Posts Tagged: Holiday +Winter 2020-21 Inspire(d)

Riedell’s Got Moxi

Members of the Moxi Skate Team in Long Beach, California. Moxi’s Lolly skates and Jack boots are made in the Driftless at Riedell Skate Co. in Red Wing, Minnesota / Photo courtesy Moxi Skate Team

 

When roller skating pro Michelle Stielen founded Moxi Skates in Long Beach, California in 2008, she wanted to create a new style of roller skates – colorful, fun, and American-made, to boot. She looked to Riedell Skating Co. in Red Wing, Minnesota, to get it done. Ten years later, during a pandemic and a huge surge in skating popularity, doing so was another story.

By Erin Dorbin • Originally published in the Holiday + Winter 2020-21 Inspire(d) 

Finding joy through 2020 has been different for everyone. For some, it’s mastering the art of bread baking, or a phone call with a friend. For others – an increasing amount of others – it’s lacing up and rolling in a brand new pair of roller skates.

 “Everyone in a pair of skates, with a smile to start their day,” says Michelle Stielen. This was what she imagined in 2008 when she first founded Moxi, a lifestyle roller skating brand based in Long Beach, California…whose skates are made right here in the Driftless at Riedell Skate Co. in Red Wing, Minnesota.

Moxi’s effervescent, colorful designs stand out from the monochromatic skates of old, and in 2020, they have become one of the most desirable commodities on the market. Michelle says it’s been a transformational year for the company.

 During the nationwide stay-at-home orders in April 2020, social media worked its algorithmic magic to lure popular culture back into a pair of roller skates. The public was awestruck by the viral videos of fearless outdoor skaters in candy-colored gear effortlessly cruising city streets, or dropping in at the skate park to show off their acrobatic skills. While the rinks were closed, skaters of all abilities filmed videos at home and in the streets that inspired viewers to creatively make use of the everyday skate spaces we have: kitchens, garages, sidewalks, cul de sacs, living rooms, etc.

The Riedell-crafted Lolly skates (top photo) are “our bread and butter, our number-one seller,” says Michelle. They fit so well, she says it’s “as if our feet naturally sprouted wheels.” These retail for $350-$400. Can’t afford to invest in your skating future at that price point? Moxi can get you rolling from $99-150 with their imported vegan Beach Bunny, Panthers, Jungle, and new Rainbow Riders skates (pictured, bottom photo)  / Photos courtesy Moxi Skate Team

 The most popular of these videos and images were posted by the Moxi Skate Team. Their organizer, Michelle, is part gymnast and part stuntwoman on wheels. She even recently worked as a stunt double for Margot Robbie in the Hollywood blockbuster, Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey.

These skaters were inspiring even the most uncoordinated to lace up and get moving! That’s all, of course, if you could find an available pair of Moxi Skates. As of right now, Moxis are sold out from retailers across the nation.

 This is a big win for family-owned Riedell Skate Co. It’s also a big challenge during a pandemic.

It’s October 2020, National Roller Skating Month (dedicated in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan). At the Riedell headquarters, Bob is beaming. He wants to know who saw the piece on roller skating that morning on Good Morning America. By this point in the year, roller skating is everywhere, and the nationwide skate shortage is covered in Vogue, Vice, New York Times, Huffington Post, and more.

Michelle Stielen is part gymnast and part stuntwoman on wheels. / Photo courtesy Moxi Skate Team

Why the shortage?

 As the Moxi Skate Team was heating up social media with inspiring posts from Long Beach, manufacturing in Red Wing was brought to a sudden, toe-stop halt. Riedell was deemed “nonessential” manufacturing in Governor Walz’s executive shutdown order.

“We’ve been working really hard for the past 10 years to make roller skates the shoes of the future,” says Moxi Skate Team member and brand employee Marin Wendoll, a.k.a. “Legs.” “That’s why we were like, ‘Oh my gosh! Look at all of these orders! This is so exciting!’” But, the Riedell Shoe Factory would remain closed for a total of six weeks during the shutdown as the online orders simultaneously flooded into the company.

