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Check, Mate

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When Derek Pacqué was a student at Indiana University, he noticed that most bars and nightclubs had no coat check service available, so patrons had to hold or sit on their coats to prevent theft. Pacqué asked several of the businesses if he could set up a traditional coat check service, giving them a percentage of his revenue -- and made $50,000 his first year.

He knew he was onto something, but businesses needed a secure and simple procedure they could run solo. CoatChex, the ticket-free mobile app Pacqué developed, meets those needs.

With CoatChex, the “checker” takes a photo of the patron and his coat or other belongings with a smartphone or tablet and attaches the customer’s phone number. In the patent-pending process, a QR code with the photo, phone number and the item’s location is assigned to each item checked and placed on the hanger. Locking bags are used for items other than coats and are coded in the same way. When the customer returns, the QR code is scanned to verify the correct item is being given to the correct customer. CoatChex also provides collapsible equipment for the check center.

‘Pure profit’
Pacqué wrote CoatChex’s business plan while still in college, putting it into action after graduating in 2011 and assembling a team to help expand the program.

CoatChex was officially launched last year when Pacqué appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” a television show featuring entrepreneurs seeking investors for their businesses. Pacqué did not succeed in getting the type of investment partnership he wanted on the show; by October, however, the business was up and running -- boosted by publicity from the show, he says.

Patrons using CoatChex are charged from $2 to $10, depending on the going rate for the service in that area. “It is pure profit,” Pacqué says, for both his company and the business. CoatChex charges a “small percentage” on each transaction and the business receives the remainder of the fee. The service can be as simple or elaborate as the venue desires; a mobile collapsible double rack check station can be set up or the business can install the booth on its own. CoatChex’s hangers can be used or the venue can provide hangers to be coded.

The claim procedure is hassle-free, Pacqué says. If an error takes place, it is easy to see who is at fault. “Items are not misplaced as easily when you have a picture of both the customer and the coat or other item along with location details,” he says. CoatChex provides insurance, and claims can be filed quickly with photos.

More than coats
CoatChex made a big splash at New York Fashion Week in February. Dubbed “the sexiest and most efficient coat check ever,” the company checked more than 6,000 belongings – checking out more than 420 coats during one 35-minute stretch.

The mobile app was also put to the test late last year at Eastwood Mall in Niles, Ohio. Mall visitors found it convenient to check backpacks and shopping bags so their shopping trip could continue with greater ease, Pacqué says, noting feedback from customers was very positive.

Vendors can also use the mobile app to connect with customers -- providing discounts on items in stores or offering the service to customers gratis.
What happens to CoatChex when the weather is warm? That’s the time to focus more on checking shopping bags, backpacks, strollers -- any item a customer doesn’t want to carry around, Pacqué says. Availability has expanded from Indianapolis to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago.