Interview by Daniel Nodzak
Photography provided by Ryan Buck Strauss
In March a new wheel company hit the scene called Red Eye Wheels. Founded by Ryan Buck Strauss, and enlisting a team of talent from around the world, their emphasis on high quality products and cohesive branding promises to set a high bar for what an inline skating wheel company can be.
Over the last couple weeks I had the opportunity to swap emails with Buck and Flight Crew member Jon Fromm to talk about their new venture, learn more about their goals for the project, and to find out why they felt the time was right to introduce a new wheel company.
In late March Red Eye Wheels was announced. For anyone that may have slept right through the spring, bring us up to speed, who’s behind the company and where are you based?
Buck: There were several people instrumental in getting Red Eye started. I (Ryan “Buck Strauss) am the owner and run the day to day operations on the business side, I.e. Financial, working on and taking orders, processing and shipping to shops.
Jon Fromm is running point on the social media pages and has been doing a great job, we work together on what we would like to see posted and are trying to make sure we properly promote our team, products, and supporters of the brand
Stephan Brandow designed two of our logos and Kyle Strauss designed one and also did all of the wheel designs and rider announcement posts.
We are based out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida but have guys working all over the world working on things. Jon is in California, Kyle is in Ohio and we have riders all over that are working to build and promote the brand.
Jon: Buck is the brains and owner behind Redeye. He makes all the important decisions when comes to anything financially. When it comes to team and social media we both chat and discuss throughly. I handle the day to day social media posts, and interact with the riders when they have promo to post.
Throughout April and May you slowly announced your teams, split into the pro or “flight crew” and the am team which you’ve branded as the “ground crew” and each new rider seems to have been more exciting than the last. What were you looking at specifically when you were assembling a team of riders to launch your brand?
Buck: When I started to build the team I was looking for guys that have the right attitude and drive to build something great. Jon, Russ, Glow, and Sneaky all had input into who they wanted to see on the team because that’s what this is a team to help and support each other. We are not just a group of guys that ride the same products. I had it in my head I wanted to build a team of 8-10 guys that have a global presence, are active in the industry, are hungry to grow, show up and Compete at contests, Have a positive attitude and outlook, and most importantly can I travel with these guys and know we are going to have a good time and also get business done.
We tried to avoid the typical terms of “pro” and “Am” because they are just words without real justification in this industry. Everyone on our team is more than qualified to be considered “pro” on a talent stand point. So when we were discussing this we wanted to avoid those labels. It boils down to the flight crew guys have a signature product and the Ground Crew guys are individuals we hope to promote and grow for our future. I do want to clarify that our Flight Crew is receiving royalties on their signature wheels and have incentives to earn more.
We have heard there are a lot of Razors riders on the team and that was by complete accident. It just so happened that these were the top level guys looking for a new opportunity and are ones I trusted would represent us in a positive light. Just because they ride one skate doesn’t mean they are the same, we have a very diverse team with all different styles and that was a major factor in who we added. There were several others that were contacted and some guys were happy with their current sponsor and some were not interested, that’s part of the game. We hope to grow in the future and it doesn’t matter what skate you ride as long as you bring the right fit to our team.
Jon: Honestly when we were looking at the team we wanted committed guys who believe in the same philosophy we did. We both understand the current state of blading and we get money is super tight. However, just because the money isn’t there, doesn’t mean we can’t put forth our best effort and believe in what we do. No we’re not “soul skaters” looking to blade off into the sunset. We want this to succeed and help the industry. I feel that every rider we chose has this same mentality and mindset.
Your company’s branding revolves around aviation themes, what made you decide to pursue that flight plan?
Buck: I work in the aviation industry on private jets and Jon is an aviation nerd. Then with all the globetrotting we do on a regular basis is kind of fit nicely. I think there had to be 1000 names tossed out before “Red Eye” worked. We went heavy with the aviation this first run as the wheel designs are the boarding pass designs that we also allowed the guys to have personal input towards. But that does not mean in the future we are only sticking with that.
Jon: The aviation thing kinda spawned from me and buck always traveling to events and having to take either a long flight home a day after or a “Red Eye (overnight flight)” the night after the event. Since me and buck hold full time jobs, we were always taking these crazy, not so normal flights. We just were talking one day, and “red eye” just stuck. Ironically me and buck are both heavily involved with “airplanes”. Buck is a private jet mechanic who is always on the road fixing planes, and I’m always on the road for my full time job as a sales engineer so I’m well versed in everything aviation.
The running joke over the last few years has been that wheel companies are the new clothing companies, how did you go about trying to mitigate those preconceived notions to set yourselves apart from a crowded market?
Buck: Yeah, there were and always will be a lot of wheel companies out there, it’s the most used product and it wears out the fastest. But that doesn’t mean more aren’t welcome. There was a strong negative outcry a few years ago anytime something new came out and it hurt a lot of companies that probably never got a fair shot. But with the slow growth in the industry and a lot of bitter people removed we have had nothing but great feedback and support from people all over the world. I have had so many people message me just to congratulate us and aren’t looking for a handout, just would like to help us in any way they can, whether it be talking to their local shop to stock our products, telling their friends about us and even giving us advice what they see.