 “Who would have ever guessed COVID would have been an accelerant to outdoor roller skating?!” asks Riedell’s president and CEO, Bob Riegelman. “I certainly didn’t.”

 Bob wrote an impassioned, if not desperate, letter to the head of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to allow Riedell to resume manufacturing due to the tenfold surge in Moxi Skate orders. His local representative, Barb Haley, of District 21A, and state senator, Mike Goggin, invited Bob to testify during the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee hearing in late April 2020 to advocate for the reopening of manufacturing across the state before Governor Walz.

 Riedell had already been closed for four weeks at the time of the Senate hearing.

 “What’s disheartening for me,” Bob said in his statement, “is that we’ve been deemed nonessential, yet we service the fitness, health and wellness, and recreation market. More and more people, believe it or not, are buying roller skates. People are using them for transportation. And it’s becoming very, very, very difficult to continue [production]. We’re losing customers right and left.”

Riedell quickly developed a COVID plan, purchased PPE for staff, and by early May Minnesota’s governor determined they were able to resume production. Riedell’s 120 workers were back on the factory floor assembling and shipping Moxi Skates.

Moxi Skates – these are Riedell-made Lollys – come in a rainbow of colors / Photo courtesy Moxi Skates Team

Moxi & Riedell Partnership:

In 2020, Riedell Skates celebrated its 75th anniversary. Founded by Paul Riedell in 1945, today the four brothers – Scott, Dan, Paul, and Bob Riegelman – are the third generation devotedly leading the company as a team, producing the highest quality roller and ice skates in the nation.

“We’re pretty ordinary people and we’re pretty loyal,” says Bob. “Our grandparents started the business here, and one of our greatest assets is our employee base.”

Riedell entrance / Photo by Erin Dorbin

Impressively, the average length of service at Riedell is 28 years, and a number of its workers even celebrated their 44th year in 2020. (Happy 44th to Cindy, Barb, Roger, Brenda, and all!)

Roughly a decade ago, Riedell was looking for a roller skate sales representative on the West Coast. Michelle Stielen was one of the applicants for the job. “I’d never found somebody with so much passion for roller skating in my life,” recalls Bob. While she wasn’t hired for that position, they stayed in contact.

 Michelle branched out on her own to promote outdoor roller skating and open up her own skate shop in Venice, California. One day the shop’s regular UPS driver paid Michelle an extra special compliment that helped shape her brand. “You’ve got a lot of moxie!” he told her. The word “moxie” represents bravery, strength, and fortitude. These were the characteristics she believed define her roller skating brand. From that point forward, the shop and brand were known as Moxi (they dropped the “e” for the name).

 Known in the skate community as “Estro Jen” from her roller derby days, Michelle noticed an absence of colorful skates on the market. So, she decided to transform the market. Michelle reached back out to Riedell.

 “American-made is fascinating to me,” she says. “Almost 100 percent of U.S. shoes are made in another country. I found it incredible that there was one factory still around making footwear that glided on wheels. I really, really, really wanted to do whatever I could to work with them to create an American-made roller skate boot.”

 Moxi and Riedell partnered on a series of skates based on Michelle’s designs. Bob describes the Moxi skates as “more of a lifestyle skate” compared to the other ice and roller skate brands they manufacture. While it’s a little confusing to the consumer who’s behind which part of the process, he offers clarification: Riedell owns and produces the Moxi Skates. The larger Moxi brand, www.MoxiSkates.com website, and accessories are owned and managed by Michelle and her team in California – they can be thought of as the brand identity and retail business.

 Moxi Skates come in a variety of colors and styles that can be custom ordered with choices in colors of boot, wheels, linings, laces, frames, toe stops, and more. Those orders are then busily filled at Riedell. Staff have since committed to 62-hour workweeks in an attempt to catch up on the backlog of orders. The company hired 15 additional employees, and are still looking for more to get their eager customers rolling on their Moxi Skates.

