There’s also a different type of growth, where you can grow fast, but that you’ve prepared for that in a way where your systems and processes, your departments, your resources are all in place prior to that firestorm of new business. So, that’s what we’ve been trying to do. And that’s one thing that I preach, and my leaders in the company preach are that you’ve got to have this graceful growth strategy, that’s what we talked about. And that graceful growth strategy is what’s going to push us to be able to grow and scale. 

So, my vision for the company is to the point, and we’re not even close to being there yet. But to the point where we are systematically growing new hotels and new markets every single month and we’re doing it with such grace, like a swan gliding across the water, but underneath the water the legs are moving, everything’s fast but to the industry we’re doing it in a graceful way. And behind the house we’re doing it in a way also that makes sense for us and that takes a lot of planning. But I have no interest in really selling the business at any time and anytime soon. I’ve got two young boys, a 14-year-old and a 12-year-old. And I want to get them out there parking cars and getting dirty and learn the business, if they want. But at the same time, I like the fact that I’ve got a lot of families and a lot of people working here and a lot of leaders, I see their kids’ pictures in our office. And I’m like, man, I got a lot of stuff here that I’m responsible for. 

So, to me, to sell the business really also causes a lot of strife within the employees and the leaders, right. And so, at this point we’re so young, let’s just go with it, plan ahead, and just — we’re still in that fetal position. Let’s see where this takes us. And the sky’s the limit if we could just do it right and keep service and culture as a key component. I mean, all we do is really provide amazing people to provide guest service. And the culture is key to the organization and its success

Eric: That’s fantastic. You’re making me feel self-conscious. If you’re a baby, then what am I? But no, that’s awesome. So, speaking of your kids, do your kids have kind of any entrepreneurial tendencies that you’re kind of seeing or are they kind of like — I have two boys and a 10 month old daughter — 11 month old daughter. So, I see a little bit and one of them but not the other. Is that kind of going on with you in the family as well?

Michael: So, I see a lot of entitlement amongst my two [inaudible 00:12:52] They’re great kids, but at the same time, they’re at the age where they want free money, right? And so it’s like, no guys. We’ve got to get you to work and you got to get your hands dirty. You’re not going to make $10 million on the first day of your, you know, you got to work up for it. And that’s what I see with them is that I do see them working hard. I do place them on a couple of our parking lots, believe it or not, on rare occasions when we have a bit like a gasparilla festival here, we’ve got some parking spaces right at our office. And they will flag those people in for four or five hours a day and I’ll pay him let’s say $15 an hour and that’s it. That’s all you get. 

But they see all this money coming in, “Well, Dad, can we have some more of this money?” Like, no, guys. There’s a lot of expenses that come in with this wad of cash that you have. We have insurance, we have signage, we have this — all these things going on that you don’t get a cut of it. I don’t get a cut of this money. [inaudible 00:13:44] there’s a lot of cash in your hand, but that doesn’t just go to our pockets, there are expenses. So, it’s almost like my dad telling me about the lawn mower [inaudible 00:13:52] So, they’re learning. But I think they’re well on track as long as I can keep them high and tight and on the straight and narrow, I think they have a good chance of being part of this business and being even more successful than me, I hope.

Eric: That’s fantastic. That’s amazing. I absolutely love it. I know exactly what you mean. I have an 11-year-old and then a six-year-old. He’s going to be seven and they’re, “Dad, buy me this Lego set. It’s only $300.” No, you don’t just get a Lego set just because — I was like when’s the last time you asked, hey, are there any extra activities or chores I can do around the house to make an extra 25 bucks this week. And then you save and then you reinvest. And I’m like these are the questions we need to be asking, not hey, go grab me that $300 Lego set. So, I hear you what you mean on that slight entitlement, the stuff that I would never ask my family in a hundred years when I was younger because I would get laughed at or probably slapped, honestly. But, okay, so I want to pivot. We know Mike Malatin, the entrepreneur. And for now, and for everyone listening again, I want them to get the most value out of this as possible. 

Let’s pivot more towards Evolution. We’ve heard a little bit about it. But what I want to talk specifically is brand. I love this brand. I think it’s such a classy, elegant brand. If you guys go on the website,, it’s an amazing website, you just get the look, the feel. Like, this resonates emotion with you. You get a certain feeling when you look at the site, when you see the brand. When you post something on LinkedIn, and you’re talking about company culture, and you see that there actually is a family there, and you spoke to that a little bit ago. I love that stuff. So, I want you to talk about a little bit, building the brand, and then kind of creating this company culture into what it is today. And then kind of give some people examples on how they can implement these things as they’re growing their companies as well.

