Columbia residents invent tailgating innovation

Saturday, October 20, 2007 | 8:13 p.m. CDT; updated 11:06 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Tim Morrow demonstrates the Sportsfan Tailgating Table at Saturday's Missouri-Texas Tech game.

COLUMBIA — Doug Simon and Tim Morrow are trying to make tailgating easier for people across the country.

The two run Boone Outdoor Hardware, a Columbia-based company. They were using one of their products, the Sports Fan Tailgating Table, before Saturday’s game, cooking vegetable kebabs and sausages on a small Weber grill on the table. Designed to be attached to a vehicle’s hitch receiver, the product makes it obsolete for tailgaters to load and lug around large tables.

Instead, tailgaters only need to hitch the table to their vehicle, unfold it and lock it in. Once the game is over, they fold it up, zip on the cover with their favorite team logo and head home.

Five years ago, tailgating and football were far from Simon’s mind, however, when his wife, Keri, gave birth prematurely to their son, Cole. It was during this time that Simon starting to think about leaving his job and working for himself.

Born on Sept. 22, 2002, Cole was 15 weeks early and weighed only 22 ounces. He was put in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Boone Hospital Center. Doctors weren’t optimistic about his chances, but after four months, Cole was able to go home.

“It was a turning point,” Doug Simon said.

He had plenty of time to dwell on his life while he and his wife spent hours at the hospital. He had plenty of time to figure out he wanted to work for himself while tracking Cole’s monitors and consulting with nurses. During that time, Boone Outdoor Hardware was born.

While Cole defied the long odds for premature babies by not developing any serious health problems, Simon started to work out the plans for his business. He had experience in product design with numerous companies, developing tools for carpet installation and equipment for shooting sports. He got advice and financial resources from Columbia’s Centennial Investors and the University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at MU. He was ready to embrace the entrepreneurial lifestyle.

“You got to count on working more and working for a lot less,” he said with a laugh.

Simon left his job and officially formed Boone Outdoor Hardware in February 2005. Soon after, Morrow joined him, and they started to work on the tailgating table. It was slow to catch on after it was released last year.

“If we had a few dollars for every time somebody said, ‘That’s cool,’ we’d be in good shape,” Simon said.

But the product’s started to get noticed nationwide. Cabela’s, the popular outdoors store, picked it up in February, and fraternity brothers will use them during an official tailgating competition before next weekend’s Florida-Georgia game.

“All of our customers that we showed it to want it on their (Web) sites or stores,” Simon said.

The company’s progress confused one of Simon’s friends, who called Simon when he was leafing through a Cabela’s catalog.

“He said, ‘Hey, man, you better take a look at that catalog. I think somebody’s knocking off your stuff,” he said with a laugh.

Simon and Morrow are branching out from tailgating equipment. Next year they will release the Course Horse, which also attaches into the hitch receiver. The product enables an easier ride to the golf course, with golf bags secured to the Course Horse.

For now, it’s the Sports Fan Tailgating Table turning heads, just like Simon said.

On her way to Faurot Field, a woman stopped for a second to check it out. “Do you guys make those?” she asked. “That’s cool.”

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