Ryan Mitchell’s story is sadly familiar to many of us. A career going well, a family thriving, then a sudden, sharp detour due to the pandemic. “Then the pandemic hit and I got laid off,” he recounts.
Job loss can be frightening. It’s especially cruel when it’s due to circumstances completely out of our control. But how Mitchell responded shines a light on the opportunities—the inspiration—lurking around the unlikeliest corners of this strange new world. Mitchell and his wife Kim have launched a hobby into a family business, while demonstrating to their two young sons that commitment and character can change our circumstances.
And they owe the opportunity to go karting. More specifically, kart stands.
Not familiar with kart stands? They’re the unsung accessory you don’t know you need, until you do. Since go karts sit mere inches above the ground, it’s nearly impossible to work on them without a purpose-designed stand that holds them securely. Even recreational karters can benefit from a stand to protect their investment as a stand keeps the kart safely stowed for storage.
When Ryan Mitchell began racing at age 13, stands were awkward and rarely had wheels. Mitchell’s father, a mechanical engineer, designed and built a sturdy, wheeled stand specifically for go-karts. “We sold a stand right at the race, then two the next week…” Mitchell recalls. By the end of the 90’s, the father-son team had sold some four thousand stands.
Last year when the Mitchells’ sons Mason and Brody, then ages 10 and 5, followed their father into kart racing, Mitchell designed and built a second generation of stand. He also engineered an innovative double or ‘stacker’ stand. Mason says proudly, “We’re the only people who make a stacker like this.” And Mitchell carts began turning heads again.
Mitchell had already registered the name RMS—Racer Motorsports—back in 2012. By April 2020, that foresight paid off. Mitchell quickly pivoted from his layoff, building and launching the RMS website. The sales executive leveraged his professional experience with his passion for go karting to market the new business. “Networking has been super important to us,” he affirms. “Grassroots hustle helped with the sales.”
Grassroots extends to the family level. Kim proudly points out Mason “drills all the holes for the stacker bars” in the workshop on the family ranch. “With the COVID, he knows it takes money to go racing, so he’s out here helping to make it happen.” Kim, the owner of Turlock’s Tease Me Hair Studio, contributes her own business acumen to the venture. Seeing the lack of merchandise for girls and women at the tracks despite their ever-increasing participation as both fans and drivers, Kim is creating merchandise to fill that niche. She points out the success of woman-oriented merchandise offered in other sports and hobbies, and wants to be sure RMS is an innovator in this area too.
Mitchell is aware he has a tiger by the tail. Growing a business can be a nerve wracking process, with many pitfalls along the way, not least the temptation to trim prices or increase production by cutting quality or moving production offshore. Mitchell is standing firm on the foundation of character that has brought him and his family this far. “We pride ourselves on made-in-America,” he says. “I truly believe in keeping it vertical, controlling your destiny, keeping things in-house to ensure quality as well as keeping jobs at home.”
Ryan Mitchell is silent for a few moments, his eyes resting on his sons. “Business and racing have such parallels,” he begins slowly. “You have to focus to succeed…If my kids get nothing else out of racing, but they learn to deal with adversity in life, that’s great.”
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