Emma Sinclair has turned Target Parking into a profit-making machine
We’ve all heard the adage ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ – but for Emma Sinclair it rings truer than most. It is reasonably clear to whom Target Parking’s CEO owes the largest amount of gratitude for the impressive path she has trodden, from having her first job at McDonalds at 16, through becoming the youngest person to float a company on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM), to triple-digit growth over the last three years in her current venture.
“My father always encouraged us to earn our own money,” she reflects. “He never bought us a car or gave us a credit card to go shopping but what he did do – which I am eternally grateful for – is provide me with an amazing education, a good sense of self, and the skills to work. I bought my car about eight years ago but I love it every time I get in it – because I bought it. I know to value things. I also know that if things go wrong, I can roll up my sleeves and get on with it.”
Indeed, it was almost written in the stars that Neil Sinclair would somehow be involved with his ambitious daughter’s first foray into the world of business-building. With experience in the property sector since the age of 17, and having floated his own company in the 1980s, Sinclair Snr brought paternal support and business nous to boot.
“Mission Capital always used to joke that it was the only publicly-trading company where the managing director would take the chairman chopped-up apple, rich tea biscuits and a hot drink at 11am,” Sinclair fondly recounts. “Regardless of anything else, he is still my dad and I had to make sure he was eating properly,” she adds.
While the Mission Capital project was cut short in 2008, it had already more than laid the groundwork for Target Parking. And although it may have seemed a lifetime ago, given all that had happened since, Sinclair’s six years at investment banking giant NM Rothschild stood her in good stead.
“I can’t think of any other early career that would have given me such a wealth of skills and exposed me to so many smart and interesting people and businesses,” she says.
Nevertheless, Sinclair certainly didn’t envisage, nor aspire, as a child that she would one day be operating so successfully in the car park management arena.
“I did not have a prior passion for car parks,” she acknowledges. “There are lots of things I am passionate about, but before stumbling across it, I didn’t think ‘God, I must go into car parking’.”
She adds: “When I was setting up Mission Capital, and contemplating property-related service businesses, I just thought that car parking was part of the clan. I wasn’t as aware until I bought a business how interesting it might be.”
It is safe to say that interest was worth pursuing, with Wolverhampton Wanderers FC the latest high-profile client to appoint Target Parking to manage the car park facilities at its famous Molineux Stadium. Other clients include Fantasy Island, a theme park in Skegness, which Sinclair labels “one of my favourite places”, and established property PLCs such as Quintain.
So, what precisely is the service Target Parking provides to what Sinclair calls its “broad spectrum” of clients? “Effectively we run and operate public car parks in places where people come and go, and where there needs to be a certain element of parking controls,” she explains.
This includes equipping said car parks with machinery and technology, staffing them, painting the lines, cleaning them, doing their cash collection, and generally keeping them in an exemplary state of repair.
Definitely not a business to be sniffed at, but Sinclair is the first to admit that, while some of the company’s sites do not charge customers for parking, this particular enterprise does carry a certain stigma with it. “People often feel a bit of animosity for having to pay for parking, but they forget that, actually, in order to have a car park that is clean and tidy at the very least, someone has to remove the gross and obvious litter.”
It appears then that the fruits of Sinclair’s labour may go relatively unnoticed, or even unappreciated, by the public at large. Needless to say, this doesn’t fluster the entrepreneur.
“I am not in the business of love,” she declares. “We don’t get emails saying ‘thank you so much’ or ‘we love paying for your car parks’ but it is a necessary service and one that is required because otherwise, if you are near an airport or a train station, people just dump their cars anywhere without any regard. Residents can’t park, shoppers can’t park, so there does need to be an element of management, and that is what we provide to landlords and asset managers across Great Britain.”
Of course, it would be awry to assume that being her own boss has been an easy ride for Sinclair. On the contrary, and as with every entrepreneur, she has faced many a challenge over the last five years, and is sure to face many more in the future – but that is the nature of entrepreneurialism at the end of the day, isn’t it?
However, Sinclair isn’t so sure that those aspiring to follow the same path that she and many others have followed quite realise the risks involved.
“You are responsible for a lot of people and a lot of things, and you are without the comfort of an institutional environment where you get a salary every month whatever happens, so you really have a huge alignment between building your business and effectively earning a living,” she warns.
“It does take an awful lot of energy, especially if you don’t have a business partner, because you have to be on your game every single day. That is something that people forget – there is an obsessive culture of the entrepreneur out there. Everybody wants to be an entrepreneur, everybody wants to have their own business. People seem to think it is a glamorous job.
“One thing that is true is that it is wonderfully interesting, but there is a bit of a false perception of the glamour of being the boss. It doesn’t mean you can just sit back and tell everyone what they should do all day – you do everything all day long, and hopefully have other people that are in a position to help you.”
So, where next for Sinclair?
Intriguingly, when asked how useful her degree in French and Spanish with Italian has been, she confesses “not at all”.
“I am extremely good if you are on holiday and there is something that needs dealing with, and I am very good at pub quizzes when they start asking questions in foreign languages, but other than that it hasn’t helped my business.”
The obvious question at this point then is, what about overseas expansion?
“The USA is very interesting,” Sinclair reflects. “It is something I am keeping my beady eye on – it is an extremely fragmented market especially as a result of America being such a vast country in terms of physical space.”
Sinclair is careful not to get too far ahead of herself though because, as she always says, “one doesn’t necessarily know what the future holds in business”. Amen to that.