 For years, the production timeline for a pair of Lolly skates or Jack boots (the two Moxi lines made in Red Wing) was 4-7 weeks. In October of 2019, they managed to get to a point where Riedell could produce and ship them in 5-7 days, and keep them in stock. They proudly maintained this speedy production schedule until the March 2020 COVID shutdown.

Each skate boot receives a quick blast of heat and pressure in the bottoming process to secure the soles. From there, the heel is added and the skate bottoms are given their final shape / Photo by Erin Dorbin

Renée individually cleans each skate boot with a fine-grit sandpaper before they’re sent to a final quality control station / Photo by Erin Dorbin

Arline sews the two halves of the skate uppers together in the fitting process / Photo by Erin Dorbin

 Soon, estimated delivery times were delayed for weeks and sometimes months. And a few months later, production times were completely out the window as the companies where Riedell source their raw materials were struggling to meet the increased demand, too. Those suppliers were operating at 50 percent or less capacity. “Everything was interrupted,” Vice President Scott Riegelman says.

 “We’d love to add a 2nd shift here,” Scott admits, “but it’s hard to find workers, locally. Unemployment is low in Red Wing.” The rate is currently around 5 percent. Pre-pandemic, it held at 3.1 percent, slightly below the 3.7 percent national average.

 At a loss for enough full-time workers, Riedell partnered with a high-end footwear production plant in Arkansas to produce roughly 50 percent of the open orders for the USA-made Moxi Skates.

 Neither Moxi nor Riedell had enough customer service staff to respond to thousands of customer inquiries, either. Harsh criticisms from increasingly frustrated customers began to flood social media.

 Suddenly, this small skate team and lifestyle brand was pushed to function as a much larger and experienced corporation, all within a few months’ time…during a pandemic. It was the double-edged sword of Moxi’s sudden rising success.

 “We were used to making 300 skates a week and now we’re trying to pump out 3,000 a week,” Legs says. “It’s wonderful that Moxi has grown, and roller skating in general, but at the same time it’s uncomfortable to grow so fast in such a short amount of time. You’re learning things really, really quickly.”

 Moxi went from a staff of four to a staff of 25, including a board of directors, a shipping department, customer service and social media teams, and a Chief Operating Officer. In 2020, they also opened up a warehouse in California to help with stocking and shipping.

“It all starts with the leather from an animal.” Ben inspects the leather ahead of the initial cutting process. Sixty pairs of Lolly skates can be made from 2 three-ply yards of material. 2 & 3: Moxi roller skates go through 85 stations before completion. / Photos by Erin Dorbin

4 & 5: A foot form called a “last” is used to mold and shape the uppers into skate boots. Tom, who has 41 years with Riedell, shows off a Lolly skate boot he’s just finished up in the lasting department. 6: Kate inspects each skate boot individually at her quality control station. Then, they’re placed with their accessories in the colorful retro-inspired Moxi Skates box / Photos by Erin Dorbin

Was it possible that Moxi’s vibrant lifestyle brand was made too desirable for the masses? It had become almost painful for some customers to be without their skate orders as they scrolled and scrolled images of smiling, spinning, jumping, and jamming Moxi Skate Team members during quarantine. Customers had had enough of social isolation and wanted in on the fun!

 “On social media, it looks like a big corporate brand. Moxi has great marketing because we’re actually living that skating lifestyle. It’s easy for us to do. People expected us to have everything in place as a large-scale business,” says Legs. “With COVID and the orders, we had to hire so many people so quickly, and train them all so quickly, which causes errors because you don’t have time to train people properly. You’re throwing new staff to the lions!” she jokes, but turns serious again. “We ARE improving and trying to make things better for the customers.”

At Riedell, Bob agrees. “We’re doing everything possible to take care of our customers,” he says. “Our customers have been very, very gracious.”

