Ryan Chun didn’t become the President of Elite Parking by standing around waiting for things to happen for him.
Quite the opposite, he would sprint to the nearest ringing payphone (but more on that later).
From the time he was a teenager, he actively worked to create opportunities that would prove to advance himself to become the business owner he is today. Elite Parking is Hawaii’s largest independent parking services provider. Approximately 1,000 employees work all around the state at hotels, restaurants, hospitals, and special events to provide the highest quality in valet services and parking management. The success of Elite Parking is rooted in its connection with their customers by ensuring that “each guest we serve feels respected, feels treasured, and feels like an ‘Elite.’” As the company’s President, Ryan believes in leading by example. That mentality drives him to be an active presence among his employees across multiple locations since 1992.
How did Ryan Chun evolve from a teenager once working at his uncle’s gas station to becoming the President of a company that makes money even while he sleeps?
Well, there are four significant times in the beginning of Ryan’s career where he created opportunities that would increase his outcome for success within the responsibilities he was given.
- The first was as the age of 16 as an employee at his uncle’s gas station.
- The second was his job as a valet at an Italian restaurant.
- The third was his valet business on Pier 7.
- The fourth was his car detailing service at Oahu Country Club.
The opportunities Ryan created resulted in him climbing the proverbial ladder from one level of doing business to the next. They also highlight Ryan’s developing characteristics as a business leader and tell the story of how a boy from Kaiser High School became a successful business owner in Hawaii.
The Gas Station
Ryan’s uncle was strict and driven, and he owned the 76 gas station in Hawaii Kai. It was no place to mess around, especially if you were employed there. Ryan began working for him on weekends as a teenager. The bathrooms at the gas station were to be cleaned and logged every 30 minutes. If there was down time, Ryan had to be doing something to maintain the station. Eventually, Ryan’s uncle made him the weekend manager. At sixteen, Ryan would have keys to the register and access to bank drops. Even more, he would be managing employees who were in their twenties and thirties. How would he garner their respect? He decided to take the lead.
Ryan used the position of weekend manager as an opportunity to show his uncle’s employees that he could be a good leader, because he would do anything he asked them to do.
If the pumps needed to be polished, Ryan would start polishing and they would work together. If the floors needed to be cleaned, he would lead the task. He looks back on his time at the gas station as one of the most pivotal experiences in his life. It’s where he learned important work habits and the crucial basics of being a good business owner: always make use of your time, always be thinking forward, and lead by example.
The Italian Restaurant
While still working at his uncle’s gas station, Ryan picked up a job as a valet at a busy Italian restaurant in the evenings. His valet work made such an impression on one particular regular customer – Rick Jordan, the owner of a restaurant on Pier 7 by Aloha Tower – that Mr. Jordan asked Ryan to come work for him. He politely declined due to the fact that he was making more money at the Italian restaurant than he could at the Pier 7 restaurant. Mr. Jordan came back to Ryan and advised him that if he wanted to make more money, he should start his own valet company. By this time, Ryan had graduated high school, and needed to start increasing his income. Ryan did his research and discovered that the insurance cost to start his own company (which is a large expense in the valet business) would be more than he could afford. He told this information to Mr. Jordan who, in reply, offered to pay for the insurance! Ryan accepted. The opportunity to start his own valet business was one that he describes as “luck.” However, it’s important to note that he continuously made an impression on Mr. Jordan – a regular customer – who noticed his work ethic and rapport with customers.
Therefore, Ryan helped to create the opportunity for his business to develop by consistently demonstrating his strengths and quality of service each evening at the restaurant.
Ryan began his business on Pier 7 calling it “Elite Car Care/Valet.” He made business cards, but this was the day before cell phones were in everyone’s hands. What would he use as a phone number so that customers could call? He didn’t have an office. Well, there was a payphone on Pier 7. Back then (and perhaps still today), each payphone was assigned its own phone number and it would ring if you called it. That payphone was the closest thing to an office phone that Ryan had, so he put the payphone number on his business cards. If the phone rang, Ryan would sprint to it and answer it “Elite Car Care/Valet.” The prefix for the phone number was 538 – the same as the office numbers in that area. The customers didn’t know they were calling a payphone and Ryan answered each call professionally, of course. After all, the business was serious and Ryan was serious about doing business.
He created the opportunity to get more customers and increase business by using his resources at hand. In this case, it was a Pier 7 payphone that still stands today.
Oahu Country Club
In another line of business, Ryan was detailing cars. A woman named Paula Harris, an avid member of the Oahu Country Club, advised him to bring his car detailing services there – a perfect setting as he could detail cars while the members golfed. Instead of asking how much for a rental space to do business, Ryan offered the club his services as a way to add value to their membership experience. The club agreed and gave him a rent-free area with water and electricity, and the members received a discounted price on his detailing. Ryan’s detailing services became a part of the membership options, and he became a valuable asset to the club family. His approach worked so well, it led to the Pacific Club asking for the same services for their members.
Ryan created an opportunity for increased financial success by framing his business as an added value to the membership experience as opposed to a separate entity from the club.
Eventually, Ryan narrowed the focus of his businesses primarily to valet services and his accounts grew. In 1998, Elite Parking entered the hotel industry, and in less than twenty-five years, became the leading valet service in Hawaii. From his days leading by example as the weekend manager at his uncle’s gas station – to running to answer the payphone at Pier 7 – to negotiating his detailing services at Oahu Country Club, Ryan created opportunities for himself to reach new heights as a business leader with each new venture.
Now, Ryan Chun asks you, “What are you willing to do to succeed?”
Written by Erin Delgado