We are not just trying to be another wheel company, our goals are much grander. We are trying to bring a change in how the industry is viewed. We have a completely open communication with all of our team and they know what is expected of them and how we are doing as a company and what is planned in the future. Their input is also highly valued to help us grow.
Jon: Wheel companies are definitely the new thing to do now. It’s funny that there are now 3 companies based in FL. That being said, like our first ads, “who says we can’t reinvent the wheel”. We’ve worked our asses off to come up with a line of wheels we think offer the full spectrum of the market. We didn’t get into this to make one wheel a year, like a lot of companies start. Just like our first line, the second will be the same amount of wheels, and it may even have a new offering.
The next part, which I feel is even more important is the way the company is run. We run this company like a legit business. We have a weekly call discussing finances, social media and events. We’re actively engaged in our riders daily. We want this to succeed , and that means putting in the ground work, and not creating another “homie wheel company”.
In your company profile for Be-Mag.com you mentioned that Red Eye Wheels will be sold exclusively through skate shops or at events attended by the brand. By avoiding direct online sales you’ll be pursuing a distribution method that flies in the face of modern trends but does provide some important support for retailers that cater exclusively to a niche market like ours. So let me ask you, do you think successful inline skating brands have any responsibility to not just compete but to find ways to support other arms of the industry when possible?
Buck: Yes, Shops are vital to growing the industry. They have the most customer interaction and allow people to see products. Selling direct will only hurt them. Since the birth of the VOD shops lost a major asset in the DVD and that’s just the unfortunate reality of the world, Streaming video is king now. We have a link to every shop that has our products on our website. www.redeyewheels.com so please check them out and support.
We want to collaborate and work with anyone, getting our wheels on one of riders signature skates if possible, supporting contests, investing back into our riders and products. It is going to be a team effort from all the companies in the industry to grow this sport.
Jon: I don’t think brands have responsibilities, due to the fact that we live in a free market economy. However, the shops are our life blood. I feel if they all go, we then have nothing to portray outward to any potential people coming into the industry. We decided that being exclusive with the shops allows us to have a relationship with them, that not only helps us, but grows blading as a whole by encouraging business through our retailers.
I’d love to know more about the development process behind Red Eye Wheels. When did you begin testing prototypes? Did you hit any turbulence along the way?
Buck: So when we decided to make this a reality I reached out to several urethane manufactures including a lot of companies that weren’t in the inline skating market to see if there was any interest. Shocking none of them even replied. I reached out to Lebeda, yes it’s no secret you only have a couple options and they were the ones willing to work with us on a professional level and had the size options we were looking for. We spoke for a while and worked out the details and then they had a major issue, one of their machines went down while they were mid run for producing a major skate manufactures wheels for their entire run of hockey skates. Naturally we were put on hold to get our samples, this ended up being a blessing as it also allowed us to communicate further and express our desire for our own formula. They finally got us wheels in January about two months behind what we expected, but that is life. They sent us their high end aggressive wheels and the prototype our new formula to try, after about two months on the prototype I knew it was the right wheel. I had sent sets to the riders and everyone was impressed with the quality so we decided that was our move. What we didn’t expect, including the manufacture, was how much more this formula was going to cost. We worked it out and made the numbers including getting a basically exclusive right to the formula. We finally received the wheels 5 weeks ago and had to wait on the final cure time before they could be sent to shops. The riders all had theirs and we were sitting in anticipation to actually use them, the day came and I am happy with the results and hope everyone enjoys them.
Jon: Id say we started everything around 7 months ago in terms of testing. We had about 4-5 wheel types before we nailed everything down. There were definitely issues in terms of logos and overall feel, but we feel that we’ve come out with a product that the market can come to love and enjoy.
Alright now for the nitty gritty. Tell us about the product range.
Buck: This was the biggest factor for us, when I started talking to Jon and Glow about this I told them we are not going to be a one wheel company. I had it in my mind that we would start with 4 wheels and we ended up with 5. I talked to several shops on what sizes they are selling a lot of and then I asked all my riders what size they prefer. Overwhelmingly the 62MM was a the choice of a lot of guys, that’s why we offer two in that size . As I stated above we have 5 models out currently and hope to add more sizes as we grow in the future. Our current lineup is the following:
Team - 55MM / 92A Flat profile
Jon Fromm - 60MM /90A Rounded profile
Korey Waikiki – 62MM / 88A Flat profile
Russell Day - 62MM / 90A Flat profile
Josh Glowicki – 68MM / 90A Inline profile
We also have a snap back and “dad” style hat and two shirt designs in two colorways each. All of our products can be seen on our Instagram page redeyewheels or our website www.redeyewheels.com