 Handcrafting even one pair of Moxi Skates at the Riedell factory is no easy feat, though. From start to finish, it requires processes at 85 individual stations. Raw material is first cut from high-quality leather and sent to fitting where the upper is sewn and begins to take shape. “This is where we put the soul in!” veteran employee Barb Peterson – one of the workers who celebrated 44 years with the company– jokes as she moves swiftly and gracefully through boot sole production.

 The next stop is Riedell’s proprietary lasting process that gives the boot its proper, consistent width, size, and shape – this takes an entire day. Then, the boot is sent to bottoming where the sole and skate bottoms are nailed and cemented. From there, it’s off to finishing, where the boots are polished, cleaned, and thoroughly inspected. Next, is attaching the plates and wheels, before packaging. Finally, they are off to shipping.

 Everyone – from staff in shipping with three years’ service to supervisors in their 44th year – confirms they’ve “never seen anything like this” level of interest in their products.

Photo courtesy Moxi Skate Team

Physical movement as social movement

 Moxi, as a lifestyle brand, is also trying to successfully navigate the social and political climate of 2020, with the goal of promoting roller skating as a truly inclusive activity.

 For three centuries, roller skating’s popularity has ebbed and flowed, punctuated by various “craze” periods throughout its history. The pastime originated in London in 1735 and in the late 19th century, the first public rink opened in the city. At the same time, roller skating in the U.S. picked up speed, and in 1866, the first public roller rink opened inside the elegant Atlantic House hotel in Newport, Rhode Island.

 Americans tend to collectively remember the height of roller skating being between the 1930s and early 1960s, and throughout the roller disco era of the 1970s.

Less frequently recalled is that roller skating was an important part of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Roller skating (as most social and public activities) was racialized and American rinks were strictly segregated. Black skaters were only allowed access to the rinks on specific nights, if at all. Outside the rinks, they experienced intimidating and violent policing. Black skaters started organizing for equal access to the roller rinks, hosting large protests and sit-ins.

Roller rink skating was a way for Black Americans to lose themselves in the joy of skating. They expressed their creativity through the wheels on their feet, developing fluid dance-skating styles like the jam skating that is currently trending.

 Roller skating has been a tool of social action in 2020 as well. Black skaters took to the streets on their skates as participants in the Black Lives Matter movement, and we started seeing the message “Black Skaters Matter,” too. The statement is a reminder to the public about the influential black skaters that were initially overlooked when white skaters began heavily trending on social media.

 As part of Moxi’s commitment to inclusivity, they’ve hosted virtual forums on diversity – or lack thereof – in representations of roller skating in popular culture. They hope they can connect with Black, Indigenous, and Skaters of Color in the skate community, and promote and advocate for body positivity as well. Their social media platform is for skaters of all types and sizes, as a place to both improve and show off skating skills. “We are tall, short, thick, and skinny,” says Michelle. “But most important of all, we’re strong”


Erin is a former rink rat who never missed a Friday night skate. She learned how to backwards skate and couples skate (!) at the Long Lake Roller Rink in Vicksburg, MI. (RIP “The Rink” 1952-2018) Erin bought her first pair of Moxis in March 2020 and turned her garage into her own private roller rink. Here, and on her motorcycle, she found joy. Erin also coordinates the Crystal Creek Citizen-Artist Residency in Houston, Minnesota:
www.CrystalCreekCitizenArtist.com


HAVE YOU CAUGHT THE SKATING BUG, BUT IT’S WINTER IN THE DRIFTLESS?

Don’t worry. The Moxi Skate Team reminds us, “Skating’s not a season, it’s a lifestyle.” Hit Moxi’s youtube channel (youtube.com/moxiskates) for beginner to advanced lessons from a diverse group of instructors. You’ll become inspired to transform any open floor space in your home into your own personal roller rink. (Kids, make sure to ask your parents first!)

 As for warmer months in the Driftless, if you can’t find an open rink in your neighborhood, make sure you have some outdoor wheels and try parking lots, your driveway, skate parks, basketball courts, and our scenic Driftless trail systems.

