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by Jenny Kincaid Boone
Roanoke.com

During football season, some retailers count on sales as much as a team counts on the quarterback.

Two Roanoke-area business partners are building a retail enterprise that targets specific kinds of spenders — collegiate sports fans.

A year ago, Mark Rowland and Jon Kurz created Tailgaters United, selling hats, chairs, vehicle magnets, flags and other merchandise representing a variety of universities, including Virginia Tech and Virginia. They’re tapping into a potentially lucrative customer base, with about 42 percent of tailgaters revealing that they spend more than $500 on food and supplies each year, according to tailgating.com. Also, 46 percent of people surveyed said they tailgate six to 10 times a season.

Kurz and Rowland started out with a $15,000 investment and a cart at Valley View Mall. During the holiday season, they operated a temporary store at Tanglewood Mall.

In February, the entrepreneurs widened their Valley View presence, moving the store to a retail space near Old Navy. Last month, they went a step further and shifted the business to a larger storefront across from Buffalo Wild Wings at Valley View.

The men met while working for Lowe’s Home Improvement store. Both had a desire to turn a hobby into a career, and they decided to make their love of college sports at least a part-time livelihood. For now, they work full-time for different national retailers.

Rowland, a Virginia Tech fan, and Kurz, a graduate of West Virginia University, began the business with the idea of appealing to fans of various collegiate teams and in a way, uniting them with common merchandise.

“We love the traditions of the college game,” said Rowland, 46, and a Roanoke County resident. “I think everybody speaks that language, no matter what team they follow.”

“We don’t want to be known for just Virginia Tech and West Virginia,” he added.

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