Cedar Rapids Business Takes Tailgating to a New Level

By Dave DeWitte, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – A startup company unveiled Thursday the most expensive University of Iowa Hawkeye logo merchandise in history.

The product: A $350,000-plus motor coach specially equipped for tailgating.

Varsity Motor Coach of Cedar Rapids has struck its first licensing deal with the University of Iowa, and is working on licensing agreements with several "big national power schools," founder and President Bill Rieckhoff of Cedar Rapids said.

Varsity's "motorized man cave" drew plenty of "wows" and "ahs" as Rieckhoff showed off trademarked features such as the Outdoor Inn beverage center, Varsity Training Table food serving area and Varsity Entertainment Plaza television viewing and gaming console.

Rieckhoff said his target market consists of high net worth individuals who are devoted supporters of their alma mater.

The Varsity motor coaches will be a true Iowa product. With the basic vehicles made by Winnebago Industries of Iowa City, they are fitted with custom interiors at Interior Source/Cambrian Granite of Cedar Falls.

Hawkeye sports radio broadcaster Bob Brooks was among the first to tour the Varsity All-Conference.

Brooks said he's been in sports announcer John Madden's "Maddenmobile," and pronounced that "his deal would be on the used car lot compared to this."

The motor coach introduced Thursday is called the Varsity All-Conference, and carries a price range of $350,000 to $425,000 depending on the amenities ordered. It is 40 feet long, built on a with a Winnebago shell on a Freightliner chassis, and powered by a 400-horsepower Cummins turbo charged diesel engine.

Varsity plans to unveil a less costly model called the Varsity Letterwinner on Sept. 3 during FRY Fest in Coralville. It will be a 38-foot Winnebago coach, powered by a 362-horsepower Ford engine.

The idea for Varsity Motor Coach came during last year's Iowa State University-University of Iowa game to Rieckhoff, who has spent the past 20 years as a supplier to the recreational vehicle industry.

Rieckhoff said he visualized two of Winnebago's best RV's parked in front of ISU's Jack Trice Stadium, one painted in ISU Cyclone colors, the other in UI Hawkeye colors. He was able to commercialize the concept through coaching help from the Entrepreneurial Development Center of Iowa in Cedar Rapids, and collaboration with Winnebago Industries of Forest City.

The Varsity All-Conference is clearly built with the tailgating crowd in mind, with features such as a built-in outdoor grill, two beer taps outside, and one beer tap inside. But Rieckhoff said he won't emphasize tailgating in his marketing efforts, depicting the motor coaches as a entertainment product that would be equally useful taking your child's soccer team to an all-day tournament.

Varsity Motor Coach is taking orders now for delivery in 2011. When demand takes off, Rieckhoff said he'd like to build a facility along I-380 in Cedar Rapids to customize the interiors of the Winnebago-built vehicles.
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