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Business Rx: Renting tailgating equipment

Monday, January 31, 2011; 28

The entrepreneur

As a naval officer stationed all over the globe, Andy Macias often didn't live in a location that had a prominent sports team, so he ended up traveling long distances to get his sports fix. Macias, a tailgate-lover, got tired of going to games and watching other people have all the fun beforehand because he didn't have tailgating equipment of his own. So, he and his brother came up with an idea to rent tailgating equipment at sporting events, eliminating the hassle and cost of tailgating equipment. Now retired, Andy is working full-time on his company, Andy's BBQ Cruiser.

The pitch

Macias

"Andy's BBQ Cruiser is a tailgate equipment rental company that provides an affordable alternative to purchasing, transporting and cleaning your own equipment. Customers can reserve their Cruiser online, then pick it up in the parking lot on game day. Each Cruiser is loaded with a table, chairs, a grill, a propane tank, a tent and a cooler. The light-weight Cruiser is on wheels, making it easy to maneuver to your parking space when it is tailgating time. All customers need to bring are their food and drinks.

"We are using our Cruisers to fill a need that will also generate revenue for the stadium, strengthen the fan base and perhaps bring a few more folks to the games. I designed and built Cruisers myself and then spent the past fall testing the concept at various stadiums. We were overwhelmed by the positive response we received from fans who used our service.

"My biggest challenge right now is that when I approach stadiums about developing a partnership and incorporating our service on site, they typically look at our concept as 'interesting,' yet are hesitant to endorse the idea. We have the data and market research to support our concept as well as a business model that generates revenue for the stadium, so how do we get a major stadium to move past the 'We'll think about it' phase to the 'Let's do this!' phase?

"Also, how can I better use social networking tools to market my business? I used Craigslist to get people to test the Cruisers, and I have a Facebook page, but I don't think I'm using it correctly. Any suggestions?"

The advice

Harry Geller, executive-in-residence, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

"Don't get pigeonholed into one market. You mentioned college and professional football, but other sports and events attract tailgaters, too. Since you have limited capacity at the start, think about pitching your business to schools with a big lacrosse or soccer fan base. Pitch to lower-circuit NASCAR events and to concert venues. You might even want to think about having a form on your Web site where people can request your service on a case-by-case basis, like if they need equipment for a high school homecoming football game or a little league playoff game.

"When you market Andy's BBQ Cruisers, make sure to tell the whole story. Instead of telling stadiums how much you expect to make on this per game, tell them for the whole season. A couple thousand dollars won't mean much to a stadium, but if the whole season will bring in $50,000, that will better get their attention. You can also try cobranding -- put the team's or the school's logo on the Cruiser. Or, sell ads for each Cruiser.

"Since you are a retired naval officer, I think your best bet is to reach out to the Naval Academy since you have such a strong tie-in. Once you get one school or stadium to sign on, you will build credibility and it should be easier each time afterward. In the meantime, figure out who you need to talk to and start making the calls now. Build a case and start selling yourself.

"As far as social networking goes, use Twitter to let folks know what games you will be at. On game day, tweet how many Cruisers you have left for rent, in case customers forgot to rent them online ahead of time. You can offer promotions on Facebook to get more publicity. For example, if a new customer likes your Facebook page, they receive 10 percent off of a rental. Entice them with a deal, and then update frequently so your customers are always in the know.

"One last note, your brand name denotes more of a BBQ food truck and it's better to describe what you do in your name, so you may want to tweak it a bit, like "Andy's Tailgate Cruisers."

The reaction

Macias

"I'm very appreciative that I had the opportunity to do this and the feedback has been tremendously helpful. I'm going to get together a list of people who I need to contact and various organizations and start looking into other areas that I hadn't yet thought of, such as NASCAR, lacrosse games and concerts.

"I will definitely talk to people at the Naval Academy again, since I do have the Navy connection and they expressed a strong interest.

"The social networking advice was great, too. I haven't been using Twitter much at all because I wasn't quite sure what to do with it, and I certainly wasn't using my Facebook page like you suggested either. This is a great jumping off point for me and I have a lot more confidence in how to use these tools."

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