Strollin’ Down The Grapevine – Act 5_scene 3

The Grapevine, CA // October 17th, 2008

Fast forward to sometime after the 2008 show, when we were really center stage. After our inaugural launch at the ABC kids expo the year prior, things got a little crazier then we’d expected. We finally had our marketing plan in order, sales reps lined up and a polished product to sell. We built up all sorts of hype from the trade shows and lined up stores that were dying to pick up our brand.  The problem was, economists were skeptical of the market, predicting that a recession was looming and that luxury expenditures are the first cutback families should be looking to make. Must have been a slow news month or something because I remember that being all I heard on every station. You could feel it in the air as if a dark cloud was settling in. Mall parking lots became barren, new car lots filled up and people were battening the hatches for a financial onslaught.

After laying it all on the line and walking away with a home run, almost every order that was a sure bet turned into a game of phone tag or a consignment proposal. That meant when we had a store that was going to stick by their word, we made sure to hightail over with the whole dog and pony show. We’ve clocked more miles of California freeway and calories from Jack In the Box trios then I care to count. No less when we hit the road, we turned into a mobile business.  Steph always had a hold of the fort but we actually had payroll and receivables to manage so any travel, even the short runs were disruptive. That being the case,  every run turned into a sprint and when you’re rolling down the 5S and headed over the grapevine, get ready for pretty much anything.

This trip was no different. Joe and I loaded some rental car with a couple of Roddlers that needed to get dropped off in LA. It was the middle of summer so you have to think that we can free up some space and leave the snow chains at home. We’re about 2 hours, 3 coffees and some Jack in the Box breakfast burritos into the drive and all of the sudden traffic gets more backed up then my system. I mean, really, we’re 2 hours into whats going to be a 17 hour day of driving and this is how we kick it off? Traffic in California is notoriously bad, but stopped traffic with people out of their cars is as rare there as anywhere. As it so happens, it was just a few power lines that went down that were quickly cleaned up, but until they were, we turned it in to the perfect stage. Seizing every second of the opportunity, we popped out of the car, broke out a Roddler and struck a few poses in the middle of the freeway. Unfortunately, the photo doesn’t capture the epic stench of cow manure, but I’m not sure when else we would have a chance to capture this scene. I guess just another thing you won’t do in a Bugaboo.

In case you want to see where the Roddler first ended up, it was deep in the Valley outside of Los Angeles at a great store called Baby Ant. After living as window candy for a few months, we’re happy to say it found a new home and definitely landed in some happy hands.

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Down and Dirty at Ditka’s – Act 1_Scene 1

Joe and I have had some awesome adventures and made some pretty incredible memories on our long journey to creating the Roddler. We get nostalgic and reminisce all the time, but we thought it would be fun to paint you a picture of some of the places we’ve been and dreams we’ve realized on the way. We are still writing pages every day but wanted to share the story of what got us here and where we hope to be going. Stay tuned!

Chicago //  December 31st, 2006

Safe to say that most people are prepping for New Years eve but we’ve got an entirely different agenda. We’re plotting and scheming something ridiculous that little did we know would be the start of a 5 year roller-coaster ride. To give you some better framework,  Joe called me a few weeks prior with some batshit crazy concept to do some stroller to go with my kids clothing line. Given he’d just finished designing a murdered out pickup for Carrol Shelby and now he was all hyped up over this brainchild, I knew something special had to be in store. So, whatever, no harm in putting one foot in. A few hours later, he drops me a quick rendering that I would have never seen coming. I put it at the end of my line sheet and took with me to the Children’s Club apparel trade show in New York. All I could think of was, how the hell I am going to marry my preppy collection to this insane design that I can’t stop gawking at. After 3 days of explaining to buyers that its not a Batmobile and that I was serious it will one day roll, I went back home, hung up my tape measure and we started crunching some numbers.

