Lot Legends: PNC Arena’s Rob Seltzer

Rob Seltzer talks about the twisted pathway that led to his current position and how the lessons he learned in previous roles help him in the parking world now.

Who would have thought that jobs in catering, at an indoor trampoline park, as a sales manager for a moving company, and as a restaurant owner would have prepared Rob Seltzer for his role as Director of Parking and Traffic at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC? But they did! PNC Arena welcomes over 1.5 million guests and hosts more than 150 events a year (including professional athletics, major concert tours, and family shows) and Rob, the man getting everyone in the building, is doing something right. We’re guessing it may have something to do with his mantra of “Quickly, Safely, and Efficiently.”

Rob Seltzer - Director of Parking and Traffic at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC
Rob Seltzer – Director of Parking and Traffic at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC

Lot Legends is presented by ParkHub’s Amanda Browning, VP of Customer Experience, and Hongzhou Liu, Director of Revenue Operations, to shine a spotlight on the hardworking and passionate individuals working in our industry. To learn more about ParkHub’s best-in-class suite of parking solutions, visit parkhub.com

Amanda: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today, Rob! We know you are a busy guy, so I am going to jump right into it. What is your professional background before starting at PNC Arena?

Rob: I was younger, I worked for a family owned catering business for 11 or more years in Pennsylvania where I’m originally from. After I made the move to North Carolina, I helped out some friends of mine to manage 2 indoor trampoline parks, then we started to get into restaurants and I was a minority owner of 2 restaurants for a couple of years. Somebody wanted to buy our locations, so we sold those. 

I enjoyed North Carolina a lot and didn’t want to leave, so I moved over to the Raleigh area and started as a sales manager at a moving company. I started at PNC Arena in 2018 as a part time gig and just really enjoyed it. I worked my way up to become a supervisor, then the director position became available and it seemed like a great fit. I left my full time job as a sales manager and moved over to the Director of Parking role in March of 2020, right before we shut down for Covid. I got about 2 weeks into the job, then I had a nice little 10 month hiatus. 

Amanda: That’s either really good timing or really bad. It gave you a lot of time to get used to the new position I guess!

Rob: Yeah, that’s true. When we came back from Covid, we really hit the ground running because the parking lots at the arena were used as a Covid vaccination site 6 days a week. Now we’re back to selling out hockey games and hosting events.

Amanda: Glad to hear that you are back.

It took a moment to sink in, but I’m just now fully processing what you said about your background… So indoor trampoline parks, restaurant owner, etc. It’s crazy the pathway that we all take to end up in parking. That seems to be the theme of all these discussions we’re having – that the path to parking is twisted and winding. But I think that’s really cool about our industry – that we have so many diverse backgrounds and unique perspectives.

Hongzhou: When you moved into parking, how different is that from running a restaurant or managing a trampoline park? They are different worlds, but are there any similarities or things you dealt with previously that help you in your current position?

Rob: Obviously they are very different industries, but a lot of similarities – managing people is the biggest one. I’ve been in some type of management role since I was 16 years old. I’ve managed anywhere from small groups of 10 to 20 employees up to a couple of hundred employees. 

Whether we’re talking about the restaurant industry or the trampoline park industry or the parking industry or sports in the entertainment industry, you’re dealing with odd hours and it’s very difficult to staff these industries, so that’s probably always going to be one of the biggest challenges. But also, retaining and hiring qualified staff as well. Managing people is what it is, then you have to get to know the products or services that go along with it.

Amanda: I would imagine the ability to think on your toes comes in pretty handy across all of these industries, as well as making quick decisions. You can’t really falter in a parking lot or in a kitchen. 

Rob: Exactly. When you are hosting a sold out hockey game or concert and cars are coming in like crazy, you have to be able to turn on a dime and make split second decisions. You have to do whatever you can to get people off the roads, into the parking lot, and ultimately into the venue.

Amanda: PNC Arena has been a client of ParkHub since 2017, how do you use our parking technology to help you do that? 

Rob: The parking technology you provide is great. We love its efficiency and also for reporting reasons. We love seeing the reports and tracking the numbers – that’s what helps us formulate a traffic plan. With the data you provide, we know where the cars are coming in, what time they’re coming in, and what lots are filling up first. That helps us put plans in place to push traffic around the property. It’s also good to see how many people are paying by credit card onsite, how many people prepaid for their parking, and prepaid redemption rates. That real-time data is extremely helpful.

I look at data more or less from an operational standpoint of how I can get traffic off the road faster because that’s my main focus. My job is to get everybody on and off the property as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible

Hongzhou: That’s a great way to sum it up.

Taking a step back real quick, you mentioned that you are from Pennsylvania but wanted to stick around North Carolina after moving there – what made you stay? 

Rob: Yeah, I was born and raised on the eastern side of Pennsylvania, close to Philly. I moved down here when I was in my early twenties and have been here for just over 10 years now. What I really enjoy about North Carolina is the weather and the people. 

