LOS ANGELES – They work 600 events a year from fundraisers to funerals and have even been hired as valet for presidential visits to Southern California since George W. Bush was in office.
"This is my second hustle," said Barbara Cunningham Williams.
She works in the entertainment industry by day and at night she parks cars for Valet of the Dolls. Williams has been working for the valet service for 11 years, now she is training other new employees. She is among the longest-serving drivers at the company.
At a recent event in the Encino hills, Williams was part of a six-woman team parking cars.
"I’ve had men say, 'Can you drive this?' You know, especially those sticks and I’ll say, 'Sure sir, I can drive it,' and you know what they’ll do? They’ll stand there and they’ll watch me. They will not go into the party," said Williams.
Gillian Harris owns the company, which has around 150 employees.
"We’ve had an air traffic controller. We’ve had attorneys. We’ve had one who went all the way through med school," Harris said.
Only five of the drivers are men.
"The way that we present, it’s not about sex. It’s not that kind of party," Harris said. "Our customers tend to trust female valets more. There’s something about realizing that they’re not going to go speeding off in your car. They don’t know what torque is, nor do they care how much yours has."
She finds in L.A., some people order valet like they order a pizza.
“It’s like 4 p.m. They forgot to order valet. 100 cars worth of people coming to Mulholland Blvd. at 7 p.m.," said Williams.
Harris says one of the biggest challenges in their industry is keeping up with all the street rules and regulations.
“West Hollywood is different from Santa Monica, which is different from the city of L.A., which is different from Beverly Hills and Burbank and Glendale and all of that," Harris said.
Five years ago, L.A. passed a law requiring all valets to get a permit in the hopes of making the industry safer and more secure. Harris says Valet of the Dolls is the only company in the city that also requires its employees to take a rigorous precision driving course. She says it has been a huge part of the company’s success.
"90 percent of the maneuvers are reversing, backing into parking spaces, backing up alongside things," she said.
Valets earn an average of $17-$22 an hour including tips. Harris says the cost of valet for a private event can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the number of cars that are coming, the amount of time required, and the level of difficulty of the location.
After driving thousands of cars in her 11 years on the job, Williams definitely has a favorite.
"Bentley, honey. Nothing beats a Bentley," said Williams.
Or a job that gives the team of women a glimpse inside the elite world of L.A.’s rich and famous.
"You get a chance to see L.A. like no one else sees it," Williams said. "You really get an idea of what type of wealth is in this city."
After 16 years, Harris says it has been a good ride, but she is now actually looking to sell the business. She wants to pursue some other opportunities as an author and speaker.
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