Lot Legends: The University of Notre Dame’s Tom Kauble
Tom Kauble talks Cashless Parking, Swimming, and Saving the Pups
In this inaugural edition of Spotlight on Operators, Tom Kauble – Traffic and Parking Director for the University of Notre Dame – sits down with us to talk about rediscovering his love of swimming, his passion for saving the dogs of South Bend, and his transformative role of technology in the ever-evolving challenge of keeping parking running smoothly at one of America’s most storied institutions of higher education.
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.
H: Tom, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. You know, Amanda and I were speaking a little while ago about all of the interesting and diverse people we work with, who all have such interesting backgrounds.
H: As you know, parking is such an important part of the experience for people that are attending events or just visiting different places, but it’s really only talked about when someone has a poor experience. So we wanted to flip that on its head and shed some light on the people that work really hard to make it all happen.
A: We always joke that no one actually intends to end up in the parking industry, that no kid has ever said “when I grow up, I want to work in parking!”. So tell us how you got here, and what your professional background was before you ended up where you are.
T: Yeah, I don’t think there’s a college course on parking, is there? Like you said, very diverse individuals. My background is actually in mechanical engineering – I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue and worked in the automotive industry for about 16 years. And that’s a very unique market with a lot of mobility between jobs. That was great, and I really enjoyed it.
One year the company that I was working for at the time downsized, and I was affected. That was on August 1st. Somebody said Notre Dame was hiring for security and parking, and I came in and put in an application and I was working the football game at the end of August that year. That was 17 years ago, and 2 years ago I became the Traffic and Parking Director here at the university.
A: When you saw that job posting at the university, what kind of peaked your interest, or made you take that leap? Was it the operational aspect that you were familiar with from your engineering background?
T: The challenge in parking is that it’s a very dynamic and challenging environment everywhere you go. It’s not siloed, we touch on every element of a small business, from operations to staffing budgets and hiring. So to me that was what was interesting, from a logistics standpoint and a technology standpoint. There’s challenges every day to try and solve problems and make things better.
A: Tom, you’re a cool guy in the parking lot but even more so outside of that. Let’s talk about your interests a little bit; what are your passions outside of parking?
T: Where to start? I was a competitive swimmer in high school and college, and that, I think, led my direction in life to a high degree. I swam fairly regularly until my late thirties and got away from it for a bit. And this last year I got back into it for health reasons and I feel a lot better.
My passion is staying fit. I love swimming, I love the competitive nature of it. This year my goal is to get back in shape enough that I can swim Masters level swimming. I’m planning on doing some RV trips and going to a few swim meets, just getting out and doing some traveling.
H: Amanda and I are both dog parents – she has two and I have one – and there are a ton of dog lovers here at ParkHub. I hear you’re quite the puppy whisperer yourself Tom.
T: I’ve always been a huge animal lover, and I’ve always had dogs throughout my life. When I was in high school, my dad and I raised hunting dogs, did bird hunting and some competitions with our dogs, mainly English Pointers.
And about ten years ago, when our kids left the house, my wife and I got into fostering dogs through a local nonprofit, and we really love that. We typically get the dogs that are a little more challenging. A lot of them are feral dogs that we spend months training them just to be able to go outside and go to the bathroom, just because they didn’t have those skills because they were on their own in the wild. I have two daughters, and at one point I think we maxed out at 14 dogs between the 3 households.
A: That is incredible, a man after my own heart Tom.
T: Six or seven years ago we started working with a local nonprofit to start a brand new business, a resale store called Resale to the Rescue that benefits the local animal shelters. And since then we’ve donated over half a million dollars to fund our local shelters, helping them spay and neuter and care for these animals’ needs.
A: Just the amount of money you guys have raised and put back into the community is amazing. I have four rescue animals myself right now, so you’re speaking my language. Did you have any foster fails?
T: I don’t classify them as foster fails – they were technically – but the day we brought them into the house, we just looked at each other and said “they’re not leaving, are they?”
I had one, Bella, who was a Belgian Malinois and Lab mix. When she stood up on her back legs she was 6 feet tall, as tall as me. And she did not like anybody – I had her for over a year and anytime somebody would come around her, she would get really aggressive, especially towards males, and we could not get her adopted out. And I was like yeah, she’s going to be ours, we’re on track to be a foster fail with her.
But one day we had a gal call, she had a daughter and a dog and no males in the house. So we went to this person’s house. Bella walked in, sat up on the couch, and that was it. She found her person. It’s pretty crazy, they always know when they’re safe, and they always know when they find their person.
