With his trademarked Big Kat Buggy and its innovative hitch mount, Statesboro-based entrepreneur Kevin Rackleff has made two winning trips to Vegas this year.
At the Sports Licensing and Tailgate Show in January, the sturdy hand-pulled wagon that doubles as a motor vehicle's cargo carrier won a "big pitch" on Fox Business in June. The Big Kat also claimed two top awards at the even larger National Hardware Show in early May. But the biggest prizes yet may be the deal Rackleff landed with camouflage-brand Mossy Oak and further offers from discussions he has underway with big-box retail chains.
"We've been blown away with the response that we've had at these shows with retailers, and we've done about four or five different ones," Rackleff said. "We've done two major shows and have a third one coming up."
Rackleff will be exhibiting his product at the expo called simply Outdoor Retailer, Aug. 3-6, in Salt Lake City. They can't all be in Vegas.
But the Las Vegas Convention Center was where Kevin Harrington, one of the original "Sharks" on the TV show "Shark Tank," hosted The Big Pitch competition during the Sports Licensing and Tailgate Show. Rackleff's product and pitch garnered a five-minute segment in a program about new products that Fox Business aired June 18.
At the National Hardware Show, held in early May, also in Las Vegas, Rackleff was one of more than 2,800 exhibitors. More than 20,000 people, many of them industry professionals, attended the four-day event.
When it was over, the Big Kat Buggy had been chosen for both the Retailers Choice Award and Tailgater Magazine's Best Overall Tailgate Product Award.
A panel representing national retailers, such as Ace Hardware, selected the Retailers Choice winner.
"That award meant a lot to us because it was coming from the retailers," Rackleff said.
Meanwhile, the Tailgater Magazine award brought the product recognition in the magazine.
Mossy Oak deal
The recent licensing deal with Mossy Oak means that Big Kat Buggies in Mossy Oak camo patterns will be sold both on www.bigkatbuggy1.com and by Mossy Oak in promotional activities such as a sports team product catalogue, Rackleff said.
Mossy Oak is a company with a very large presence in camo-covered products market, especially in the South.
"Because they're excited, we're excited, because they have the brand recognition," Rackleff said. "They have a lot of respect in the industry."
Meanwhile, he also has a deal with a company called Wheel Eez, which will make an axle set with wide, inflatable tires, to be sold as an upgrade to the Big Kat Buggy. These will substitute for the hard plastic wheels on the original model and be better for beach use, which Rackleff thinks may ultimately be the Big Kat's largest market.
"That will give customers another option," he said. "We've got a very good wheel that's all-purpose. However, across loose sand and what not, the Wheel Eez upgrade will be a better option."
He is also patenting a Big Kat cooler. The cooler and Mossy Oak products are still in development.
But Rackley had a Big Kat equipped with the Wheel Eez upgrade on hand, as a prototype, in his office.
His website already sells rail-mount fishing rod holders and umbrellas and a cargo net as accessories for the Big Kat Buggy. A power box that will charge phones and could power future accessories, such as a fan, lights or a bait aerator for anglers, is also in development.
Rackleff, whose three children are now teenagers, got the idea that became the Big Kat Buggy about three years ago, when his family began making frequent road trips for recreational sports. He saw the struggles people had unloading gear for a day at the ballpark.
"A lot of families would take these collapsible wagons and put in coolers, their tents, chairs, all that kind of stuff for the day, pull it all into the ballpark and then bring it all out that afternoon, and I'd watch them unpack it and fold it back up and cram it all back in their SUV," Rackleff said.
Technicians in the machine shop at his solid waste transport company, Rackleff Enterprises, created the prototypes, including the retractable mechanism that allows the wagon to be mounted like a cargo carrier on the back of a motor vehicle with a receiver hitch.
The wagon's pull handle also slides in for transport.
Rackleff worked with Innovative Design Products, or IDP, of Irvine, California, to refine the design for mass production and practicality. He also worked with a patent law firm on protections for the innovative features. The wagons are made of high-strength plastic, aluminum and stainless steel.
The Big Kat Buggy is manufactured in China to his specifications. After an initial order of 1,000 earlier this year, he has ordered 5,000 more and expects delivery in September.
From there, the level of future production will depend on his negotiations with big-box retailers and sporting goods companies.
"Yes, you can buy them on our website, but our ultimate goal is to partner with retailers and sell wholesale," Rackleff said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.