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Radio Flyer Follows Low-Cost Production Pathway to China

March 31, 2004|Rob Kaiser | Chicago Tribune

Another slice of Americana is being outsourced to China.

Radio Flyer Inc. will stop making its famous red metal wagons in Chicago by the fall, halting its final manufacturing operation and releasing nearly half of its 90 employees.

Although Radio Flyer has resisted this move, the 87-year-old company finally succumbed to low-cost production overseas after determining its Chicago plant was too expensive to maintain.

The company, however, does not plan to move its headquarters or distribution arm.

"We're still a Chicago company," said Chief Executive Robert Pasin, whose grandfather Antonio founded the firm. "We're still a Chicago brand."

Radio Flyer's decision follows a well-worn path to China for the toy industry. Today, China makes 80% of the world's toys, according to industry estimates.

Still, most of the toys imported from China don't enjoy the American icon status of Radio Flyer.

"It's one of the items that goes with the American dream," said Tony Roeder, who sells Radio Flyer products online and at his store in River Forest, Ill.

Roeder's customers range from grandparents shopping for gifts to recent immigrants who are attracted more by functionality than by nostalgia.

"It's kind of fun seeing this old tradition going through generations and new cultures," Roeder said.

Roeder and Pasin believe the shift of production to China will not affect customers' loyalty to the brand.

Radio Flyer's tricycles, scooters and most of its other products already are made in China. Another company in Wisconsin makes its plastic wagons.

Although Radio Flyer does not disclose sales figures, plastic-wagon sales have grown at the expense of metal models, Pasin said.

"We're going to keep doing that wherever it makes sense," he said. "We've got a phenomenal brand name."

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