I meet a lot of interesting people in my various places of employment. Besides making the big bucks writing columns for AmSnow, my “other” job is teaching in the Entrepreneurship Department at the University of North Dakota. I fell into the job, almost literally, because of past powersports business experience and the fact that I studied business for my master’s degree after I sold my dealership. As a result, I sprinkle in a lot of past experience from my powersports days, which the students seem to like. Better than talking about selling bed pans, I suppose.
This semester, I was asked to teach a new product development course. Now, admittedly, I am not a new product developer. I have never worked as an R&D person for a company and, aside from fabricating a few things in my shop and being pretty handy with tools, I’ve never been much of an inventor either. Being in the motorcycle, snowmobile, and ATV biz, however, I almost felt like my entire livelihood depended on product development, which is one of the reasons I was asked to teach the class. Well, along with the reality that no one else wanted to teach it! I decided right away, that because of my lack of practical R&D experience, I would call on a cadre of guest speakers to come in and fill the gaps.
One of my speakers this semester and an extremely interesting person in his own right is a gentleman from Winnipeg, Manitoba named Milt Reimer. Milt is the founder and owner of FXR Racing … I’m thinking you might have seen the firm’s jackets and clothing in a few places before, unless you’ve been living under your ’72 Colt for 20 years.
Like most entrepreneurs, in fact like greater than 95% of entrepreneurs, Milt’s story is not some high flying, Shark Tank, Silicon Valley tale of venture capital pitches and initial public offerings. Sadly, he will probably never find his face on the cover of some entrepreneurship magazine and that’s a shame. Because it’s stories like Milt’s that weave a pretty interesting fabric, no pun intended, in the landscape of business in both the United States and Canada.
Milt loves snowmobiles and motorcycles and started working in a dealership in high school. He realized this was his passion and likely his life’s calling, which led to a monumental decision. That decision raised some eyebrows in my classroom when he admitted that he dropped out of high school in the 11th grade to pursue his new found dream of one day owning a powersports business of his own. And yet he can speak in complete sentences … Who knew?
Along the way, Milt started racing sleds cross country on the old ISOC and North Star circuits around Minnesota and North Dakota. Snowmobiles were getting gradually more aggressive, with higher output engines and better suspensions and handling. The problem Milt observed was the riding gear available was not keeping up with the advancements in sled technology. “The clothing didn’t work with you, it worked against you,” Reimer recalls. He remembers being soaked with sweat and sapped of energy after only a few miles of racing because the clothing was so inefficient and heavy, using old technology instead of advanced materials and design.
The high school dropout mechanic, Reimer, sat down with some blank paper and pencils and started to sketch out designs for jackets, riding pants, and gloves that were made to address the needs of the modern aggressive rider and racer. Milt Reimer was no Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger and knew 10 times more about adjusting a snowmobile track or tuning a set of motorcycle carbs, but he did what millions of entrepreneurs have done: he developed a solution to address a unique problem.
Then he found a clothing manufacturer job shop in Winnipeg that was willing to make his designs a reality and give him some trade credit terms so he would have time to sell his wares before he had to pay. How sweet is that?
In the world of entrepreneurship, we use cute, edgy terms like “bootstrapping” to describe how Reimer got started. Years ago, we simply called it tenacity and luck. No matter what it’s called, FXR Racing was born.
Now Reimer’s once little niche clothing company is the largest aftermarket snowmobile clothing manufacturer in the world. It’s a multinational corporation with headquarters in Canada and China, along with warehouses all over North America. And Milt Reimer is still a self-described “motor head.” He still rides motocross bikes all summer and snowmobiles all winter, testing FXR’s new clothing designs personally. And he still lives in the same home that, up until a few years ago, served as FXR’s corporate headquarters.
It made me stop to think where our sport would be without dreamers like Milt Reimer. The kids who sit bored in 6th hour English class doodling out new designs for windshields because they got frost bit over the weekend or the garage-shop engineer who finally stumbles on the perfect clutching combination using a rummage sale gram scale and the tree line out back.
Big corporations can sometimes only provide the canvass and it’s up to you, me, and guys like Milt Reimer to complete the masterpiece.