H: Tom, you’ve done so much over the years for animal welfare, from fostering dogs in your own home to serving on the Board of Directors for the nonprofit. And all the while you’ve been progressing and innovating in the parking space as well. What would you say is the biggest way that parking at Notre Dame has evolved or changed since you first started?
T: I always say that parking is a big logistics challenge. How do you get someone from Point A to Point B as quickly and efficiently as possible? The biggest draw over the last five years has been those technology elements, and using them in line with my technology background and the mentality of always trying to make improvements.
Making parking as seamless and transparent as possible to the customer is the ultimate goal, and communication has been critical here. One of the biggest things is opening communication channels to our guests and our day to day constituents. It’s one thing to not like the parking situation, it’s another to come with an expectation that A is going to happen, and you get B, C, and D instead. None of that is very pleasing to anybody, so I take the approach to set the expectation level before you get here.
A: Absolutely, I’m the same way as you, Tom. I’d rather address the issue head on and say “yes, we know that this is a challenge, we know that there are some roadblocks here”. But at least if you talk to them about it, you can adjust expectations going into it, and from my experience as a Notre Dame fan, I think that is something you guys do really really well, with all of the know before you go emails and the signage around campus.
T: Four or five years ago, we had never used a message board on campus. Now we’ve got our own that we’ve purchased, and they’re wireless through cell tower technology. So
now we have live up-to-date ability to change message boards. All of those technological things that are in place now, it’s really changed the face of parking. So many things are coming to light now that we can use to improve traffic flow and the customer service level.
H: Historically parking has been kind of an underserved market in terms of tech innovation, and in the past five to ten years or so there’s been a lot of innovation. Is there anything that Notre Dame does differently now compared to then in terms of improving the customer experience?
T: When I started working at Notre Dame, there were not staffing challenges and hiring challenges, and there was more than adequate parking – typically the lots were 50-60% full. Through the transition of changes in the campus, when we expand a building, we lose parking. Now we have 30-40% of our lots full almost every time we have an event versus having all that extra capacity in the past, and that changes everything.
One of the biggest advantages [of ParkHub’s technology suite] is having real-time data. And because we can have real-time data, we can manage our operations better game after game. The vehicles per hour that’s standard in the report that we get – that’s a huge metric. Everyone at our university loves that. The vehicles per hour is probably the key that helps us understand the traffic flow patterns, helps us staff for outside agencies.
What the real-time data allowed us to do was to go out and start asking, can we prepay? Prior to implementing ParkHub, we had 50% of our lots that were cash only. Managing those had to be done on a full staffing level, first thing in the morning, because you had no idea who was going to show up and when. You had no historical data, and we ended up with lots half full. When we do the concerts now, we do 100% prepay. That gives you emails and cell phones – because they’re prepaying, now we have a point of contact with them. And it’s much easier to manage when you know that you’re going to have 10,000 cars versus not knowing what you’re going to get at all.
H: Notre Dame went cashless for football in 2021, which was a huge change, especially for fans that are used to paying cash and to parking working a certain way. How did you guys approach the challenge of making that shift, and making sure everyone was informed and comfortable?
T: A lot of it was just communicating to the guests that that’s what the expectation was. We had lots of communication before, utilizing the message boards we had and adding 30% more message boards so that every lot had one at the entrance. And the pandemic actually helped us expedite that – I think it changed a lot of peoples’ perspectives on
handling cash. And people just got on board really quickly with it.
We started the 2021 Football Season with the goal to be cashless by the end of the season, so we started out accepting cash. The first game we only had 3-4% of customers that paid cash, and the second game we had the same thing, so we actually just pulled
the trigger and stopped taking cash the third game of the season. And there has not been enough if any negative feedback to make us even question going back to cash.
Managing cash, as you’re probably aware, is a significant challenge. Security issues, fraud issues, management of that cash when you’re putting thousands of dollars out in the field. That’s a big challenge, and so much easier to streamline with technology and digital payments.
A: It’s kind of crazy to think that when you first brought ParkHub aboard a few years ago that parking at Notre Dame was cash only and now you’re 100% prepaid and credit only. That leads me to my last question – what’s a ParkHub feature that you would like to know more about?
T: Multiple sales platforms integrated. That was the challenge last year when we implemented ParkMobile – how do we get all that real-time data and have it all integrated into one platform from an inventory management standpoint on the day of the event?
A: Well this was super fun as always Tom. It’s great speaking with you and hopefully we’ll be seeing you around.
H: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us Tom!