Radio Flyer is celebrating its 100th anniversary. There are not many companies that can claim that kind of a heritage. What I find particularly notable is that the company continues to maintain its headquarters in Chicago and to remain a family company.
To find out more, I contacted the current CEO, Robert Pasin, who is a direct descendent of founder, Antonio Pasin. Here is my interview with Robert. (I want to thank Robert for sharing these wonderful pictures with us):
Richard: This is the 100th Anniversary of Radio Flyer. Can you tell us how the company got started and some highlights from the last 100 years? And don’t forget to tell us about from where the name came.
Robert: My grandfather Antonio was a skilled cabinet maker who immigrated from Italy, arriving in Chicago in 1914. After several odd jobs, he set up his business making phonographs. He created a wagon to haul tools around his workshop and soon found that the wagons were more popular than the phonographs. My grandfather started manufacturing a wooden coaster wagon, first calling it “Liberty Coaster” for the Statue of Liberty and then changing the name in the late 1920s to Radio Flyer, to capture his fascination with the two cutting edge technologies of the time, radio broadcasts and airplane flights.
Looking to introduce Radio Flyer to the world, my grandfather took a huge risk by exhibiting at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. He partnered with Italian sculptor Alfonso Iannelli to construct a 45 ft. tall Coaster Boy where they sold miniature wagons for 25 cents. It was one of the most popular exhibits. For our 80th anniversary, we created the World’s Largest Wagon to honor this important part of our heritage. It sits outside of the headquarters in our hometown of Chicago. This year, for our centennial celebration we rolled out the World’s Largest Wagon onto Michigan Avenue where we hosted a day of smile-worthy celebrations with the ultimate photo back drop.
Robert: Radio Flyer has been around for 100 years because my grandfather created a legacy of beautifully designed and quality products that is truly the DNA of our brand. It’s become emblematic of American childhood is. People trust it; it reminds them of their own childhood and they want to share that and pass it along to their kids.
Radio Flyer has never been about the latest fad toy product. In fact, many families have our products for generations. At the same time, we are committed to creating the best childhood experiences through developing tomorrow’s innovative toys with the same classic quality and sense of outdoor play that have been our trademarks from the beginning.
One example of how we’ve brought innovation to our products while remaining true to our identity is the Tesla Model S for Kids. We were looking to do something that had never been done before in the battery operated ride-on category, so we partnered with Tesla to create a kid’s car that followed their model almost exactly – from selling direct to the consumer, to offering unique customization options and the lithium ion battery. It’s been the perfect way to educate and introduce the next generation of drivers to electric cars as well as remain relevant in a constantly changing industry.
Richard: You are a third-generation family business, your grandfather founded the company. What impact do you think that has had on you as a person and manager and the company as well?
Robert: I’ve always been passionate about the business and have fond memories of my grandfather bringing home products to test when I was a kid. As a family business, we benefit from a deeper personal connection we foster with our customers and we don’t have the pressure of operating to deliver short term results, rather we can focus on what we’re doing in the long term to sustain a successful brand. I feel a huge sense of gratitude and feel very lucky to be born into this family. For me, what goes with that appreciation is the responsibility to maintain and ultimately build the company and brand into something even greater. I think my grandfather would be really proud of how far Radio Flyer has come.
Richard: Radio Flyer wagons were originally made of wood and now come in a variety of materials. What is the importance of materials and how do you maintain the company’s legacy of durability.
Robert: We have products in a range of different materials – from steel and wood to plastic and fabric. I think it’s important to offer a variety of choices while remaining true to our brand identity and never sacrificing craftsmanship or quality. We follow consumer trends very closely and are always updating our products to help meet families’ needs or solve problems – like the 3-in-1 EZ fold wagon, with durable fabric that folds up for easy transport.
Richard: I was extremely impressed to learn that Radio Flyer was voted the #1 best place to work for small companies. What are you doing right?
Robert: When you say Radio Flyer to someone, the first thing they do is smile and the second thing they do is tell a story; that’s why our mission is to bring smiles to kids of all ages and to create warm memories that last a lifetime. The best part about being a “Flyer” is getting this reaction every time you tell people you work here.
We have an incredibly creative and committed team who is building on our iconic brand by developing the most new products in our company’s history. We are growing and thriving and everyone feels deeply connected to what we are creating here. Many Flyers comment that the energy level here is so high that it feels like a start-up, but with the benefit of a beloved 100 year old brand. We also just finished a major renovation of our headquarters, which is now LEED Platinum certified and boasts tons of natural light, an amazing backyard with meeting areas and a walking path and an open office floor plan with sit to stand desks. In addition to helping our employees be more environmentally sustainable, the renovation allowed us to create a more open and collaborative workplace for employees to build ideas off each other.
Richard: The world has changed dramatically in the last 100 years but children continue to pull and ride in and on your company’s products. How do you see the future for Radio Flyer in a digital world?
Robert: I think Radio Flyer will continue to remain an important part of childhood despite the digital age we live in. Our products and technology are not mutually exclusive and at the end of the day, no matter how much technology kids have at their disposal, they still need a wagon or tricycle or a scooter to play with. We’re also seeing that people value and want experiences over products – and Radio Flyer delivers just that. Our toys facilitate outdoor play, adventure, imagination and quality family time. At its core, Radio Flyer is a vehicle of the imagination and that never goes out of style.
As we look to the future, we definitely want to get more involved in storytelling and feel strongly that the digital space offers a valuable platform to do so. The rise of social media and the internet has greatly impacted not only the way our fans tell their Radio Flyer stories but also how we approach storytelling as a brand. Last year, we created our first ever short animated film, "Taking Flight", which recently won a 2017 Daytime Creative Arts Emmy. We hope to do more of this creative work down the road.