When I started at PNC it was just a part time job for some extra money, but then I got hooked on operations and really enjoyed the parking department because I like being outside. I supervised for a long time, but then the director position became available and I decided I wanted to go for it. I figured I could bring my operational knowledge to help out the department. 

Hongzhou: And you said that when you first started, it was right before Covid? That’s a lot of change all at once.

Rob: It was a difficult time for everyone. We lost the majority of our staff from the Covid shut down so building everything back up and getting organized was definitely a challenge – but I’m always up for a good challenge.

Amanda: I can sense that about you. No one goes into the restaurant or parking industry who doesn’t love a challenge. What challenges are you still facing?

Rob: Things have been a lot better, but honestly staffing is still our biggest challenge because we’re in a unique industry. You could have one event or 6 events a week and the hours are all over the place. We’ve been successful with hiring and retention lately I think partly because the staff is excited to be a part of an arena that has a winning basketball team and a hockey team that’s doing very well. The arena itself is booking more events which leads to more hours and money for them.

Another challenge is that the arena is coming up on being almost 25 years old. There is some aging and things that are outdated. Parking lots are one of the things that are still pretty original so we’re looking at resurfacing in the next few years. We’re currently in the process of a new signage project as well – so one of my challenges right now is coming up with the new traffic plan.

Amanda: You said you guys have been doing a lot better at retaining your staff, which is not something that can be said across the parking industry. It’s a tough lifestyle. What have you found, or what advice would you give to another venue who is trying to retain their staff and keep their good people? 

Rob: Well, we’re lucky because all employees work directly for the arena so we don’t have to worry about a third party company. But, one of the most successful things I’ve found is incentive programs – we have a program that if a staff member works so many events per month they will get a bonus. This also helps us staff events appropriately because we know that people want to work. 

Aside from that, I take time to personally meet with all the staff so that way they know who I am and they’re not just hearing a voice on the radio or just getting emails from me. I also try to reward them with food. A lot of people are coming from a full time job to this one, so they don’t always get a chance to eat a decent meal. Every now and then I’ll buy dinner for everyone and that goes a long way. 

I never harp on the negative. There’s always negative things to talk about, but whenever the staff does a good job I am sure to sing their praises like crazy – like when we are at 50% staff trying to get 20,000 people into the arena.

So incentivizing, personally getting to know each and every single staff member, and rewarding them for their good work have led to a lot lot less turnover in the past year than previous years.

Amanda: Food, facetime with the boss, and a winning team is the formula for retention – got it! Being from Michigan, I don’t know anything about winning teams so I’ll take your word for that one.

Hongzhou: Besides the staffing piece, did you have to make any other changes coming out of Covid? 

Rob: Absolutely. We started on ParkHub’s new hardware profile – we went from the Verifone sleds to Ingenico EMV readers. With that, we went completely cashless and paperless. Contactless is safer, so we like the fact that the new card readers take chip and are enabled for mobile wallets. We also got rid of the printers; it’s one last piece of equipment that the cashiers had to carry around which is great. With any new piece of equipment, staff had to learn how to use the devices, but everyone got up to speed pretty quickly. We also had to do some education with our guests ahead of time to let everyone know we would be cashless. 

And as far as the traffic plan goes, I had to take a step back and see where all the traffic was coming from. The data told us, okay, we have 60% of our population coming from this direction and we know that this entrance is going to get hit hardest. We took that and started working with the local police department to come up with a plan to get traffic on and off the property quicker. There always will be challenges, but we’re coming up with some pretty good workarounds.

Hongzhou: Let’s talk about some fun stuff. What do you like to do outside of work, Rob?

Rob: I’m here at the arena a lot, but definitely enjoy spending time with friends. A lot of my family is still up in northern Pennsylvania, so I don’t get to see them as much. We’re also expecting our first child in a couple of months so looking forward to that. We’ve been getting that in the nursery ready and all that fun stuff. 

I’ve become a Cane hockey fan since starting at the arena. It’s fun to keep up with the team and I get to see them in person every once and awhile. Other than that, I enjoy trying new restaurants and am a big craft beer and whiskey person. 

Hongzhou: So if Amanda and I were to visit Raleigh, do you have any restaurants that you would recommend that we check out, something that’s representative of the area?

Rob: Being in North Carolina, we have a lot of different barbecue places so you’d definitely want to check a few of those out. I always like the smaller local places and there’s a lot of good family owned restaurants as well.

Hongzhou: If you had to choose, what would you rather do for the rest of your life – work in parking or work in restaurants? What’s more of a challenge to you?

Rob: I mean I mean both industries are extremely challenging and pretty much thankless, but I would much rather do parking than be in the restaurant industry. I’m pretty sure that the restaurant industry took a couple of years off my life. Everything is so up and down and it’s really difficult to predict the future in the restaurant industry. At least with parking, you know you have more of an idea of how many people are coming to an event for planning purposes. So I definitely enjoy the parking industry over the food industry.

Hongzhou: Well Rob, I really appreciate you taking this time out of your day to sit down with us.

Rob: For sure! Thanks for having me.