College tailgating in style
A father and a son can talk about many things after a football game. Touchdowns. Tackles. Playing time. Life. Food. Libations, soft and other.
When Northwestern defensive end Kevin Mims and his father, Mike, chatted a few years back, one possibility kept swirling around their conversational goalposts. It involved a business concept that would merge some of the grand ingredients near the end zones of American commerce and pastiming -- football, automotives, engineering and one of the regionally grandest of them all:
'Five years ago, when Kevin went to Northwestern, I took a plain white van and converted it into a tailgate vehicle,' said Mike Mims, a retired petroleum engineer who lives north of Houston. 'I went out to a Pick-a-Part place with a conversion van and took out the back seats and recovered it with customized vinyl. We put Northwestern logos all over it, and in the back we put the barbecue and the refrigerator and the heaters and the toolbox and microwave and big-screen TV and satellite and all that good stuff. We kept the van parked up in Chicago and had a great vehicle for tailgates after Northwestern games.'
But the Mimses had one problem: The vehicle was essentially useless for the non-football months.
That set Kevin Mims, a mechanical engineering major, thinking.
'My father thought he had the beginnings of an idea,' said Mims, who will be at his regular starting slot when the Wildcats host Purdue on Saturday at Ryan Field (11 a.m., ESPN2, 720-AM). 'So we talked about it at length, in large part because of my football and academic backgrounds. I had always said that I wanted to use my degree to do something innovative with automotives.
'Together, we came up with the concept of a Removable Tailgating System [RTS] that could be moored into the back of a truck or SUV as a lid. We'd customize it for vehicles, include all of the great amenities and more and make it easily removable and storable when the owner wasn't headed out to tailgate.'
From that conceptual kickoff, the Mimses formed a new company -- Imagi-Motive LLC (imagimotive.com) -- and set out to work through the design and manufacture of a prototype from their Texas base. They officially incorporated in January and didn't have to look far for their first customer.
'We've been tailgating in the same spot in the west lot at Ryan Field since Kevin got to Northwestern,' Mike Mims said. 'Next to us almost all of that time have been the Frymires, Jack and Kelle, who are the parents of Kevin, a wide receiver. We've become great friends, and when he first heard of our plans, he said, 'I want to buy the first one.'
Frymire did, and his customized RTS made its debut for the season opener against Syracuse. Since then, the tailgates of the Mims and Frymire families alongside the Rucks family, parents of offensive lineman Alex Rucks, have become the epicenter of pre- and postgame celebrations among the inner core of NU football. Other RTSs have been sold to a small but growing customer list ranging from Chicago to Ohio to Penn State to Florida to Texas A&M, according to Mike Mims.
'The basic unit fits into a 5½-, 6½ or 7½-foot truck bed,' Mike Mims said. 'Each one is made to fit into whatever truck model you have. Inside the RTS, you have a big-screen TV, an HD satellite, satellite receiver, a DVD player, and a microwave oven. One of the pods of the unit is a five-gallon fresh water tank and has a custom tap handle out the front side of it.
'The other side has a custom tap handle for beer, and there is a keg well that sits inside the unit where you put ice around the keg and then the line runs through the ice chest. There's also a pop-up tent, tables, chairs and a barbecue grill that attaches into the main system. All you need to bring is food, beverage, ice and a winning attitude.'
The basic RTS weighs about 900 pounds and sells for close to $11,000, with extreme models 'running about $19,000.' The Mimses sub out the major components and complete the customization at their Texas manufacturing facility. Current backlog on orders is about two weeks, Mike Mims said, and the unit can be crafted to fit a bus or motor home. Imagi-Motive's RTS 2.0 is already on the drawing board to accommodate hunters and fishermen.
'Our tailgate day for Northwestern home games begins around 6:30 a.m., with breakfast and Bloody Marys starting at 7,' Mike Mims said. 'During the course of a game day, about 400 people normally stop by to look or partake or ask questions.
'After the game, the ritual is to wait to eat until the players start to arrive. Normally from the 100 or so in the program, at least 60 come on over. The three families are normally the last ones out of the lot long after dark.'
With expanded manufacturing and marketing, official licensing tie-ins and sundry other business possibilities in play, both Mimses are optimistic about the future of their innovation -- son a bit more so than father.
'If we sell 50 of these next year, I would be thrilled,' Mike Mims said. 'We've had great publicity already from the Big Ten Network and ESPN, and between this and Northwestern being 5-1, we are having the time of our lives. I just hope I can afford [to employ] Kevin when he graduates.'