Fans line up to drop bags with Walker’s Lockers during a Seattle Seahawks game at CenturyLink Field. (Courtesy Walker’s Lockers)

Walker’s Lockers stores fans’ belongings that aren’t allowed through the stadium gate

Bag policies are often a challenge for venue operators to carry out and a pain point for guests to comply with.

Balancing the needs of the security team and the fan experience can be challenging, especially in an area where the rules keep changing.

The latest idea for carry-in items is the “clear bag policy,” which has been adopted by many venues, but that solution comes with problems of its own: mainly, what to do with ticket-holders who show up with a knapsack or too many bags.

Walker’s Lockers offers a fix. Founded by Geoff Walker in 2016, the company has been growing ever since.

It’s a simple idea: take bags from customers and return them at the end of the event. But as with many things, the devil is in the details, and creating a system for bag deposit and return is not as easy as it appears.

“I was working on the 2016 Copa América Centenario games at CenturyLink Field in Seattle as the event operation manager and I saw what was going on with checking bags and I thought I had a better way,” Walker said. “I approached the Seattle Sounders and they gave me an opportunity to try my system.”

The first event Walker’s Lockers serviced was a Sounders game in July 2016. Since then, Walker’s Lockers has handled over 100,000 items and its clients now consist of venues, teams, promoters and producers.

Locker space can be carved out of an underpass, a spare room, a storefront or any space where Walker’s team can set up a take-in table and store fans’ possessions. If no space is available inside, Walker’s Lockers will bring in a truck or a tent.

“What we do is meet whatever needs the venue has,” Walker said. “We can be across the street, under an overhang, in the parking lot, it varies. In all the scenarios, we can set up, run the operation and receive the items right there and we stay with those items until the guest picks it back up.”

Walker’s Lockers’ system employs three-level authentication after guests supply their name and phone number. The data is put on a manifest, which has the guest name along with the location of the item. The information also goes on the bag tag. The guest also gets a wristband with the bag information.

Typically, 300-400 items will be deposited and returned during an event. It takes between four to seven employees and a supervisor to make it all happen. Walker is the only full-time employee of the company and has 180 part-time staffers. “I have a couple of key people that have been with me from the start,” he said. “I hire from a staffing agency when I have any staffing issues.”

Whether a bag needs to be paid for by the guest is up to the venue. “Some venues want to pick up the tab and some want to pass it along,” Walker said. “We make a deal with the venue or team for our service. What they charge is up to them.”

Fees can range anywhere from $5 to $20 when they are charged. In some venues, like Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, home to University of Southern California football, sponsors like Honda pick up the costs. Walker declined to disclose how much a venue or team pays for Walker’s Locker services.

“Oddly enough we get the same blowback regardless of the price,” Walker said. “People come to us because they were turned away at the gate. They are one-time customers. We have people complain who get the service free. You’d think people would be used to this by now.”

Justin Borrell, general manager at Allianz Field, home of Minnesota United FC of MLS, became aware of Walker’s Lockers in 2016 when the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium, which was home to the club for two years before Allianz opened, instituted a clear bag policy. “I was referred to the company by the Seattle Sounders and they had a great reputation,” Borrell said.

Walker’s Lockers made its debut at United’s first MLS home game in 2017; the fan pays $10 an item .

“Checking a bag with us is cheaper than at other venues,” Borrell said. “We don’t want to make a buck off the fan’s bags, we want to mitigate them bringing them in the first place. The fee doesn’t cover the whole cost of it.”

Borrell said that having Walker’s Lockers on the ground made his life easier. “Others have struggled with it and had bad experiences with it. Building it from scratch isn’t easy. There are other liability pieces (such as insurance on items) and we want to make sure we are covering ourselves on it. Geoff and his team are very helpful. He’s ahead of the game and on-time. I have no worries on game days.”

In 2016, Walker’s Lockers did 37 events. In 2017, it shot up to 79 events, a 214% increase. The company executed 135 events in 2018, a 171% rise. Walker’s Lockers will do over 225 events in 2019, a growth surge of 167% from last year.

“It will go even higher this year because we have a bunch of contracts in the pipeline that I cannot disclose just yet,” Walker said. He noted that the company is operating in the black.

Walker’s Lockers seasonlong contracted clients include the NFL’s Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings, MLS’s Sounders and Minnesota United, MLB’s Minnesota Twins, the NHL’s Minnesota Wild and NCAA football programs Washington, Stanford, Southern Cal and Oregon.

“Washington, Oregon, USC are football only at this time,” he said. “Stanford has been football, basketball, and commencement ceremonies.”

The company also provided services for fan and media events tied to the College Football Playoff National Championship game in San Jose, Calif., in January, though not to the game itself, which was played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. “We are in discussions to do those again in January in New Orleans, though we do not yet have that contract,” Walker said.

Walker is happy to report that in the entire time the company has been operational, no substantial claims have been made for damaged or missing items.

“We paid one claim for a $15 pocket knife. The guy wasn’t really sure the knife was stored with us, but we paid him anyway,” Walker said. “Customer service is really important to us. I have two clients — the team or venue who brought me in, and the fan who is already having a bad day being kicked out of line and now on a new line. I want to make sure they are comfortable leaving their things with us. We wear nice uniforms and we look and act professional. It’s important to me that people walk away happy.”