Derek Pacque is the 23-year-old founder of CoatChex, which aims to disrupt an industry you may not have known needs disrupting: Big Coat Check. On a chilly October day—one that required a coat—Fast Company caught up with Pacque to learn about his iPad-enabled system, how coat checking is a growth industry, and how all he really wants to do is let you dance your heart out this winter.
FAST COMPANY: What’s CoatChex?
DEREK PACQUE: It’s a ticketless system that replaces the old ticketed ways to do coat checks. It’s a bunch of products, ranging from our digital CoatChex system to our "CoatChex keg," a rolling keg that fits enough racking and equipment for a 250-person coat check.
Walk me through how I check a coat with CoatChex.
You come up, you enter your phone number, and the system takes your picture with the front camera on an iPad, while simultaneously the back camera on the iPad takes a picture of your coat. There’s a QR code on each hanger, and there’s a number assigned to each QR code. At the end of the night, you come up and give the last four digits of your phone number, and a picture of you and your coat comes up, along with the hanger number.
What problems does this hack from traditional coat checking?
I’ve been servicing coat checks two years now. With the ticketed system, I was having a lot of trouble with misplacements. We were checking hundreds of coats a night. People were partying, dancing, and losing tickets. Employees were spending all their time sifting through hundreds of coats on behalf of a few people. Also, when people were misplacing coats here and there, you never knew if they were telling the truth, and it was a big trust game. I realized there were a lot of people that run coat checks that have the same problems.
You originally got into the coat check business when you lost your coat at a bar.
I was out at one of the bars at Indiana University. There was nowhere to check my coat, so I hid it underneath fake presents behind a Christmas tree. At the end of the night, it wasn’t there. I was mad. I had to run home in 20-degree weather. It was a $245 black North Face coat.
Why didn’t the bar have a coat check? Just because most bars don’t?
They said they just didn’t have space for a coat check year-round, and it wasn’t their core business. I asked if I could come in and do a coat check, and I’d give them a percentage of the revenue. We worked out a little spot to work out of. That bar where I lost my coat was the first place I ran a coat check.
How soon till you were big enough to be staffing multiple venues in the same night?
Within about a month. I didn’t realize how much demand there was. The first night, we checked about 200 coats. I realized, man, I need staff to help me with this. Some nights we were making over $1,500. I started hiring a bunch of friends. It was a great side job for my friends in college, and bars liked it, so we continued to put it in new places.
It is annoying to go to a bar in winter and not be able to dance for fear of losing your coat.
I’m a big dancer. That was my biggest pet peeve. I would just not dance. I’d be lugging around my huge coat.
Seems like you’re more excited about creating new markets for coat checks than retrofitting existing ones.
I want to get people to go out in the winter, and I want them to be comfortable—not freezing in line in a small dress or dress shirt. I want them to be able to wear a nice coat, to be warm outside, but to know there’s a place to put it inside. There’s a party we threw in the winter, a winter luau, where everyone wore bathing suits, to promote the business.
Now that you’ve built CoatChex, you’re ready to expand into new cities and venues. What’s your plan for this year?
The season’s about to start right now. At some point we want to do full-scale commercialization. This year I consider our test-and-launch year for the new system. We’ve moved to Indianapolis, and we’ll be testing in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Utah, Maine, and elsewhere.
We’re branching out into other channels: indoor arenas, a couple basketball stadiums, some concert venues, one or two malls. We want to see where we could provide mobile coat-checking where before it wasn’t an option—either because they didn’t have a cloakroom year-round or they just didn’t know how to offer it. I feel like coat check just died down as a service because no one developed any innovation into it. In my college town, before there were no coat checks. Now all the venues have coat checks.