That brings me to the real start of the story. Sharing a 6 year friendship and a love for the car culture, Joe and I had some really colorful conversations about what it would really take to make a business of this. I mean, neither of us had even so much as pushed a stroller before so it’s safe to say that blissful ignorance and blind ambition were 2 key motivators that set us on course. Anyways, its not hard to stroke some nice numbers out of the potential we had in the stroller business. It’s 2006, people are still leveraging themselves to buy everything with a price tag, it’s cool again to have kids and the housing market hadn’t burst yet, what could go wrong?? So, two months of lip flapping later it’s New Year’s day.  We spoke and emailed with some regularity, especially since we planted the seed in each others head for the baby bomber. In actuality, we hadn’t spent a minute together in the same room since he came to visit me in LA, maybe 2 years prior.  Joe’s out in Chicago visiting in-laws and it’s time to decide if we’re really going to do this.  I brave the holiday travel mayhem, booked a day ticket from Montreal and land at O’hare on what had to be the coldest day of the year. Bears are playing the Packers, it’s a real -30’C with 30 mile per hour winds and I have no idea where I’m going. Any time a Canadian leaves Canada, we dress for summer so all I know is that I need to be back at the airport in about 7 hours, hopefully without frostbite. Joe grabs his in-law’s car, comes and scoops me from the airport and we’re off. We had no where to go, but all we needed was somewhere quiet to put our heads together.  Like the two sport loving meat heads we are, where did we end up? Ditka’s on Michigan Ave. , naturally. We spent 6 hours sampling half of the menu while breaking down everything that would become the vision for the Roddler.  The Packers handed the Bears only their 3rd loss of the year in a wild game, and we were the only people that came out of there glowing. One mangled drink coaster and $50 in souvenirs later,  we were back out braving the cold and on the way to the airport. Chock full of inspiration and ready to change the face of juvenile products.  Little did we know, what we’d really be doing is setting ourselves up for the ride of a lifetime.

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Something Your Current Stroller Can’t Do – Match Your Prada

For the better part of their 99 year history, Prada has established themselves as one of the premiere fashion houses in the world. There are very few girls out there that are not familiar with the brand and their reputation for making the nicest and most coveted shoes and handbags. They also serve as a principle source of inspiration for the rest of the fashion industry, so what they say, goes.

It has also been long established that the roots of Kid Kustoms stem from the fashion and automotive industry, so it is no secret where we get our inspiration for the styling we impart on our products. So, we may have been a hair early in our prediction that tins and fins will be the next must have fashion accessory, but I think Miuccia Prada is  driving home the point with her 2012 spring/summer collection. As far as we are concerned, dads of the world should be celebrating that they can finally buy their wife a fashion accessory they want to play with too. Oddly enough, our gearhead customers are now being envied by the world’s fashion elite because along with your super slick black and red flamed Roddler, you can have a matching set of black and red flamed Prada pumps. Uhm, if that isn’t hotter then Livermore in the summer then why don’t you step your game up and go with our ’59 caddy styled fenders and a matching set of holy hell are those tail lights on shoes?!? Oh yes, we’ve been preaching it for a long time but this is the best affirmation that we are maybe a little less out there then, well Miuccia.

No matter what  can come out of this, more press, or maybe some awesome cross promotional opportunity (I can dream, right?), there is one thing that I know I am dying to see. By the time this fashion trend makes it to the mass market, our Roddler will still be the only hot rod stroller and Payless will be selling cheap pumps that look like a flamed Honda Civic.

Prada images via

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Hammered Home

The best thing about our product is that everyone does it differently. All of our strollers are as unique as our customers so when it comes to your perfect family moment, pretty much anything goes. There have been few pictures better then this one to capture a day in the life of a Roddler owner. A picturesque beach setting and nice weekend cruise down the boardwalk in sunny Southern California.  Sounds right up my alley. So does arriving in a hammered Toyota mini truck, hitting the switches and dumping on the ground, you know, for more convenient loading and unloading of your Roddler of course.  As far as I am concerned, these two machines go together like peanut butter and jelly.

