Robert Pasin is the man in charge of one of the toy industry's oldest and most venerable brands: Radio Flyer. The company will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, no small achievement for an industry so effected by the winds of change. Radio Flyer has weathered two world wars, wars in Iraq, Viet Nam and Korea, a depression and the Great Recession. It has also managed to survive in a world of rapid changes in how, where and from what toys are made and in how people play. In this interview, I ask Robert to give us a look at how Radio Flyer has managed the tough task of surviving and thriving. Here is my interview:
Richard: The toy industry has been a wonderful environment for multi-generational businesses. Your great grandfather, Antonio Pasin, began the business in 1917 and the company he created, Radio Flyer, got its name in 1930, from Marconi who invented radio and Charles Lindbergh who flew the Atlantic. Your company is so much a part of Americana and so important to the toy industry that I think readers would love to know a little of the history? Can you give us a brief overview of the company's story?
Robert: My grandfather came to the United States from a small town in Northern Italy and worked odd jobs before getting his own workshop in Chicago where he used his craftsman skills to build phonograph cabinets. Shortly after, he began selling wooden wagons to customers. Throughout the years, my grandfather evolved the wagon to fit the times – including metal wagons during the Depression. What truly launched Radio Flyer nationally was our exhibit at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933. With the help of Italian artist and industrial designer Alfonso Iannelli, my Grandfather created a 45 ft. tall sculpture of a boy riding in a wagon. Underneath, fair attendees could enter the Radio Steel shop and purchase mini Radio Flyer wagons for 25 cents.
Richard: I had a Radio Flyer wagon when I was a kid. How does it feel to be the man in charge of a legacy that is not just important to you but to millions of people who owned a Radio Flyer red wagon?
Robert: It feels great! The best part of continuing the legacy my grandfather and father built is knowing that Radio Flyer always brings people back to their own childhood memories. When you say Radio Flyer to someone, the first thing they do is smile, and the second thing they do is recall a warm childhood memory. Radio Flyer evokes a sense of nostalgia that holds such a special place in people’s heart. I take great pride in Radio Flyer being part of people’s childhood memories.
Richard: We do live in the 21st century and it appears that Radio Flyer has been trying some new things. Can you tell us a little about that and how you envision the future of the company?
Robert: One of the biggest changes in the past decade or so for Radio Flyer has been the expansion into ride-ons beyond wagons. We are now the marketshare leader in tricycles and have a wide assortment of scooters, foot-to-floor, and other innovative ride-ons. As consumer tastes change over time, we continue to innovate so our products stay relevant to the needs and wants of parents. We feel strongly that we’re poised for another 100 years of imagination and active play because of our passion for quality and design. It’s the DNA of our business. I believe the personalization trend will continue to be at the heart of the work we do in the future, which is why we offer so many custom build options for so many of our products – from wagons, bikes and scooters to our Tesla Model S for Kids.
Richard: One of your new products is the Tesla Model S for Kids. It will get up to six miles an hour so I figure someone like me can use it in Manhattan to get around rush hour traffic. I want one. Where can I get it, how much will it cost and where is the jack for my MP3 player?
Robert: As long as you stick to the sidewalk – you’ll definitely beat the rush hour in New York with this car. You can get the new Tesla Model S for Kids on radioflyer.com. The car, which comes completely customizable, starts at $499. The aux jack sits just to the left of the steering wheel and is just one of the many unique features of the toy. This is one of my favorite partnerships we’ve come out with in recent years. It’s the ultimate innovation of the ride-on category and is nearly an exact replica of the real Model S.
Richard: One of the questions we always like to ask is do you have a toy in your office or on your desk? If so, what is it?
Robert: Of course I do. I keep a mini classic Red Wagon on my desk filled with paper clips.