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Our Story

The History of Red Oxx Manufacturing.

Humble Origins – from Calf to Oxx.

Jim Markel, CEO, testing bags during an overland trip.

Jim Markel, CEO, testing bags during an overland trip.

All journeys begin with a first step. For Red Oxx this step was taken by CEO Jim Markel’s father, Jim Senior. After Jim Senior completing his 20 years of military service, including time spent with both the Green Beret in the Army and a Special Forces Officer in the Marine Corps Recon, he decided to retire here in Montana. A lifetime around parachutes included tours as a Jump Master, Parachute Rigger and S.F. Team Leader. Along the way, he maintained a passion for fitness and decided to create and sell some unique workout accessories. Using his skills as a Rigger came in handy when creating lifting straps and weight belts. Crafting fitness products one at a time in his Montana basement, Jim Senior set in motion the vehicle that would one day grow into the Red Oxx the world recognizes today.

“Our first products were made from military surplus webbing that had been slated for decommissioning,” says Jims Junior’s dad. This bootstrapping philosophy was thus genetically coded into the birth of the company. As each new product was introduced and accepted by the local market, it became apparent that sales were fast outstripping the production capability of one man.

Time to bring in the number one son Jim Markel Junior. Father and son then began to assemble the production machines. Eventually it was planned to move out to a “real” factory location. No more cramped basement now, with some spilling into the garage. The final straw was turning the kitchen range into a webbing cutter with a clever air “vent” in the form of a box fan in the kitchen window.

Red Oxx Showroom Billings, MT USA

Red Oxx Showroom circa 2009.
Billings, Montana USA

At this point, they were garnering contracts from such notable names as Weider, Parabody and Gold’s Gym to name a few. As the company grew and diversified it was time to make some changes. While Jim’s dad continued with an offshoot of the company, Perry Jones, a Naval Rigger who came on board when they needed a quick cash investment, and Jim Junior decided to expand to a line of luggage and hunting accessories for the local market. The first factory retail location was selected for its central location and low overhead.

While locating the business in a blighted area was not the original plan, it has turned out to be an excellent strategy over the long haul. Today the Red Oxx production facility is still located just down the street, now in its eighth location with plenty of room to expand. Over the years, they’ve stayed connected to the local economy as their business has expanded beyond the confines of Montana.

a-noble-warranty-is-a-no-bull-warranty

A Noble Warranty is a “No Bull” Warranty

“A noble warranty is the kind of warranty that I myself like to have for products I buy.” says Jim Jr. When you make an investment with Red Oxx Gear, you expect it to last. In the event that something does happen, you want to be able to get it repaired. “We’re not here to ask you why it happened, just send it back to us and we’ll fix it. If we can’t fix it we’ll ship you a new bag, it’s that simple.” Our “No Bull” warranty is a safe bet because these bags are built to last. “Once it’s out the door, I don’t want to see it again.” says Perry. Think of it as worry-free peace of mind.

HAND MADE IN MONTANA

Keeping the “made in Montana” viewpoint has been a tough road. Red Oxx weight training accessories were sold in over 200 stores nationwide and a few international accounts as well. Entrepreneurial makers on the fringes of our U.S. economy could not stem the rise of the Chinese Industrial machine. As one Original Equipment Manufactured product after another was lost to off-shoring it became apparent that Red Oxx needed to do something radically different if it was going to survive into the 21st Century.

Starting in the mid 90s, Red Oxx dot com was established as a direct to consumer model from the word go. Tired of losing business to China, it became apparent that the game had changed and change was happening all around the economy. No more would the Oxx be held hostage by a fickle corporate buyer or forced out of competition by subsidized currency. The Internet had provided the perfect channel to reach out from the backwaters of Montana to the cities and towns of the world.

As the online business model began to flourish it was time to make the most difficult business decision to date. Ending the fitness product line that started the company was not something the senior partners took lightly. Red Oxx had a well-known, hard-earned and respected name in the fitness industry. Leaving that security behind for the unknown World Wide Web was a bit daunting. The time had come to bet it all and move boldly forward with the changing times.

Today the Red Oxx story continues with the finest luggage and sporting gear, all meticulously made by hand in America. Building a culture of quality and valuing customers to the point of not allowing anyone to come between them has led to our credo “Not sold at a store near you.”

We don’t just create the product, we live the lifestyle and test them every chance we get.  Hole in the Rock, Utah

We don’t just create the product, we live the lifestyle and test them every chance we get.
Hole in the Rock, Utah

Why We Do What We Do

roadster-mini-ruck-rucksack

Related Gear

Roadster Mini Ruck Rucksack
“I used the Roadster everywhere. Hiking, biking and I even took it to the beach.”

Since we live here in Montana, our bags are hand made in Montana instead of offshore. This is our dream to build local jobs for regular people. We looked at redevelopment of our blighted neighborhood. This meant more local jobs and the capacity to grow. There’s only so much time in life to do good work. There’s the heart and soul of Montana in the hands-on touch of the people that work for us in every one of our bags.

Today’s Internet capabilities with e-commerce communication, you can VOIP somebody in Scotland for very little money. So, it’s cheap and fast to do global business. You can truly do business while you’re sleeping. That said, we’ve given up on the direct mail marketing model. It’s too difficult to measure the return on investment. It’s been several years since we printed and mailed a brochure. Still, we like to keep in touch with our customers on a personal level and actually do have a retail store located in Billings, Montana.

Lean Manufacturing in American Industry

factory-8a

Made in America used to stand for mass production and the Unions. As high-tech as we are with our computers, our Internet sales, and customer service, we’re still basically a hand-crafted shop. We overbuild everything to military specifications (Mil Spec) for the civilian market. The questions we ask include: “Are you going to build stuff at the mass market level, sacrificing quality for quantity or are you going to build things that are built to last in line with classic old world craftsmanship?” That’s where our quality is perpetual.