We know you are clocking some miles and making memories. What we’d love to see is you share your pride and joy. Both of ’em! Send us your photos and we’ll do a follow up post. You can reach us by Facebook or Email (contact us through ‘press inquiries’ because you are our celebrities)

Photo courtesy of Mike Alexander (another Mike it’d be fun to be like)

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Here We Go Again…

In our industry, it’s hard enough to get any real exposure outside of parenting magazines. You’ve got to have some sort of really innovative competitive advantage for a major national news outlet to be giving you props. Outside of our design and engineering, our next greatest feat has to be that we operate with a marketing budget that’s equivalent to a 12 year old’s lunch money. So, you know when you get recognized by ABC and its not the Kids Expo, some of the right people are taking note.

Today was one of those days, sequestered to a stuffy conference room in a cheap hotel about an hour and a half from anywhere I needed to be. While getting an inspirational lecture on how to  build a great organizational structure, I was also getting a message from the Google Santa with a forecast from ABC Nightline. Apparently, JuJu Chang and Kelly Harold are predicting that “luxury baby strollers are the new moms status symbol”. Not only that, when it comes to status symbols we had to get a little credit where due. It seems that we’ve unintentionally dethroned the Silver Cross pram as the most opulent ride and ultimate wheeled status symbol for kids. Even if it is a story about Bugaboo’s rise to fame, we might as well take our back seat and start going for the ride.

Check out the feature on ABC Nightline tonight, or visit the article >> HERE

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Sleigh Bells Jingalin’

If I were to stay true to form, I would probably post some funny poem or a fun Roddler themed picture in the spirit of the holidays. This year is going to be a little different and I dare to say better. Five years into Kid Kustoms, we are still marking each chapter with a lot of memorable firsts. A few new features, coatings and an updated website hardly seems as noteworthy as a long overdue introduction to our new partner in fun.

This year is the most momentous yet because we’ve welcomed Buster (aka Matt) into the world. I am not even sure if you can describe the feeling of strolling around pushing the two most awesome things you’ve ever made, but Joe and Steph are living the dream daily. Just so I don’t feel left out, we’ve also initiated some secret projects that are well in the works and we’ve code named it “College Fund”.  All I can promise is another cup of Joe and dash more Jamie will make for more exciting updates in the new year.

Happy Holidays and Merry Chrismikah from your friends at Kid Kustoms!

Joe, Steph, Matt, Jamie & Mr. Toe

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Who’s the Big Dog on the Block Now?!

There is nothing more fun then a carte blanche build. We had one lucky customer who strolled into Bel Bambini with a sense of style and some plastic looking for a new ride.  After perusing our laundry list of accessories, Joe blessed it with some of his signature style and tada! One of our finest Roddlers to leave the shop.

It has a custom logo and pinstripe, custom pegs and grips and a black 52 spoke front wheel. The metallic flake in the powder coat has enough sparkle to make Liberace proud and the speaker system puts a little bump in the trunk. The only thing better then making a new customer happy is being the new happy customer who gets to push this every day.

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Grasping for Some Unbridled Kentucky Fried Spirit

While most companies are figuring out their logistics for the upcoming show, we’ve been busy, too. Only we’re racking our brains to figure out why the heck it’s been moved to the middle of nowhere and are now questioning what we thought was the correct pronunciation of its new home: Louisville, KY. The city council also felt something is amiss, so they are offering 6 different ways to spell ‘boredom’.

Frankly, there are so many things that are wrong with this picture (I am speaking proverbially, but the above image is also disconcerting). For those of you who are familiar with the juvenile product industry, it consists of a fair number of very big players and then a few little guys that are trying to grab a piece of market share with the specialty stores. We clearly fall into the latter, but like the majority, we live on the coast. In fact, there is such an overwhelming majority of exhibitors and retailers who come from either the East or West that the idea to move the show somewhere in the middle is a classroom-style compromise. If you have ever tried to land in one of these fly-over states,  you know it’s not easy. If you can fly direct you live too close and it’s just not a popular destination location. It’s even too far gone to be fixed with a sexy slogan, like ”what eva happens in Looavull, stays in Looavull.”

