Fueled By Tradition, Radio Flyer Blasts Off for its Next 100 Years

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By Nona Phinn

Leveraging craftsmanship and service to spark imaginations and create memories that span generations.

The movie “Inside Out” from Pixar Animation Studios is one of the best animated movies of 2015. I enjoy watching it over and over again, even when my daughter is not around. Remember when Joy and Bing Bong fell into Riley’s Memory Dump when Family Island came crashing down? I love this scene because this is when Joy had an epiphany and realized the importance of Sadness. It gave her the tenacity to get out of Memory Dump. She and Bing Bong used the rocket that had been thrown into the dump to soar their way out. The best part is that the rocket is actually a memory from Riley’s preschool days — a red wagon she used to pretend was a rocket for her and Bing Bong to blast off in.

Great memories seem to never fade away. They stay with us and never let us go, no matter how old we get. Such is the case with the little red wagon so many of us grew up with. You’d be hard-pressed to find a person who never played with a Radio Flyer wagon. “Radio Flyer has been around for almost 100 years, so almost everyone has grown up with it, and it really holds a special place in people’s hearts,” explains Robert Pasin, Chief Wagon Officer at Radio Flyer. “When someone sees a Radio Flyer wagon, it instantly transports them back to their own childhood,” he continues. People are taken back to a time when they dared to dream and saw beyond what was right in front of them.

Founder and inventor of the little red wagon, Antonio Pasin, in his first workshop in Chicago.

For as real and tangible as the company’s products are, they leave plenty of room for the imagination. And as Joy taught us, an imagination and the things that cause it to run wild are hard to part with. After nearly a century of taking children wherever their dreams can go, Radio Flyer is still connecting with the hearts of families. Every day, Radio Flyer is inundated with images and stories based on the products it develops. Connecting beyond playtime and into hearts has helped create the staying power behind the brand. This connection, coupled with great product quality and design, has positioned the company for longevity.

Radio Flyer was founded by Pasin’s grandfather, Antonio Pasin. At age 16, Antonio came to the United States from northern Italy after his family sold their mule to purchase a ticket for his ship voyage. He made his way to Chicago, where he took odd jobs as a day laborer and joined construction crews. Coming from a family of craftsmen, Antonio rented a workshop near his home and began applying his skills to create phonograph cabinets. To aid his daily labor, Antonio built a wooden wagon to haul his tools around the workshop. Soon his customers noticed the well-crafted wagon and began ordering more of them than phonograph cabinets. From these humble beginnings grew the Radio Flyer we know and love today.     

Pasin attributes the company’s ability to produce sleek products to his grandfather’s passion for high quality and great design. “Even though he was creating kids’ products that were relatively simple, there was always something about the design that was really beautiful that was connecting with the times, like a kind of art deco style in the ’30s,” says Pasin. He continues, “That passion for quality and design is in the DNA of our company. It’s the way my dad led the business and how I try to lead the business today.”

Radio Flyer launched the innovative Tesla Model S for kids in spring 2016 – reinventing the ride-on category.

Pasin shared his own wagon story: He remembers that his grandfather Antonio kept a wagon on his porch and would bang on it with his fist, repeating, “Strong! Strong!” Pasin recalls that at the time he didn’t really grasp what his grandfather was doing, but looking back, he realizes it was his grandfather’s pride that his brand and products were strong and would continue to be so. It is this memory that Pasin uses as a benchmark in product development and in his leadership role at Radio Flyer.

The product legacy is not the only tradition Pasin nurtures. He keeps the company’s core values in his line of sight as well. Radio Flyer coined the term “Little Red Rule” to define the company’s values. “It is our spin on the golden rule, which is that every time we touch people’s lives, they’ll feel good about Radio Flyer,” explains Pasin. “The things that we value never go out of style. We value integrity, we value what we call FUNnomenal customer service, and great quality products,” he explains. Pasin believes these values are what Radio Flyer customers will always associate with the brand. They help ensure that the company remains timeless and relevant.

The company’s core values serve as pillars, and Radio Flyer can also attribute its strength to being able to define its own success. An advantage of a family-owned business is not having to deal with shareholder pressure to meet short-term goals. Instead, the company can freely keep its eyes on the prize: to make sure that Radio Flyer will stand strong for another 100 years. Pasin and his team work diligently toward the vision that future generations of children will get to ride on Radio Flyer products. He notes that the company is more concerned with quarter-century results than quarterly numbers to focus on how people will see Radio Flyer 25 years from now.

With Pasin’s philosophy and leadership, he and his team took Radio Flyer to the top spot on the FORTUNE® 25 Best Small Workplaces list for 2015. Pasin believes that three main drivers made this award possible for Radio Flyer:

Radio Flyer also has processes and goal structures in place to ensure that teamwork is a high priority and is never taken for granted. “What I am most proud of the team for is all the new products they come up with daily and then seeing how people engage and enjoy them. That’s really tying a big red bow on the whole experience for me,” shares Pasin.

In spite of the challenges and hard work at Radio Flyer, the employees are motivated by the impact the brand delivers. “When you say ‘Radio Flyer’ to someone, the first thing they do is smile. The second thing they do is tell a story,” Pasin reflects. These stories are shared at every monthly staff meeting to empower and inspire employees. They connect the impact of the brand and products to the staff’s hard work and devotion and serve as an ongoing reminder about the perks that come from working at Radio Flyer. Pasin says that when you “tell someone you work at Radio Flyer, you get this wonderful reaction that is completely positive and completely pure.” Along with that kind of positive feedback, Pasin’s batteries are recharged every time he sees a child playing with a Radio Flyer product. Watching memories being created right before his eyes is the motivation he uses to move the company forward.

Due to Pasin’s incredible love for the brand and all it provides, there is no doubt that Radio Flyer will continue to be ingrained in the lives of children for generations to come. “The company is such a huge part of my identity. It is something that I am passionate about and love so much. It’s a part of who I am,” he says. Pasin’s love ensures that Radio Flyer creates what others treasure. It will continue building toys with wheels that keep kids playing outside, rolling wherever their imaginations allow them to go.