Florida Keys Business
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Hands free

Necessity being the mother of invention and all that, J.R. Fogarty saw a need and invented a solution.

The Jersey-born retiree was happily living on a houseboat and driving a cab in Key West, when he realized passengers kept asking where they could store their luggage between their arrival at either the airport or ferry terminal and their hotel's late afternoon check-in time.

"Finally, when the next guy in my cab asked, I asked him how much he'd be willing to pay," Fogarty recalled recently. "I told him I'd do it. I stored the bags in a friend's living room while I kept driving my cab and waited for the guy's check-in time at a hotel."

With the first set of luggage safely delivered and the transaction complete, Paradise Porters was born in 2006 -- and Fogarty was again drawn out of retirement. He first named the company Parrothead Porters, "until Jimmy Buffett's lawyers kindly asked me to cease and desist" using the term Parrothead, he said.

"I found there really was a niche," Fogarty said. "The ferry comes in at 12:30 every day, but a lot of hotels and guest houses don't check in until 3 p.m. So we let people just leave their luggage with us and go start their vacation. Their bags are waiting at their hotel when they check in."

The same goes for arriving flights.

"A lot of the smaller lodging properties in Key West simply don't have the space to store all their guests' luggage for those three or four hours until check-in time," Fogarty said.

"We have plenty of room," he said, gesturing to the Paradise Porters location inside the Key West Ferry Terminal at 100 Grinnell St. "We can store about 250 bags here, and we haven't lost or damaged a single one of the 120,000 we've handled since 2006."

Paradise Porters offers storage and delivery service for $10 a bag, and will do the same thing in reverse when a guest is departing on a plane or ferry.

"People have to have check out of most hotels at 11 a.m., but the ferry doesn't leave until 5:30 p.m.," Fogarty pointed out. "No one wants to drag their bags around town for five hours."

"What Paradise Porters really provides is time," states the company's website. "Time to enjoy the paradise that is Key West without having to drag their bags around while waiting for their check-in time [or a departing flight or ferry]."

And the company's definition of "bag" doesn't apply to a Banana Republic or Besame Mucho shopping bag when it comes to the $10 fee -- unless you've been a real jerk about everything from the moment you stepped off the ferry, Fogarty said, relishing the subjectivity that comes with owning your own business.

"We're not here to rip people off, and we like to keep things simple, so basically, if you don't want to carry it, it's $10. Our motto is "don't drag your bag."

And the company's website touts the service as a time saver that allows visitors to eek every last drop from their Key West vacation.

Although things were going smoothly for Fogarty, his staff and his company -- easily identified by the can't-miss, tropically painted "luggage limousine" -- until a year or so ago when yet another necessity called for another of Fogarty's common-sense inventions.

Fogarty launched Paradise Porters' newest service, which is quickly becoming the most utilized, in response to the complaints from nearly air passenger about the outrageous fees being charged by the airlines for both checked and carry-on luggage.

"Think about it," Fogarty said. "People come down here with dive gear, fishing tackle, golf clubs or baby strollers, you name it, and that costs a fortune with the airlines nowadays."

Paradise Porters now offers "Home to Hotel and Back Again" service for $39 to $79 per bag, depending on the size.

The company will arrange for FedEx to pick up the Key West-bound luggage at a customer's home a few days before their vacation and deliver it to their hotel upon arrival. They'll do the same in reverse when the party's over and the visitors are northbound. One-way service is also available.

Fogarty's business, a simple invention to fill a common need, has now handled more than 120,000 pieces of luggage, and every day more and more people are refusing to drag their bags and leaving the schlepping to someone else.

Now if they would just unpack the suitcases once the vacation is a sunburned memory.....

mmiles@keysnews.com

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