Michael: Well, thanks. First of all, thanks so much for the compliment. Yeah, the website is a good snapshot of what we’re doing, and we’re still working hard. I don’t have a marketing team. So, I don’t, really have a lot of — I don’t want people on site or we don’t have a company where we are out doing a lot of the stuff. So, it’s kind of boots on the ground. The images you see on LinkedIn are really either my camera phone or someone. And so it’s good to see that that passion for what we’re doing is emanating through our amateur esque approach and marketing. Because we have so many amazing people, hundreds and hundreds of valets working at these amazing properties that our clients and our hotel partners allow us to be there. It’s a huge — it’s an honor to be at a property where you’re talking a multi-million dollar property with all of this expense that comes into it, and they’re trusting us with the arrival and departure experience. 

So, really, the branding is first and foremost the passion that we have on the drive. And we have to make sure as a company, we keep our employees. They’re young valets. The only way they can provide great service is if we brand ourselves internally, first. And we have to brand ourselves to our employees first, in terms of what kind of company are we, what kind of the behaviors are we expecting and holding accountable to ensure that we are providing the service that our partner, our hotel partners expect. So, the branding comes first, internally, and that’s the culture. And that branding, if that branding emanates to the drive, then our team members provide the service, and that brand speaks for itself. And it’s all about how we are providing a passionate anticipatory guest service. When a person pulls up and a guest pulls up in their vehicle, how we’re handling them; the eye contact, the name recognition. Those are the things that a lot of parking companies don’t do or don’t do well, because they don’t have the time because maybe they’re dabbling in many other verticals. 

But with us, this is all we have. We’re not parking cars anywhere else, so we can’t fall back. So, our laser focus is on that niche. And that’s our brand is a specialized approach to serving strictly the hotel and luxury hotel resort. And that brand is so specialized and we have so many different components of training and talent acquisition, that that’s how the brand becomes very unique amongst all the other offerings out there. And that’s why so many hotels have committed to us is because they like the fact that our specialization — we are Forbes — We’re the only parking company in the United States, that is an official partner with Forbes Travel Guide. And that is a designation that we have to go through every year. So, this is three years in a row as the only parking company with that Forbes Travel Guide official partnership. And what that gives us is the training and the resources we need to become even better as an organization. And so that’s what really is one of the main anchors by which we hang our hat on is that training. And that brand can carry itself. 

We don’t have salesmen or sales people within the organization. Our salesmanship really comes from our hotel partners who will spread the word to another hotel, or by me, or my COO who knocks on doors on occasion when we have time and grows the business that way. But the brand itself is still new. But again we’re building goodwill within the organization just because our service delivery is so onpoint. They’re not perfect. We make mistakes every single day, but we really are learning and we don’t make the same mistakes every single day. We learn from them and we are very aggressive about it.

Eric: Yeah, absolutely. No, I love that. And you and one of the things that stood out in what you just said out of the entire thing was you focused on eye contact with your people. And that, to me, just says the amount of detail that you have for this because I’m very big on body language and eye contact and how someone presents you and how they’re standing and where they’re looking. Like, if we’re on this podcast, and I’m looking over here the entire time, why am I not looking at you? So, I’m very big on those types of things. So, the fact that you are training your people to make proper eye contact, I think — I literally have goosebumps, because I think that that’s like the most excellent thing I’ve ever heard when it comes to a company this massive. So, like, that’s [inaudible 00:20:32]

Michael: Perception is key. So, when you’re a guest pulling up to a, I don’t care if it’s a Ritz Carlton, I don’t care if it’s an AC Marriott, or a Hilton hotel or anything, Embassy Suites, it doesn’t matter. The perception, when you pull up to the drive, and you see the valets that you’re going to, within three seconds determine whether or not you really trust these guys, do you really not, or wow, they look amazing, like their position, right the way. They’re not playing hacky sack and messing around. They’re position. They’re serious about their role, they smile when they greet you. Those perceptions are so key in our business, because we, as a company, we have always a daily uphill battle with every single guest to ensure that we win their trust. 

And if we win their trust, they’re giving us a very valuable vehicle to drive. They want to make sure that their experience upon the drive is positioned well so that when they enter the hotel, they’re not already questioning whether or not they should be there or whether or not they should have gone somewhere else. Or they’re going to the front desk already with a judgment that is going to carry forward throughout the rest of their experience. So, we have a lot of pressure. And it’s an ongoing battle for us every single day to get 20-something to smile, to anticipate guest service, to really make conversation and not be on their phones. It’s a struggle every single day. And that’s why our management teams are out there coaching and coaching and coaching to make sure that — Because we don’t want just a bunch of robots, parking cars, we want to create an experience.

Eric: I love that. Mike, thanks so much for being here today. I really, really appreciate this. And for all of you that are listening right now, this is founder and CEO, Mike Malatin of Evolution Parking & Guest Services you can find Mike or Evolution at Mike, thanks again. I appreciate you and your time.

Michael: I had so much fun. Thanks so much for having me. I really, really loved being here.

Eric: No problem. Thank you. 

Michael: Take care.

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