Thursday, 26 January 2012 13:12

Hitting the Streets with the G & C Auto Body Meter Beaters

It all began 20 years ago as a knee-jerk reaction to a bad experience with a parking meter maid, but today it has been lauded as a successful social experiment while evolving into a highly effective viral marketing endeavor. The G & C Meter Beaters are a Santa Rosa, California, based creation of Gene Crozat, the owner of G & C Auto Body, with seven locations in the Northern Bay Area, with an eighth opening in June.

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During the 10 days right before Christmas, the G & C Meter Beaters save drivers from getting parking penalties by feeding their meters before the City of Santa Rosa’s parking enforcement officers are able to nail them with a $33 parking ticket. It’s a program that Crozat began when he was upset over what he felt was an unfair parking ticket he received two decades ago.

“I was rushing back to my car after shopping and the meter maid was sitting there waiting for the meter to expire,” Crozat said. “She saw me coming, but she gave me the ticket anyway. I was really mad, so I went to the bank and got a bunch of quarters. I told my kids—get out there and put money in all these meters before they expire. That’ll show ‘em.”

But brilliant ideas don’t always gain traction overnight and the Meter Beaters were a prime example. To say that the powers-that-be in Santa Rosa weren’t enamored with Crozat’s idea was a major understatement. “They threatened my kids and told them ‘your daddy is going to jail’, ” Crozat explained. “They didn’t like the fact that we were stopping people from getting parking tickets and said we were interfering with their operation. The media flocked to the story and pretty soon the city backed off.”

Over the years, Crozat and his Meter Beaters have touched many lives positively, he said. “Once people get our flyers on their windshields telling them they’ve just saved them from a parking ticket, they’re so thrilled they send us money, which we donate to charity. I have some incredible letters here from people, including one gentleman who thought he was getting a ticket when he returned to his car after being at the hospital. His doctor had just informed him that he was dying, so when he saw the ticket it really hit him hard. But, then when he realized there was no ticket, it made his day. Here was a guy with tragic news, probably still in shock, but avoiding that parking ticket was a big deal for him.”

When people return to their vehicles and see something on their windshield resembling a parking ticket they’re obviously upset, but instead they get this little holiday greeting from the Meter Beaters of G & C Auto Body:

While you shopped
The Meter Maid stopped
To give you a Christmas Treat
The price of this gift
Could cause you a fit
As well as a present so neat
The G & C Elves
Thought your rage could be shelved
If the system could just be beat
So we put in a dime
To add to your time
And keep that maid in her jeep.
Your expired meter was paid for by:
G & C Auto Body “Meter Beaters” Happy Holidays

To see the Meter Beaters in action for ourselves, we walked around downtown Santa Rosa with them one sunny, warm December afternoon. The crew consisted of eight high school students earning extra money during the holidays.

By skillfully feeding electronic parking machines and distributing the vouchers on cars whose time was about to expire, The Meter Beaters take their jobs seriously. Just ask the leader of the pack, Johnny Reguera, who runs G & C’s towing division and oversees the Meter Beaters efforts every holiday season.

“We get better at this every year,” Reguera explained. “It’s an art form actually. With the old parking meters, it was all about feeding coins into them and now we have to pay for the vouchers and continually check the times. But, it works well and we know that we’re saving shoppers and residents from getting parking tickets. Some people know when we’re coming, so they don’t pay for their parking during that time. They know we’re going to beat the meter, so they rely on us. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it seems to work for some.”

As we observed the Meter Beaters in action, we encountered several people right after avoiding a parking ticket, courtesy of G & C. A shopper named Odessa J. was upset and holding what she thought was a parking ticket in her hand when she approached us. When Reguera told her to look again, she screamed out in joy. Would you now take your car to G & C if you get in an accident, we asked her? “Definitely,” she exclaimed. “What a nice thing for them for do, especially during the holidays!” And that was pretty much the same thing we heard from every one we ran into.

Toni Guanella is the Manager of Parking for the City of Santa Rosa. She explained that at one time the city wasn’t happy with Crozat’s Meter Beaters, but now they embrace them for obvious reasons. “We love them, because in the end it brings more money to the city. With a staff of just five, we can’t catch everyone. I know there may have been some issues with the Meter Beaters in the past, but now we appreciate it and never interfere. By filling these meters before they expire, we’re getting a boost in revenue for Santa Rosa. I know they spend a lot of time and money on this project, but in the end the goodwill pays off, I’m sure. I tell my people to stay out of the Meter Beaters’ way and let them do their jobs. I know that people in town anticipate it every holiday season and we do too, honestly.”

Do the G & C Meter Beaters make a difference in Santa Rosa every year, we asked Chief Johnny Reguera? “No doubt about it,” he said. “I can tell by the smiles and the warmth we get from people right after we’ve saved them a ticket. It’s not cheap doing this—we’re going to spend around $10,000 this year—but for us, it’s worth every quarter…or dime!”