In the last handful of years, sporting events, concerts, and the like have placed more and more restrictions on the kinds of items permitted in their venues in the interest of safety. Some commonly asked questions include how many bags each person can bring, what the size restriction is, whether seat cushions are allowed, and more.
Many large venues recently have implemented clear-bag policies — attendees are allowed only clear plastic, vinyl, or PVC bags that do not exceed 12-by-6-by-12 inches. Any bag that differs from these guidelines — save a small clutch — is not allowed into the venue.
Yet because these venue rules are ever-evolving and difficult to keep up on, many attendees aren’t fully educated. They arrive at a venue excited to see a show and with any number of noncompliant bags in tow — purses, backpacks, coolers, briefcases, fanny packs, camera bags — only to find out they need to return to their cars, where bags are vulnerable to being stolen.
Enter Geoff Walker, a sports and event manager with more than 30 years of experience. Walker noted the shift in bag policies at these events and wondered whether there was a way to provide an efficient and simple mobile bag-check service at such events.
“I was working as the event operation manager for 2016 Copa América Centenario games in Seattle, and we were asked to provide a bag check that meets the clear-bag policy that the tournament wanted to have throughout the entire country,” Walker said. “I hired a company to do the bag-check service, and they had physical lockers that required a lot of space and people and time to set up. I thought, ‘There’s got to be a better, more efficient way to do this, and a way to add a better customer service component to it.’”
Walker worked on that idea, eventually taking his concept to the Seattle Sounders at the end of the tournament. His pitch: a mobile bag-check company that jettisons the cumbersome locker setup in favor of a system designed for efficiency. Walker thought he could use a carefully organized bin system primarily built into the backs of large trucks to store people’s bags. That way, trucks could be driven into a designated area, then back out — and not much else would need to be done.
The Sounders thought Walker’s idea was a good one and agreed to a three-game trial — and Issaquah-based Walker’s Lockers was born.
“After two games, they signed on to work with me the next season. This is my fourth season working with them now,” said Walker, who did his first official event as Walker’s Lockers in July 2016.
Only a month after partnering with the Sounders, Walker’s Lockers was hired by the University of Washington Huskies, then by the Seattle Seahawks. Not long after, the company expanded outside Washington state, partnering with the Minnesota United soccer team in early 2017, then with Minnesota’s professional football, hockey, and baseball teams, while also creating partnerships with teams and venues in Oregon, California, and Utah.
The look of Walker’s Lockers is a bit different in every venue. The trucks used in the Seattle area, for example, don’t work in Minnesota, where setups often need to happen inside due to cold temperatures. Cost also varies per partnership, Walker said: Sometimes he proposes a flat fee for the venue to pay him to be there, in which case the bag check is free for attendees; in other cases, the venue chooses to have customers pay for their own bags — anywhere from $5 to $20 per bag.
Walker’s Lockers now has more than 375 events under its belt with more than 101,000 bags checked. Walker said he has yet to see a single lost or damaged bag.
“It’s a three-tiered authentication system,” Walker said. “We take down (each customer’s) name and telephone number, put it on what we call a manifest, and on that manifest, we also identify the location of their bag — it could be a rack, a bin, a table, whatever setup we have for that location. We then put that information on a bag tag and on a wrist band that we give to the customer.”
To ensure that bags are kept safe, Walker’s Lockers event staff stay in the designated area — cordoned off from the public — throughout the event; if someone returns to the area to ask to get something out of his bag, staff will bring that bag to him. Walker was clear that nobody ever goes into a customer’s bag, that the company carries excellent insurance, and that his staff is thoroughly briefed on all policies and expectations before an event begins.
“They’re there to keep everything safe, and to provide a great customer-service experience,” said Walker, emphasizing that the high-quality customer service provided by his 180 part-time employees across the five states is one element — along with efficiency and mobility — that sets his company apart from competitors. “We ease people’s minds or calm them down because they’re frustrated about checking a bag, or just chat with them about sports or the game or anything.”
The other key element is Walker himself.
“I’ve spent so much time around stadiums and venues over the years, I understand not only the events and the types of people who attend them but also the people who work there — everyone from security to parking to event management,” said Walker, who has worked in positions from NFL player liaison to a senior producer for sports and entertainment productions since earning a bachelor’s degree in sports management and communications in 1987. “I’ve worked with people at every level, from top to bottom, and so I know where my place is — I know what lines not to cross.”
Walker also has learned a lot about the business of checking bags. For example, he can anticipate that 1 to 2.5 percent of any audience will typically check a bag with him, and that most people are one-time customers since they learn their lesson to comply with rules after the first time they’re turned away at the door.
He’s also learned that the market he’s broken into is viable. Each year he’s been in business, he’s experienced a comfortable and steady upward trajectory of events worked. In 2019 alone, the company will provide bag-check services at more than 220 events. And he hopes to keep growing.
“(A lot of sports are starting to) adopt more restrictive bag policies, and they don’t have a service to help people who bring the wrong kind of bag,” Walker said. “Or, they do have someone, and a lot of them are just fine. But we provide a terrific service. Our reputation and process and focus on customer service for both the client and attendee sets us apart.”