Portland mobile shower company getting ready to roll
PORTLAND — Zach Schmesser has an idea that is all wet. The Libra Future Fund will help him splash it around.
Schmesser, 28, is the coordinator of BikeMaine for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. During last summer's trek across the state with 250 riders, he noticed bicyclists in need of showers could quickly use up the hot water in places they stayed.
This summer, riders will be accompanied by New England Mobile Showers, Schmesser's start-up business, which is funded in part by a $4,500 Libra Future Fund grant. He said the entire start-up is expected to cost between $80,000 and $90,000.
Using a 39-foot trailer, New England Mobile Showers will provide 16 shower spaces with changing and waiting rooms. The trailer, now under construction in Indiana, will also have a 600-gallon water tank and tankless water heater.
Schmesser, who earned an MBA from Husson University in 2009, said the trailer could provide 85 to 100 showers per hour, and can be hooked into local utilities or run independently.
"You talk to a lot of people in Maine, they have no concept of what a shower trailer is,” Schmesser said recently.
He didn't, either, until he began researching how BikeMaine riders (this year's event is expected to draw 350 of them) could be guaranteed hot showers. His findings showed two other New England companies providing mobile shower units, but at prices that were prohibitive for the BikeMaine ride.
So Schmesser began looking at developing a mobile shower unit of his own, one he could rent out for flat fees or take to events and charge users on a per-shower basis. Along with BikeMaine, he will also provide showers for the Sept. 17-21 Berkshire to Boston Bicycle Tour.
The Libra Future Fund grant will help pay for a generator and towels, Schmesser said. Fund President Erik Hayward said Schmesser's idea was impressive as a concept, and because of his business planning and research.
"I thought it was intriguing from the start because it was so different,” Hayward said.
Established by a grant from the Libra Foundation in 2005, the Libra Future Fund makes grants of up to $5,000 to entrepreneurs under the age of 30. It is an effort to keep younger business leaders in Maine, Hayward said.
Hayward and fund board members Chelsea Callanan, Lynn Peel and Seabren Reeves consider grant applications three times a year and meet with the applicants to discuss business plans.
"Zach had clearly done a lot of research on it and had already purchased the trailer," Hayward said. "He had taken out some debt, and we like to see that.”
The grant may total about 2 percent of what it will cost Schmesser to start up New England Mobile Showers, but he and Hayward agreed the funding is vital.
"The stuff he is buying with our funding is not something that could be leveraged for his loan, but we think could help with the sustainability of his business,” Hayward said.
The summer outlook for New England Mobile Showers may be limited, Schmesser said, because concerts and events are already budgeted and planned, but he envisions a wide market for the company as word gets out.
He noted the mobile shower unit could also come in handy for public safety agencies engaged in lengthy operations or cleanups.
A key will be his flexibility in renting and moving the shower unit, Schmesser said.
"Looking at my competition, I understand what event managers go through,” he said. "I can bring a level of customer service and flexibility,”
Schmesser also credited the Maine Small Business Development Center at the University of Southern Maine for its guidance and advice, which included alerting him to the Libra Future Fund. But the business is moving forward because he did not stop when two banks praised the idea – without providing financing.
"A lot of people say Maine isn't business friendly, but it just takes hard work and dedication," Schmesser said. "You have to be creative in your approach, it is not going to be handed to you right away.”