Factory #8 Recycled timber, vintage military containers and natural lighting. Our new factory is energy efficient, with modern technology.

Factory #8
Recycled timber, vintage military containers and natural lighting. Our new factory is energy efficient, featuring modern technology.


Built in 1953 as a ball bearing warehouse, Factory #8  is now home to our manufacturing operations.  Urban Renewal, Billings, MT

Built in 1953 as a ball bearing warehouse, Factory #8 is now home to our manufacturing operations.
Urban Renewal, Billings, Montana

Since we deal directly with the customer, if there’s any kind of problem with the product we can change gears immediately and rectify the situation. But when you’re dealing with huge sea container loads of goods in the global market place, our kind of personal touch doesn’t occur. The feedback time is too long. Companies are ordering from China or Vietnam a year in advance. Red Oxx on the other hand, is building your bag one to one.

Proposed Original Project - the plan was to recycle shipping containers for the front and back section of the building.

Proposed Original Project
The original plan was to recycle shipping containers for the front and back section of the building.

Red Oxx is training our staff with the Lean Manufacturing training program offered by the Montana Manufacturers Extension Center. The idea behind this was to bring all of our new hires operating with lean principles and understanding manufacturing theory and of course, to empower them with confidence.

proposed-new-project-sweetest-place

Where is the Sweetest Place on Earth?

Mazabuka is a small town in Zambia known as the “sweetest place on earth.” The idea behind starting our overseer corporation Mazabuka L.L.C. is to take a blighted area of downtown Billings, using a property that sits in what is known as the B.I.R.D., (Billings Industrial Revitalization District) and doing something unique with it.

classic-design

Classic Design

Your bag will last your lifetime because it’s a classic design. Like a pair of favorite Levis 501 jeans. By making 501 jeans the same for more than a century, there’s a sense of trust. We know they’ll fit every time and how long they’ll last. You can wear them for almost any casual event.

Another example is our Tri-fold Rigger Wallet. I remember getting one as a kid. I still have one now. From the Market Tote Green Grocery Bag to your Rigger Wallet to a Carry-on Bag for a trip or a Backpack for yourself or your kid, we have the kinds of gear that are meant for use in everyday living.

What this means is bringing jobs downtown, good paying jobs, not just service jobs, manufacturing jobs. We’re looking to improve all the physical properties located there and build big. This is about half a block of redevelopment. This would bring small companies to move in adjacent to us or across the way.

Imagine a business model that includes a website and a local brick and mortar. For example, a meat company, they could sell meats on the Internet. Another local project that we’re involved in is called Rescue the Rims. We’ve picked up a couple tons worth of garbage and we’re still trying to get some tow trucks to pull abandoned vehicles from the bottom of the rims.

CEO Jim Markel helping carry boxes of paracord, fit to be tied. Guatemala, Central America

CEO Jim Markel helping carry boxes of paracord, fit to be tied.
Guatemala, Central America

Free Trade isn’t Free

Red Oxx supports corporate responsibility programs. You can’t fix the whole world, you just have to fix the little part you come in contact with. Look for opportunities to fix the little parts you can.

For example: we use a product on all of our bags called the Monkey Fist Zip Knot. Originally, the zip knot was made in California but now a small village in Guatemala ties our zip knots. Years ago, I would travel to Guatemala and when I visited the village and saw they were living in a rather poor state. Their standard of living was below par, barely at the subsistence level. Imagine this in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Immediately we renegotiated the contract price for the Monkey’s Fist and offered them what they were worth. They were being hosed by the other guys! After examining the situation in Guatemala, we decided to invest in a new clean dry workshop. Our workers have a nice place to work and cook lunch while they’re tying knots.

Grainmaker Mill in action

Grainmaker Mill in action.

The next major need I could see was need for sanitation. There was not a flush toilet around so we decided to invest in a flush toilet and a shower for the workers there. It was their first flush toilet. Consequently, with the sinks, the toilet, and the nice clean workspace overall sanitation health has improved. Their standard of living has started to climb. Just little things like a radio, books, money to pay school tuition fees, which are paid out of pocket in counties like Guatemala. This has made a major impact by going there and making sure my people are getting paid. Our Fair Trade experience has been something that we’re proud of. Therefore, it was quite a surprise when they approached us for a micro loan to build a mollinillo. Spanish for corn grinding mill, they are the central hub of village life. Women gather and grind corn every two or three days to keep it fresh.

It’s more of a social program to own a business like this and provide for a community. It was quite a shock he was going entrepreneurial. They became inspired to go out and start their own business. Having a little bit of capital from doing the Monkey’s Fists has allowed them to dream big. It’s going to be a store, living quarters and a laundry facility and a toilet all in one.

Red Oxx's famous Monkey Fist Zip Knot

Red Oxx’s famous Monkey Fist Zip Knot.

My other project that I’m working on has been the Mossi Nets project. These mosquito nets help keep malaria at bay in Africa. As a bonus, it keeps dollars local by buying the nets, which are made nearby and that’s a lot different from just writing a check. While there, we do a spot health check, hand out nets, shirts and dresses for little girls and end up going to some real remote locations. So bringing them some healthcare has become a little ray of sunshine in their lives.

Promotion Corporate Pairing Program

The Red Oxx Corporate program is designed for small and mid-sized companies. Corporate orders can range anywhere from 10 units up to 1000 units. If you’re looking to reward that inner circle of customers or board members, our bags make a significant statement to how you value them. They’ll remember the name of your company when you give them a nice gift like this. Choose from any of our vibrant 12 colors including mixing colored panels. Adding your company colors in a custom colored bag, complete with your logo embroidered on the bag makes a bold statement.