Maybe rain, sleet and snow don't stop the postmen, but such conditions sure give pause to those considering a shopping expedition, especially when they ponder parking and the schlep to a mall's entrance.

But SBN has developed parking solutions to eliminate such obstacles and enhance the shopping experience no matter what the weather conditions. With its parking services — covered lots, valets and its newest concept, the UpFront Plus premium self-parking program — SBN is also raising the industry bar.

UpFront Plus sets aside about 75 spaces near a mall's main entrance, widens each spot, gates the whole section and allows patrons to park there for $3. Additional services include a full-time attendant, complimentary use of umbrellas, covered benches, landscaping and access to Smarte Carts and strollers. The concept has been introduced in two centers — Lenox Square in Atlanta and Town Center in Boca Raton, Fla., so far.

The added service is especially appealing to mothers shopping with kids, the elderly, people with physical challenges, as well as business people with a short time to run in and out of the mall for a quick sandwich or a lunchtime shopping excursion.

As the program expands geographically, the services and cooperative promotions with retailers are likely to burgeon, too. Cross-promotional opportunities to better serve and entice shoppers into the mall and help retailers bond with clients are numerous. Retailers can offer UpFront Plus vouchers to their frequent shoppers, for instance, or do special promotions — merchandise discounts for UpFront Plus customers during the holidays or special sales, for example.

In addition, SBN is testing extra services, such as car washes, at its Lenox Square location. “We intend to investigate other services we can offer to our customers as well,” comments Kathy Burnett, Manager of Parking Services. “If people can spend time in the mall while their cars are being washed, their gas tanks are being filled and the oil is being changed, then we've eliminated another errand they have to run. Shopping is much more fun than just waiting at a service station!”

UpFront Plus is not the only parking amenity program offered by SBN. SBN is currently working to aggregate its valet parking operations under one preferred provider to enhance the quality of service and to expand the program geographically. In addition, aggregation will enable SBN to provide valet services for mall tenants, primarily department stores and restaurants, at minimal costs.

“We currently have malls where there are four different parking operators providing varying levels of service at various price points,” states Burnett. “By aggregating these services under one provider, we will be able to offer a high-quality amenity program for tenants as well as ensure consistency of service and price for our customers.”

SBN knows it's raising customer expectations and wouldn't be surprised if parking services one day become a standard feature at malls just as they are at hotels. “If you watch customers as they select parking spaces at the mall, it's obvious that everyone wants to park as close to the entrance as possible,” observes Burnett.

“Our parking amenity programs, UpFront Plus and valet parking, enable us to maximize the number of customers who have direct access to our retailers from the area just outside the mall entrance.”