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Palmerston North's Frogparking was knocked back by the coronavirus lockdowns, like most companies. It claimed $160,000 in wage subsidies during the lull.

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But it's also set to power out of the period, having signed three major deals for its carpark management technology during the layover.

Collectively, the three multi-year contracts are worth more than $10 million, managing director Shareena Sandbrook says.

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One is for the giant City of Hope Medical Centre near Los Angeles, involving around 6500 parking spaces.

A second is for the Chadstone Shopping Centre in Melbourne - which claims to be the Southern Hemisphere's largest mall operation with its A$1.2 billion annual turnover and more than 10,000 parking bays catering to up to 70,000 shoppers per day.

The third is the Central Coast Council in New South Wales, covering a vast swathe of territory north of Sydney.

How do you land deals during a downturn?

Shareena, who co-founded Frogparking with her father, entrepreneur Don Sandbrook (a director and major shareholder), says her company did not let any staff go during the level 4 and level 3 lockdowns. In fact, it took on a couple, boosting its tally to 47 as it brought in a couple of salespeople from faltering competitors in the United States.

And, notably, Frogparking didn't just see white-collar laptop jockeys working from home. Sandbrook says "Lots of workshop staff took tools and equipment home, too." Garages became makeshift product-development labs for new hardware, helping with the push to win new sales.

Many Aucklanders will have first encountered Frogparking when it installed sensors and lights (green for empty, red for full) above park indoor parking bays at anchor customer Auckland Airport.

Frogparking's wireless sensors feed a lighting system that tells punters which parks are free - plus cloud-based software that lets owners tweak parking rates depending on volume. Photo / Supplied
Frogparking's wireless sensors feed a lighting system that tells punters which parks are free - plus cloud-based software that lets owners tweak parking rates depending on volume. Photo / Supplied

Offshore success followed. On the back of a successful pilot showcasing its technology at UCLA (the University of California, Los Angeles), Frogparking also landed Disney and Irvine (which bills itself as one of the largest mall operators in California) as customers.

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And the technology has evolved along the way. Frogparking's wireless parking-bay sensors now feed information to a cloud dashboard that parking owners can use to nudge pricing up or down, depending on demand, while on the consumer side of things, Frogparking's app can be used to find and pay for a spot.

Competing with Amazon

Such usability was the key for Chadstone.

The giant Aussie mall doesn't charge for most of its parking spaces, "But they now have to compete with Amazon, so everything has to be a premium experience," Sandbrook says.

Online shopping has, of course, emerged as an even bigger rival to bricks-and-mortar since the outbreak, so it's all about making things as frictionless as possible.

The app that Frogparking created for Chadstone provides turn-by-turn directions from your house to a free-parking bay, nearest to where you want to start your shop. And when you're done, it shows you the fastest way to the exit.

Covid-friendly for councils

For the Central Coast Council it was all about a pivot. The "P" word has been somewhat overdone during the pandemic, but in this case Frogparking was able to rapidly repackage its technology as a completely contactless payment solution for Central Coasters looking for a park. A free spot can be located, and paid for, through an app on their phone - or will be in around four months. Frogparking is taking the same "C19" solution to other councils.

Getting doctors to the ward faster

At the City of Hope Medical Centre, the sell was also coronavirus-related. Under-pressure medical staff and visitors needed a way to find a free parking spot quickly, the better to get on the ward faster.

Installations are underway at each of the new three big new customers, and each should be up and running with their new systems before the end of the year.

Frogparking is privately held (Sandbrook and her father own a majority of the shares and have only brought in one outside investor over the past decade, ex-Fonterra director Malcolm Bailey) and doesn't release detailed financials.

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But its MD says it is profitable, and that the trio of major post-lockdown deals will see revenue increase by 72 per cent this year to more than $20 million.

The company has come a long way since Don Sandbrook first saw a parking warden chalking cars in the rain, and thought there must be a better way to manage parking.

But despite its global success, it's committed to staying in Palmerston North, and hiring locals (the Sandbrooks have long maintained that offshoring is a false economy as quality control can be lost, along with the ability for fast turnaround).

There will be other downturns ahead, but it doesn't hurt that Frogparking is Don Sandrook's third hit.

He made his original fortune by inventing an electronically controlled seed metering system, the "Seed Spider", 20 years ago. Now, he estimates two-thirds of the salad mix grown in North America alone goes through one of his seed-metering systems.

He also developed what he describes as the world's first portable Iridium tracking device designed primarily for aviation. A private helicopter pilot, the elder Sandbrook saw the need for a satellite-based flight-tracking system that overcame the gaps in systems using GSM mobile phone networks.