“On skates you see things in your city you’ve never seen before.” Michelle Stielen

GrandPad

With one swipe, GrandPad allows seniors to stay connected with family and friends / Photo courtesy GrandPad

The GrandPad tablet delivers telehealth for homebound, and creates an innovative spark for rural entrepreneurs.

By Maggie Sonnek

When Scott Lien and his family traded in one adventure for another, leaving behind their beloved sky blue Victorian house in Wabasha, Minnesota, they silently promised they’d be back.

And 25 years later, they were. In March 2020, the Liens shuttled back to the Midwest from Silicon Valley, where Scott had taken the leadership helm at a handful of corporations. Returning with a newfound perspective gained from travel and experience, he was surprised to find storefronts along the town’s main corridor empty and boarded up. That’s when he decided to combine his love of rural America with his knowledge and innovation for entrepreneurship.

Scott and Isaac Lien (far left and far right) with two of GrandPad’s oldest employees,
another father-son team, Elmer and Richard Thill / Photos courtesy GrandPad

In 2013, Scott and his then-college-aged son Isaac wanted to stay connected to Marlys Lien, the duo’s mother and grandmother. While Scott and Isaac were in Silicon Valley, Marlys lived 2,000 miles away in Decorah, Scott’s hometown. GrandPad, a tablet sans complicated features, was born. Designed specifically for seniors, the tablet has fun games, customized music, and apps, plus large buttons paired with an intuitive interface to make chatting with friends and family a breeze. But, Scott, who now splits his time between Silicon Valley and Wabasha, learned that in the Midwest, attracting funding from investors is anything but a breeze.

“The Midwest is quite risk adverse,” he says. “And, because nearly 90 percent of startups fail in the first three years, local investors don’t jump on board right away. The majority of capital comes from the coasts.”

The data backs this up. According to the Center of Rural Development, less than one percent of all venture capital goes to rural startups. And, in 2017, five metro areas (San Francisco, New York City, Boston, San Jose and Los Angeles) accounted for nearly 80 percent of all venture capital investment nationwide. While innovation has concentrated in major urban hubs, rural economies have lacked the entrepreneurship to spark economic growth.

But, with remote work on the rise – this trend has grown by 173 percent since 2005, according to the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI), a national non-profit that aims to foster sustainable economic success in rural America – more families are swapping crowds and congestion for chickens and country roads.

Families like the Olsons. Two hundred miles straight north of Wabasha, Jon and Hallie and their three kids spend time playing in their rugged, homemade treehouse and feeding their cluster of chickens. In 2019, Jon, an engineer, began working remotely. That allowed the Olsons to trade in their Minneapolis bungalow for a custom-built home in northern Minnesota that sits on five acres of wooded beauty.

“We feel so lucky to be where we are. The kids can spend hours outside,” 38-year-old Hallie says. “And, with COVID-19, we don’t feel as restricted in what we can and can’t do.”

Mark Rembert, Head of the Rural Innovation Network at the CORI, says while it could be months before we know the pandemic’s impact on urban and rural areas, COVID-19 is fundamentally changing the appeal, necessity, and feasibility of living in a big city.

“We don’t know yet if an increase in remote work will result in people leaving big cities,” Mark says. “But, surveys have shown that many people who live in metro areas would actually prefer to live in rural spaces. Remote working could create opportunities for more people to make that move.”

Obviously, it’s much easier to bring a job with you – like Jon did – than to hang out a shingle. But entrepreneur and business leader Scott says now is the time for innovators to open up shop small towns.

“This is an opportunity for rural America to shine. We need to ask what we’re doing to make our small towns attractive,” says Lien, who, during his career has held leadership roles at Best Buy, Bank of America, and Intuit. “In Minnesota, we can’t change the weather, so instead, we celebrate it. Let’s soar with our strengths and try to turn the downfalls into positive attributes.”

Taking risks and forging ahead with entrepreneurship and innovation, especially in rural areas, is key to creating dynamic, progressive small towns.

