Reinventing Radio Flyer
Robert Pasin, Chief Wagon Officer of Radio Flyer writes about how innovation helps his business stay relevant.
When I was five years old, my dad took me to work for the first time – I gripped his hand and walked through the front doors, climbing the stairs and saying hello to people. We walked around the factory and I took in the loud noises of punch presses, the smell of grease and paint, and the gorgeous sight of brand-new Little Red Wagons on the conveyor line. That's the moment I fell in love with Radio Flyer, and years later, I fell deeper in love with the potential of what Radio Flyer could become.
I stepped into the role as the Radio Flyer CWO, otherwise known as “Chief Wagon Officer,” in 1997, 80 years after my grandfather founded the company. I had a childish fervor for transforming materials like steel and rubber into toys that would ultimately be handed down through generations. But, for all the play and imagination fueling my work, I quickly realized to extend my family's legacy, there were serious issues that needed to be addressed. I always wanted to be a phenomenal leader and needed to not only reinvigorate our brand and our business but also needed to do it in a way that felt authentic to my style. Our company had lost some of its heart, and our sense of purpose had diminished. Even worse, the introduction of plastic wagons in the 90s left us lagging behind our competitors, with one of our largest retailers branding us irrelevant.
Only after doing some serious soul-searching did we come to a critical realization: Radio Flyer is an experience, not a wagon. Our products bring smiles and create warm memories. It was that consumer insight that unlocked our brand's potential. It was time to evolve, grow, and put a renewed focus on our purpose, values, and mission. Once we did that, we recognized that while people will always know us for our Little Red Wagon, we can never stop innovating and striving to cultivate an experience, and not just perfect any single product. We've launched dozens of new products a year in the past two decades, from scooters and trikes to electric go-karts and bounce houses, to your child's first Tesla, never losing sight of who we are and what we mean to people.
I encourage a prototyping culture for designing aesthetically appealing products that are fun and functional. I want the team to try new things and not be afraid to fail. Our culture and workspace fosters creativity and attracts and retains the best talent. We recruit and hire the top engineers and designers in the industry to offer products and experiences that create joy. But not all products are solely developed by our team.
We frequently survey our customer base to figure out where we can improve or add value. When we would ask people to tell us about the “Radio Flyer” they had as kid, they would tell us about their Little Red Wagon, but they would also often tell us about their Radio Flyer tricycle. The crazy thing was – we never made tricycles. Although the product didn’t exist, the customers were tying our brand to some of their favorite memories of playing outside with friends and family. This was how our first trike was born. We observe consumer behavior like a hawk for insights into what they want, what they use our products for, and how we can better deliver for their needs.
In the summer of 2021, we took this sentiment a step further by venturing out of our primary user base (kids!) and creating products for the adults in their lives and introduced Flyer™ – the best electric bikes for families on the go. The Flyer line is a true extension of the Radio Flyer brand, made with the same classic design and quality that has inspired our work for over a century. As the world’s leading producer of kid’s wheels, our innovative fleet of eBikes delivers a sustainable and convenient way for families to get out and explore the world.
Our expertise in designing world-class products for hauling kids & cargo was instrumental in creating the best electric bike for families. We watched our customers grow up and observed a need that aligned with our mission, and now bringing trust and familiarity to an otherwise unfamiliar market for our loyal fanbase. That is why we have our patent pending Kid & Cargo Carrier accessory for families to easily switch from hauling gear and groceries to carrying two kids when on the go. We’ve been in the lives of families for generations, and with that sense of familiarity comes trust. We often say we’re most people’s first set of wheels, so Radio Flyer brings a name new riders recognize to the market of electric bikes.
Reinventing Radio Flyer has added over 100 award-winning products to our line, including the 2016 Chicago Innovation Award for Collaboration for the Tesla Model S. It has also created a workplace worthy of best place to work rankings and awards such as Fast Company’s Best Workplace for Innovators, Inc. Magazine’s Most Inspiring Companies of the Year and Crain’s Chicago Business Most Innovative Companies of 2021. The culture that we have developed at Radio Flyer looks inwards to focus on innovative, high-performance strategy that has led to 10x revenue growth since I stepped into this role.
In our 105-year history, Radio Flyer has experienced significant highs and lows, all bringing us to this major milestone. It demonstrates that you can never stop innovating and that even at a legacy brand like ours, we must resist the urge to become complacent. You must watch your customer like a hawk but never stray from your purpose, mission, and values. Only then will you build a brand that endures the bumps in the road, and never lose your relevancy.
About the author
Robert Pasin heads Radio Flyer Inc., the business founded by his grandfather in 1917. Radio Flyer is an iconic brand that holds a special place in people's hearts because it instantly transports them to a happy time — to the best parts of childhood. Robert works with a wonderful group of passionate "Flyers" whose mission is to create products that bring smiles to kids of all ages and to create warm memories that last a lifetime. Company sales have grown significantly because of Robert’s focus on building a highly committed and creative team. The product line has expanded beyond the iconic Little Red Wagon™ to include tricycles, scooters, and other ride-ons featuring innovative, beautiful, playful design.