In any case, the purpose of a trade show is for the brands to put their products on display for an array of retailers to merchandise the collection for their stores. It is no doubt the show can also be a lot more profitable by lowering its overhead.  Only this time, it is at the industry’s expense and should prove to be detrimental on so many levels. Logically speaking and from the retailers perspective, if your are a Mom & Pop kids store, bearing the expense of travel to a show of this nature is a big investment just to see what is new and exciting. For a brand, especially a small one that really needs this exposure to reach a more diverse market, it is also a sizeable investment to see if their products have a broader appeal. In this case, the cost of attendance, travel and transport is exorbitant and often inflated due to extraneous costs, like GES services. At least Vegas can double as a vacation destination outside of exhibit hours. Louisville may appeal to some, but in my opinion the only thing more intolerable than horse racing is Bluegrass, and not even copious amounts of bourbon will make me feel at home. We packed our gear and drove from SF to Las Vegas when we attended, and it was the only way to make exhibiting feasible. If we had to hand our stuff over to a transport company and booked air travel to Louisville, there is no way the Roddler would even exist right now. If that is an unfortunate reality for us, I have to imagine we are not alone.

In my experience from the clothing industry, the reason why there are so many new brands that surface is two-fold: because the platform exists for them to translate design into product and because they have shows that are properly orchestrated, giving them a fighting chance to book a few orders. The first time we attended the ABC show, it was by the grace of god and someone’s last second cancellation that we made it in. I was one step from sending a hooker over to the show administrators house with our credit card to secure our place in a crappy 10’x10’ booth that was isolated from the rest of the show in the ‘new exhibitor’ section. Again, forget the financial component or any product development; had we not been admitted, the Roddler would not exist. We are talking a measly 10’x10’ space and by the time that show was over, we were on a waiting list to secure space for the following year’s show. It was in the Las Vegas convention center, so I can assure you space was not the issue. How many great ideas and inventions need to die because they don’t have the opportunity to show their creations?

So, if we have established that it is really hard to even get into the show, let alone get to the show, let’s assume you bit the bullet and make it in. I have a list of every store in America and I know a lot of buyers first hand. Only a few cater to our target market. If they don’t come because the venue is inaccessible or unappealing, they generally don’t buy new products sight unseen and we can’t get the few orders we need to recuperate the cost of attending (coupled by the fact we had to displace everything and ourselves to the middle of America for a few days). If we didn’t get the handful of orders we did, again, there is no Roddler and certainly no redevelopment from that point into a sell-able model with a tricycle conversion.

All this to say, we are sad to be missing this year’s show yet again. We’d love to have the cash to burn because it is a really exciting experience to be able to put your passion out for everyone to see, and we have made such good friends in the industry we miss seeing annually. While the fortunate retailers are busy visiting the booths of the companies that can afford to make the trip, it is a much better bet that we’ll be taking our hard earned dollars to Vegas. I’ll be running to the first book that will take the under on the shows attendance parlayed with the most popular local pronunciation for the place made famous by a baseball bat company.

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Artist Spotlight >> Daddies Nasty Sons – Mega & Romeo : The Netherlands

Amsterdam started to make its mark in the graffiti movement in the 1970’s and was very important in the development of the urban art culture in Europe. Mega & Romeo took clear advantage of the countries liberal graffiti policies and quickly left their impression as two of the most prolific writers on the scene. I was really fishing when I reached out and am still beside myself that they got back to me,  eager to participate no less. We are so thankful that they lent us their talents for the event because its nearly impossible to fit anything but a photograph of their work into a frame, let alone the real deal. What they achieved with their fenders is exactly why they have become such established and respected figures in their medium.

