Self-Contained Drinking Device : Helmet Maker Aims at Quenching Yuppies' Thirst

Times Staff Writer

Build a better mousetrap, the old capitalist adage goes, and people will beat a path to your door. Maybe so. But Michael Del Rey is pinning his hopes on building a better beverage helmet.

For the young urban professional who has everything, Del Rey, a young, suburban entrepreneur, has come up with the Yuppie Beverage Helmet.

The helmet is designed to save busy yuppies the time and trouble of hoisting a glass, thus freeing the hands for more productive tasks.

"I tell people it's a need," said Del Rey, who runs his operation out of his parents' home in Diamond Bar. "Like air and bread and water. Yuppies love it. It makes the task of drinking easier. They can spend more time thinking about money. There's more time to read the Wall Street Journal . . . another 30 seconds to scan stock quotes."

Anyway, who else but the well-heeled would spend $12 to $15 on such outrageous-looking headgear?

The product consists of a pair of dashboard beverage brackets fitted with Styrofoam cup holders and surgical tubing with a cutoff valve mounted on a plastic batting helmet. The consumer simply fills the cups with his favorite libation, places the helmet atop his head and sucks the liquid into his mouth through the tube.

Most customers buy it as a gift for someone else, but sports fans tend to purchase the helmet for themselves, Del Rey said. The helmet facilitates livelier rooting for the home team and enables fans to shake both fists at umpires and referees.

The product has other, more subtle, benefits as well, Del Rey says. "It makes for great posture. You have to walk straight up."

The helmet has a special appeal to the ham, Del Rey said. "Everywhere we go, we get a reaction. . . . Some people look at me as if God sent me."

Sometimes, however, the response is less respectful. The helmet makes an attractive target for peanut throwers, Del Rey acknowledged.

Del Rey, a slightly built, intense man of 25 with nervous hands and thick-lensed glasses, does not claim to be the creator of the concept. He said the idea probably originated on a college campus, but no one seems to know who invented the beverage helmet. He decided to produce it after seeing a primitive model in San Diego, he said.

"There were lots of things it didn't have," he said. "I figured out by looking at it how to improve it. Del Rey said he added a second cup and upgraded the tubing and packaging.

Since the beverage helmet hit the market five months ago, Del Rey said he has sold 15,000 units, a volume "way beyond expectations."

The Yuppie Beverage Helmet is not Del Rey's first business enterprise. He also runs a small company called Newsmakers that sells framed clippings of newspaper stories to the subjects of the articles, he said. Del Rey said he attended Pasadena City College, UCLA and USC at various times before quitting to take a job in marketing for a Beverly Hills nightclub. He left that job to start his own business.

Del Rey's father, Ernie, supplied a few thousand dollars to start the helmet business and they formed the partnership of Del Rey and Del Rey. His mother, Pat, does the accounting, and Del Rey assembles the product in his parents' garage.

The company has some national distribution, but most early sales have been at Southland swap meets, Del Rey said, adding that he is stepping up his marketing campaign. In September, the Yuppie Beverage Helmet will be introduced in student stores on college campuses, Del Rey said.

Meanwhile, Del Rey said, he's working on some refinements, including covers for the cups so wearers can avoid spilling drinks on their heads. He also plans to start using opaque tubing to conceal the unappetizing-looking residue that builds up in the tubes. "We're going to be doing de luxe models that will have six cups so you will be able to have a six-pack on your head," he said.

Del Rey unabashedly compares his product's long-term prospects to those of such giant successes as the Cabbage Patch Doll and Rubik's Cube, "Could I start a fad?" he said. "Could I, little Michael Del Rey, start a fad?"

But he views the immediate future with more cautious optimism.

"I've not gone and bought a Mercedes yet," he said. "If I can just get my Honda fixed, then I'm OK."

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