On Oct. 27, 2019, nearly 3 million viewers tuned in to Shark Tank on ABC and saw a family of three from Colorado promote their patented tailgating product called Tailgate N Go, which, essentially, is an outdoor kitchen or highly refined chuck box.
“They tell you that you have one chance to land your pitch,” says Taylor Johnson of the nerve-racking Shark Tank experience. Walking out to meet the sharks was a surreal experience and Johnson, part owner of her company, Tailgate N Go, struggled to keep her composure as she began to introduce their product.
“I stumbled through the pitch at first because I was so nervous,” she says. “I kind of paused as I got lost in the sharks’ faces because I was just so dumbfounded. But finally, the entrepreneur in me kicked in and I was able to get through that moment.”
And it worked – Johnson and her father, Ron, and brother Kobe, all part owners of the company, got a deal from guest shark Matt Higgins, (fittingly) an executive for the Miami Dolphins. The experience is one big step among many that has led the Johnsons into their business venture, but not without the assistance of a Colorado-based fabrication shop with top-notch designers and cutting-edge equipment.
Idea in a box
About two years prior to the Johnsons beating out nearly 40,000 other applicants to appear before the sharks on the show, the idea of the Tailgate N Go was born after a family camping trip that hadn’t gone smoothly. On the outing, Johnson was in charge of packing the dry goods and groceries, lugging everything around in grocery bags and totes.
“Where’s the spatula?” Ron asked as they unpacked at the campsite. Johnson also realized at that point that the bottle of cooking oil was nearly empty. Ron thought there had to be an easier, more efficient way to prepare for a camping trip, so when they got home, he began assembling a chuck box in his garage.
“I didn’t see his vision,” Johnson admits after seeing her father’s first attempt.
But that changed quickly after Ron developed a patented modular design more closely related to the finished product available today, which includes welded rails where a cutting board, grill and other essentials can be attached to the main storage box. Ron took his ideas to a local welding shop, creating the first of many prototypes.
It wasn’t until around the third prototype that the Johnsons took their idea to EMJD Corp. in Englewood, Colo. The second-generation, family-owned company opened in 1970 as a precision sheet metal fabricator. Some of its go-to equipment at that time included 30/30 and 30/40 Strippit punch press machines. EMJD evolved over the years and today, the company offers a full range of manufacturing capabilities, including laser cutting, robotic forming and welding services.
Johnson says their introduction to Scott Noyes, general manager at EMJD, and Jeff Eliason, production supervisor at EMJD, is when their invention really started to take shape.
Noyes saw value in what the Tailgate N Go brought to the table – a solution for a demographic that “just wants ease and organization.”
“If I can go to a football game to tailgate and have all my stuff organized in my box – I like that,” Noyes says. “As opposed to going to a game where we load up two trucks with stuff and try to park close to one another. What the Johnsons figured out was ‘hey, we can do this easier.’”
Fortunately, EMJD has the technology and workers with the know-how the Johnsons require to have their entire product made at the shop. And it’s a point of pride for the Johnsons that Tailgate N Go is 100 percent made in their home state of Colorado.
Noyes says some customers come into the shop with their plans for a product written on the back of a napkin, which presents a host of challenges. With the Tailgate N Go prototype, EMJD was able to create a 3-D model in SolidWorks, a metal modeling CAD and engineering program, and experiment with various options to improve the product.
Eliason worked with the Johnsons for around a year and a half on the Tailgate N Go design and prototypes. Through the process, they’ve reduced the number of welds and added bends and rivets that were once designed for welding. The goal was to make the production process more efficient.
“With any new design that a customer brings us – every problem is unique and needs its own solution,” Eliason says.
The Johnsons began selling early versions of their product and received feedback from users, which also aided in the design of what’s being produced today.
“Approaching the end of the design phase,” Eliason recalls with a laugh, “they said ‘okay, now we need to make the box as light as possible but just as strong.’”
Aside from adding lightening holes, Johnson says they are able to keep the product as light as possible by using aircraft aluminum, which is also durable. Cutting board brackets and other parts are made of food-grade stainless steel.
All that effort put into the design of the product paid off; Johnson says when they attend trade shows and sportsmen’s expos, there is a demographic that especially admires the Tailgate N Go.
“People who appreciate this product are welders and benders,” she says. “They understand the accuracy required. It has to close right. The welds have to be small enough for the hinges to fit. Every weld and bend has to be exactly right because the box won’t function properly without achieving tight tolerances. The cutting board and everything flay off of the railing system. If there is a weld that is too large, things aren’t going to fit properly, so it’s very precise and that’s why we love working with EMJD.”
In the shop
Long before any of the bends are made or welds are laid down, the material has to be cut accurately. To do so, the team at EMJD found that using a fully automated Trumpf TruLaser 3040 CO2 laser on the aluminum is the preferred method for making those initial cuts. The 3040 is known for creating smooth cutting edges that don’t require post-processing. It’s also a compact machine that doesn’t take up too much room on the shop floor.
Given the tight tolerances the Johnsons were looking for in their product, the 3040 delivers with a TruFlow laser that offers micro-burr-free results. While EMJD works with the 2-D machine, TruFlow lasers are well-suited for 3-D laser cutting, as well.
From the laser, the aluminum goes to robotic bending. Some parts of the product also require manual bending, Noyes says. Following the forming processes, the parts go to assembly and welding. EMJD utilizes robotic welding on a majority of the parts, while others are semi-automatically welded. EMJD also uses TIG welding on the product, and some specialized MIG welding is required for the aluminum.
“Most of it is designed for full automation welding,” Noyes says. “So, as the volumes increase, we know we’re really working with a stable design now. It’s just a matter of making sure the production volumes are right. It’s a progression.”
Business is going great for the Johnsons, and they’re also comforted to know that should they find a larger audience and if they expand to new designs, EMJD has the ability to run its machines 24/7 to keep up with demand.
“We’ve had customers call in and say when they use it at their campsite or parking spot, people stop and stare,” Johnson says. “We have a good feeling about it. I really think it’s an innovative product.”