Man on the Move

At Burlington International Airport, man-on-the-go Curt Hennigar has bumped up Airport Park & Shuttle to first class

by Pip Vaughan-Hughes

Curtis Hennigar, president of Airport Park & Shuttle at Burlington International Airport, is a busy man. In addition to the parking and bus service at the airport, he provides valet parking at Burlington's Fletcher Allen Health Care Center. That's just in the Northeast he also runs a large and growing business in Florida, his official residence.

Curt Hennigar, at the helm of Airport Park & Shuttle at Burlington International Airport, isn't fazed by the challenges of maintaining businesses separated by the length of the entire Eastern seaboard. "It's five hours door to door, which isn't too bad," he says.

Distance doesn't seem to matter much to Hennigar, who spends at least a week every winter month and much of the summer in Vermont. He has been operating at Burlington International for a little more than two years. "Park & Shuttle used to be run by the public works department of the city," he explains. "They were putting it up for bid two and a half years ago. I was here on vacation, I provide similar services in Florida, so I put in a bid." The bid was successful, and Hennigar took over in the summer of 1998.

Since then, the Park & Shuttle has seen a number of aesthetic improvements. "When I took over, I remodeled the building, bought a new shuttle bus and new uniforms for the staff," he says. Hennigar didn't stop there, making sure to dress up the quality of service, as well. "Now, when people come back from a trip we have their car running and warm," he explains. "We can change your oil, rotate your tires. We will also do detailing, such as washing and waxing your car." With one eye always on the future, Hennigar is playing with some further expansions. "I'm looking at providing valet parking at the airport terminal soon," he reveals, "and the airport has plans to expand the Park & Shuttle lot if and when we need more room."

The bulk of Hennigar's business may be in Florida (he lives in Deerfield Beach and his base of operations is in Boca Raton), but he is expanding his operations in Vermont. "At the airport, I also operate the Ambassadors," he says, referring to the yellow-jacketed personnel who monitor taxis and make sure traffic is flowing in front of the airport. He's been running the valet parking service at Fletcher Allen since April. "It's going real well," he says. "We've alleviated a lot of congestion in the garage. We're also providing assistance people for wheelchair patients and flagmen for construction."

Although Park & Shuttle provides more services than the airport's parking garage and is less expensive, competition is not an issue, Hennigar explains. "The City of Burlington owns the property and controls the price," he says. "I just operate it for them – that way they don't have to worry about undercutting the garage, which they also own." He adds that his working relationship with the airport administration is excellent.

Thomas Sherman, Joe Mongeon, Philip Brothers and are employees of Hennigar's Ambassadors program. Ambasadors monitor taxis and make sure traffic is flowing in front of the airport.

J.J. Hamilton, Burlington Internati-onal's Director of Aviation, describes Hennigar as "tremendously professional," smart and service-oriented. "He runs a great operation," says Hamilton. "It's evident that the levels of customer service are much higher than before, and the bottom line is that financially it's working better, too. Curt's very adaptable. He's very easy to work with: accommodating, not arrogant. He knows his business, and how it needs to be run to satisfy us and the customers."

Business has been improving in recent years, says Hennigar. "We've been building it up through advertising and by greatly improving our services," he says, noting that the expansion of the airport has helped. "Jet Blue brought all the other airlines' prices down, so we've gotten a lot busier," Hennigar says. "We had 670 cars last Thanksgiving." Park & Shuttle averages 180-210 cars a day. "I have about 25 people employed at the airport, but I think that will grow," he says. "We're already staffing more heavily, especially over holiday periods."

"The only people who affect us here are local people," Hennigar points out. "So we're busy in spring when they go to Florida! College breaks are also busy times. I don't think our daily average has grown much since Jet Blue came, but we are definitely busier on holidays now." Business almost doubles during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Spring break is another busy time, he says.

"You're only as good as your staff," insists Hennigar, "and I have a great management team. Birdie Deavitt, who manages the Park & Shuttle, and Dale Barrette, the Ambassadors manager, do a wonderful job. I value a personal rapport with my staff, and I think I know them all by name. We've been very lucky here, with a very low turnover of staff."

Deavitt, who joined the operation a year and a half ago, says Hennigar inspires loyalty. "He's just a great guy to work for," she says. "He's a caring person, very interested in his employees. He's always there for you. And he's for anything we might suggest to make the operation better. He puts a lot of pride into whatever he does. This is not just another business to him. Even though he lives in Florida, he's very hands on –always calling. And when he's here he pitches right in."

Hamilton also praises Hennigar's people skills. "He delegates and empowers people well," says Hamilton. "He has good people working for him who share his philosophies. He's immediately available any time his staff or I need him. Even though he's in Florida much of the time, modern technology makes it seem like he's just next door."

Hennigar has been in the business since his teenage years. "I started valet parking at a restaurant in Florida when I was 17," he says. "I would meet people who were managing country clubs and restaurants, and I quickly decided I could provide services myself. There wasn't a lot of competition then. A lot of these people had known me for a long time, so they were comfortable with hiring me to run another location." Making a name for himself, Hennigar was soon a legitimate businessman. By 19, he had operations at two or three locations around Boca Raton and employed several full-time workers.

When he enrolled in Florida Atlantic University, he kept his business for the extra money, but he "never planned on doing it for a living," he says.

Things change, and as Hennigar's business grew he found it increasingly difficult to abandon his lucrative responsibilities.

April Wescott, desk receptionist, is one of about 145 people Hennigar employs in Florida and Vermont. "You're only as good as your staff," insists Hennigar.

"Now I operate valet parking at hotels, office buildings and hospitals," he explains. "I also provide employees to do certain jobs that are service-oriented: security people, lobby attendants for office buildings and hospitals, meeting coordinators at hospitals." Hennigar's company, C.A.H. Airport Parking Services Inc., employs about 145 people in Florida and Vermont.

Hennigar was born in Grand Island, N.Y. but moved to Florida in 1975.

"My wife, Joanne, was born and brought up in South Burlington," he explains. "She's the Vermont connection! The couple has two children, Matthew, 9, and Tara, 8. "They come up a few times a year –it's a nice change for them. They ski in the winter. We have a condo in South Burlington, and all my wife's family is here. We come up for holidays, and we usually spend six or eight weeks here in the summer. I like to ski, and we do a lot of boating in Florida –we have a power boat. So we can go skiing up here, and be boating in Florida a couple of days later."

Does Hennigar find running businesses in two states a strain? It seems not. "I'm always looking at other locations and areas," he says. "But I would hate to get too busy, because I value my free time! At the moment, I think, I have a good balance."

Downtown Burlington is one of the locations he is eyeing. "At the moment, the main part of my business is in Florida, but you never know," he says. "I would really like to provide valet parking for the Church Street Marketplace in Burlington. That's something that has been happening in some of the older towns in Florida. It attracts people to downtown areas, especially at night, because they don't have the inconvenience of trying to find a parking space. People tend to associate valet parking with places like Florida and California –places with great weather. But it's just as useful where the weather is not so good, like wintertime in Vermont. And it's especially good for older people. The idea would be that you would drop off your car at one point, say Church and College, and the valet would park it for you and bring it back when you're ready."

Hennigar isn't fazed by the challenges of maintaining businesses separated by the length of the entire Eastern seaboard. "It's five hours door to door, which isn't too bad," he says. "I get a lot of my calls done on the plane." And the contrast between the two states is an added bonus. "I love working in Vermont and Florida, because I love both places," he says, "especially the differences in climate. I can have snowstorms and sunny, warm weather!" •

Originally published in March 2001 Business People-Vermont