Posted: 2011-03-30 12:08:19 By: by Stephanie Oppenheim
SO: So many of the people we interview are new to the toy industry, but your family has been in the industry since 1917! Did you always want to join the family business?
RP: When I was in 6th grade, I wrote a report about my grandfather coming to America from Italy when he was 16 years old. Researching the report, I became aware of what an incredible life he led. He was very poor when he came to America and worked in lots of different jobs in Chicago before he went into business for himself, making products out of wood.
When people coming to his workshop began ordering duplicates of the little wooden wagon he made to haul tools, he chased the business opportunity and created his first wagon, the Liberty Coaster. He built the business, opened up a small factory and eventually started making wagons out of steel, which enabled him to mass produce, earning him the nickname, “Little Ford”.
At the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, my grandfather built a giant “Boy on a Wagon,” which was one of the hits of the fair and was also the official birth of the Radio Flyer brand. He chose Radio Flyer because he was fascinated by the invention of the radio and the age of flight was just beginning and was inspiring to him. Needless to say, with such a great story, I got an “A” on this paper! More importantly, I’d fallen in love with my family’s story. Growing up, I worked at the company during the summers and, while my dad never pressured me to come into the business, I knew from an early age that we had something very special here. I wanted to see if we could make it even better.
SO: Do you feel a certain amount of pressure making some of the nation’s most iconic playthings?
RP: I can’t say that I feel pressure in a negative way, but rather that I am part of something that people genuinely love. Everyone grew up with Radio Flyer and people have all of these wonderful, warm memories they associate with our brand. I feel honored by this, and I’m deeply grateful that I have the opportunity to work here. I want to make sure we continue to create great-quality products that get kids outside playing and imagining.
SO: When you were a kid, what were some of your favorite toys (excluding Radio Flyer products of course!)?
RP: One of my favorite ride-ons was the Inchworm. I rode that a lot. Also, I loved my Big Wheel. We had lots of Legos, and I particularly like the larger ones. I always wanted to see how high of a tower we could build before it fell over!
SO: How has the toy industry changed since you joined Radio Flyer in the 90s?
RP: I think the toy industry has gotten more sophisticated in the way companies design toys and that, overall, the quality of the products is better than ever.
SO: Most people associate Radio Flyer with not just wagons, but tricycles as well. Yet the introduction of tricycles is relatively recent, right?
RP: Yes, we did not make tricycles until about 10 years ago. But most consumers believe we have been making them for years because a tricycle is so closely related to a wagon. You play with it at the same age, it has wheels, it’s for the outside, it gets you moving. We are now the #1 tricycle brand.
SO: When people learn about your connection to Radio Flyer, what’s the most common response?
RP: People first smile and then they tell me a story about either their childhood, or what their kids or grandkids have and play with. The stories are always very warm and loving and I love hearing every one of them. It never gets old and it always makes me feel good.
SO: What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?
RP: I love ice cream. One of my weaknesses. Chocolate, pure and simple.