MARTINSVILLE — It wasn’t a $1,000 ticket that allowed 22-year-old Derek Pacque to mingle with the rich and famous at two of the most elite Super Bowl bashes in Indianapolis this weekend.
It was his sense of entrepreneurship, a mutually beneficial partnership with the Martinsville Business Development Corp. and a set of strikingly lucky circumstances that landed Pacque what will be perhaps the best opportunity his fledgling company has ever seen.
Pacque, who graduated from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business in May, is the founder and managing partner of CoatChex, a business he started while a junior at IU. CoatChex provides coat-check services for bars, nightclubs and other venues, and Pacque is ramping up manufacturing of the company’s own easy-to-assemble mobile coat racks to sell to venues that might want to do their own coat-checking.
Also in the works is a ticketless coat-tracking system that will come in the form of an iPad application. It will allow users to take photos of coat owners to help identify them and allow owners to enter their phone numbers to retrieve their coats. That way, Pacque said, bars are left with fewer cases of lost coats at the end of the night, and patrons can be sure their belongings are protected while they are having a good time.
Pacque and his employees will be providing coat-checking services using CoatChex’s racks at both the Maxim and ESPN Super Bowl parties this weekend. He also has agreed to be the prime coat-check vendor for future events at two of the city’s largest venues, Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana Convention Center.
The major deals didn’t come without some headaches, however. Since Pacque graduated from college less than a year ago, he had not gotten far in establishing his new business. He had contracts with three bars in Bloomington to provide coat-check services and about 15 employees working there, but he had moved to Broad Ripple and was working on creating a better coat-rack system and establishing the company in Indianapolis bars.
That’s when he met John Webster of the Martinsville Business Development Corp. through an IU professor who now is a partner in the CoatChex business. Webster, an engineer by trade, was able to get Pacque’s coat rack ideas onto paper and then into a prototype.
“Within a week, he had already done all these CAD drawings for me, and that was the toughest part for me,” Pacque said. “With the racks, I was able to book big events.”
Webster came along at just the right time, too. Generally the manufacturing process begins with drawings and then advances to a prototype before manufacturing begins to ramp up. With the CoatChex system, Webster and Pacque had to start manufacturing right away — they needed 30 racks in time for the Super Bowl parties and had only three weeks to complete them.
“We didn’t make one (prototype); we made 30,” Webster said. “This is ‘make changes on the fly.’ To get this thing out, I had to make a lot of guesses. The next generation of racks, we will remove the guessing and get down to the normal manufacturing process. The purpose is to bring a manufacturing opportunity to Martinsville.”
In fact, jobs in Martinsville is the entire purpose behind the MBDC, which was established last year. Led by Webster and Craig Harvey, the MBDC is a cooperative venture among member businesses around Martinsville that serves as an incubator for start-up companies. It offers services such as website development, email and domain name setup, CAD drawings, sales literature, office cubicles, copies, conference room, prototyping, accounting, instruction manuals, logo and image development, business plans, consulting services, assembly space and product incubation to up to two projects per year.
Eventually, start-ups that are incubated at the MBDC will move to their own space in Martinsville and begin full manufacturing.
Local businesses already have provided many of the materials used in CoatChex’s coat racks, such as the powder coating, cabinets that the racks will fold into for transport and storage and other supplies.
“CoatChex is already contributing to the employment of this community and wages,” Webster said.
The idea for CoatChex first came to Pacque when he was hanging out at Kilroy’s Sports Bar in Bloomington. Being from Washington, D.C., Pacque was used to most bars and restaurants having coat checks during cold weather. When he noticed Kilroy’s didn’t, he stuffed his coat behind a Christmas tree to retrieve later.
“At the end of the night, when I went to get it, it was gone,” he said. “I realized none of the bars had coat checks, so I went around asking why they didn’t have them. I told them I was a business student and I could provide a coat check for them. They said, ‘Get in here Friday with the racks.’
“What I thought was going to be a little business for me and my roommate turned out to be something where I needed to hire 15 employees to work at three bars — The Dunkirk, Kilroy’s on Kirkwood and Kilroy’s Sports Bar.”
CoatChex charges $2-3 for each coat checked, depending on the night, and splits the profits with the bars.
The Super Bowl party opportunities were a case of right-place-right-time for Pacque. He has a roommate who works for Developer Town in Indianapolis, where Maxim originally was looking to rent space for its party. Maxim needed a coat check service, and Pacque’s roommate knew just where to direct it. From there, Pacque found out about ESPN’s need for a coat check and made a deal with it too.
“If I had more racks, I’d be doing a lot more parties,” Pacque said.
While CoatChex will remain in the coat-check service industry, Pacque also hopes to sell its coat racks and iPad app to bars that want to run their own coat-check service. CoatChex will be at the Nightclub and Bar Convention and Trade Show in March in Las Vegas to promote its services. Pacque next hopes to expand services into the Chicago area.