About Romeo & Mega:

Daddies Nasty Sons are from the northern part of the Netherlands. They had little competition on their patch when the crew was founded in 1988, and tended to model their pictures on those from Amsterdam.  Romeo, Mega and Mark – the original founders – travel around together painting and were joined by sperm in 2002,  who has his own photo realistic style.  Mega is now working as a professional graphic designer,  and Romeo has brought out a  number of records with his hip hop group,  L-West Productions.

(Text from: ‘ Graffiti World: Street Art From Five Continents’ – Nicolas Gantz)

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Misconceptions, Madness & Mayhem

On any given Sunday there may be some loony in Hyde Park with a bigger audience then we have, but this is our soap box and we’ve been tip toeing for too long. It is a real double-edged sword being the “luxury” product we are. We get a lot of random press features and press is always fun. We love every opportunity we get regardless.  Except, for every article out there that is amazed by our feat in engineering (mostly car guys), there is one whose focal point is the price (mostly everything else).

There was this great little article this morning by Amy Graff from SF gate (the San Francisco Chronicle’s daily website) that was highlighting Bugaboo’s new twin stroller, the JackAss (its really called the Donkey but I like JackAss). She was saying how great it was and how odd it is for parents to be pre-booking a stroller for $1,500 that doesn’t do much more than look good (arguably).  She went on to toot, “like all Bugaboo strollers, it’s stylish, well made and easy to fold down”. Mother of misconceptions, the Bugaboo Chameleon folds like butter if you want to take the f’n wheels off?! Never mind, just a little detail, but we were stoked when the Google alert rang in another blog post and there we were! It went like this, “And if you thought $1,500 was expensive, then you ought to check out the $3,500 Roddler made by stroller company Kid Kustoms”. Well, awesome!! It is the coolest thing in my mind that Amy Graff (who I don’t know) knows who the heck we are! Tragically we were just a pawn in that post that was thrown under the bus to incite some debate about the practicality of expensive strollers. I have totally learned to count to ten, breathe deep and drink a fifth of Glenlivet every time I read these. It is very frustrating because you know what, we intended for the Roddler to cater to affluent consumers about as much as I intended to be white. The Roddler was born on a CnC machine and I was born in Canada, both are shortcomings we gotta deal with for the time being but it is not insurmountable.

As is the case with most inventors, there is something to be said about giving life to a product or concept that is possessive. Some people get to hear about us for the first time because of that feature about crazy expensive baby products. We are grateful that one more person has learned about our adventure and hopefully has formulated their own opinion. Some people genuinely hope that our product makes it because it means so much more. In case there is any giant misconception, we are no corporate conglomerate, we are a couple of dudes who lean on a network of other hard-working entrepreneurs like ourselves who are driven to make their dream come to fruition. Our dream is not to stack chips. We want everyone who has ever seen and appreciated our product to be able to buy it, at an accessible price. We definitely understand that $3500 is not accessible to everyone which is why we get up every day and continue to turn pages until we get to that chapter. Right now, we are investing ourselves into producing the best product we can and that we know how, in the USA. In case you were wondering, there are no other strollers that are manufactured in the US and I am confident you can do the math on why. In the same respect, if you were wondering where all of the manufacturing jobs went while you are continuing to demand for cheaper products, the math gets a lot more complicated. The US isn’t that great at making things cheaply, and we are not interested in spiting our vision to try to put out some craptastic product that is cheap in every sense of the word. So if and when we get there, where ever there is, we are sure there will be a whole new slew of points to contend. The fact is, unless you’ve been down our road you’ll probably never see it from our point of view. Until then and in case you were wondering, the view under the bus isn’t so bad.

Well closed with a little quote from Yannick Sire, and opened with a print from Bansky. Two genius fabricators of different mediums.

– “I’ve done so much with so little for so long, now I can do anything with nothing”

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