“There is a fantastic labor force in rural areas,” Scott says, noting that even though GrandPad was founded in California, he specifically engages employees from Midwest towns. “Lots of the employees we’ve hired have been out of the workforce for a while and aren’t necessarily looking for a job; think empty nesters and stay-at-home-parents. They’ve made the assumption that fulfilling, well-paying jobs are only available in large cities. And, because they don’t want to commit to a long commute or relocate, they assume their choices are limited.”

That’s where GrandPad really shines. Employees are hired – by referrals from current team members only – to work a flexible schedule from home.

Member experience agent Lori Lechtenberg, who lives outside of Decorah says, “I can be in my home chatting with people across the globe. It’s the best of both worlds.”

“We’re creating long-term, durable, high-paying jobs,” Scott explains. “And, most importantly, these positions are family-oriented.”

Indeed, family is the main reason why Anna Arens applied to GrandPad after receiving a referral. Anna worked in healthcare at Mayo Clinic for 12 years when her husband, a Sergeant First Class in the U.S. Army, learned he’d be deployed overseas to Syria for one year. With three young kids at home, Anna knew her current schedule wouldn’t adhere well to her husband’s absence.

GrandPad Member Experience Agent Anna Arens works from her home office / Photo courtesy Anna Arens

“I needed to find a job that offered flexible hours without a commute,” Anna says, noting that the options are limited in a small town. Since accepting her role as member experience agent at GrandPad three years ago, she’s been encouraged to put her family first.

“Scott expresses to us that when we’re able to take care of our homes and families first, we do our jobs better. Because of that mentality, I’m able to be more present in my life.”

Anne Meurer, also an agent at GrandPad, accepted her job just before the global pandemic surged across the country in the spring of 2020.

“I was able to be home with our kids and help them with online learning,” she recalls. “I would sit at my desk and they’d sit on the floor next to me.”

After working in government administration for several years, Anne craved a job that better aligned with her life. More than just a steady paycheck and paid holidays, she wanted meaning and mission from her employer.

“I wanted something more rewarding. When I learned about GrandPad, I was all-in,” says Anne. “I was born into a family of five living generations and was fortunate enough to grow close to my Great Grandma Jean. I truly learned the importance of our elders and grandparents.”

GrandPad Member Experience Agent Anne Meuer works from her home office / Photo courtesy of Anne Meuer

Member experience agents like Lori, Anna, and Anne develop deep and substantial relationships with GrandPad users. Like, calling seniors on their birthdays type of exchange.

“Our clients rely on us when they need help with a specific app on the tablet or when they’re lonely,” Anne says. “And, there’s always someone there…always a friendly voice on the other line.”

Throughout the global pandemic, several home health agencies and healthcare companies have turned to GrandPad to facilitate video visits. The company began offering expanded capabilities, like GrandPad Daily Connect. This remote care solution delivers data – like blood pressure and heart rate – to remote caregivers who can detect abnormalities and coordinate further care.

GrandPad Daily Connect, a remote care solution, delivers data to remote caregivers / Photo courtesy GrandPad

Meanwhile, GrandPad users – and their families – continue to express their gratitude to agents for this tool that not only keeps them connected during COVID, but staves off loneliness too.

One family member notes, “Mom could no longer use her computer with passwords. The GrandPad allows her to stay in touch with her contacts. It has been a lifesaver for our family!”

We asked Scott how other entrepreneurs and innovators can take hold of this pivotal moment for small towns.

“Keep investing in your communities,” he encourages. “Read the local paper. Talk to your neighbors. Be kind.”

Investing in his own community, Scott leased a space, bought some paint and fresh carpet, and hung a bright, shiny GrandPad sign in the window. Used for demos, videos, training sessions, and as an optional shared workspace for employees, this is Scott’s way of shining a light on rural America. In the small town of Wabasha, in the Midwest, in the U.S., GrandPad is open for business.


Maggie, her husband Eric and their three kids love living in their small town of Wabasha. When she’s not writing, Maggie is packing lunches, helping kids with homework, or (after bedtime) binge-watching shows on Netflix.