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All journeys begin with a first step. For Red Oxx this step was taken by CEO Jim Markel’s Veteran father, Jim Senior. In 1986 Jim Senior, Capt. Ret. completed his 20 years of military service. He decided to retire here in Billings, Montana. Jim Senior spent time serving both as a Gunny in the Marine Corps., and as a Special Forces Green Beret Officer in the Army.
Jim Senior’s lifetime around parachutes included tours in Vietnam as a Jump Master, Parachute Rigger and S.F. Team Leader. This commanding experience would contribute to the birth of the Oxx. Along the way, he maintained a passion for fitness. Therefore, he decided to create and sell some unique gym workout accessories.
Captain Markel’s skills as a Rigger came in handy when creating lifting straps and weight belts. Soon Jim Senior was crafting fitness gear one at a time in his home basement. This action set in motion the vehicle that grew into the Red Oxx the world recognizes today.
"Back in 1986, our first products were made from military surplus webbing that had been slated for decommissioning." says Jim Senior. This bootstrapping philosophy was thus genetically coded into the birth of the company. Each new weight lifting product was introduced and quickly accepted by the local market. However, it became apparent that sales were fast outstripping the production capability of one man.
Time to bring in the number one Veteran son Jim Markel Junior. "We were both in the military for a small overlap, then Dad retired. I continued on active service in Marine Corps Recon. After I got out my Dad came down to Colorado. He asked me to join him working with his fledgling fitness products company in Billings, Montana." says Jim Jr..
Father and son then worked together to assemble a variety of industrial sewing machines. Eventually there was a plan to move to a "real" factory location. No more cramped basement now, goodbye to spillover into the garage.
The final straw was turning the kitchen range into a webbing cutter. There was a clever air "vent" in the form of a box fan in the kitchen window.
Jim Markel CEO and Perry Jones President
At this point, they were garnering contracts from such notable names in the fitness industry as Weider, Parabody and local lifters Gold’s Gym, to name a few. As the company grew and diversified, it was time to make some changes. Jim Senior moved on with other ideas and no longer works for Red Oxx. He left the company in the capable hands of his son Jim Jr..
It was then that Navy veteran Perry Jones, also a former Parachute Rigger, joined the crew as company President. CEO Jim Jr. decided to expand to a line of rifle cases and hunting accessories for the local Montana sportsman market. The first factory and retail store combination was selected for its central location and low overhead.
Red Oxx Factory and Store #2
While locating the business in a blighted area was not the original plan, it turned out to be an excellent financial strategy over the long haul. Today, the Red Oxx manufacturing production facility is still located just down the street. This modern manufacturing facility is now in its eighth location with plenty of room to expand. "Over the years, we’ve stayed connected to the local economy as our business expanded beyond the confines of Montana." says Jim Jr., hereby referred to simply as Jim.
Keeping the "made in Montana" viewpoint has been a tough road. Early on, Red Oxx weight training accessories were sold in over 200 stores nationwide, and a few international accounts as well. However, Entrepreneurial manufacturers on the fringes of our U.S. economy could not stem the rise of the Chinese Industrial machine. Soon one Original Equipment Manufactured (commonly referred to as OEM) 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.
Early Red Oxx Factory
"Starting in the mid ’90s, our website Red Oxx dot com was established as a direct-to-consumer model from the word go." says Jim. 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. Red Oxx could now reach out from the backwaters of Montana to the cities and towns of the world.
"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. That human touch goes into every one of our bags." says Jim.
Jim Overlanding with Red Oxx Bags
Today’s Internet capabilities with e-commerce communication, you can can have a live virtual on-line meeting with somebody in Scotland. So, it’s fast and profitable to do global business. Even better, you can truly do business while you’re sleeping.
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 Jim and Perry took lightly. Red Oxx had become 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.
Early Red Oxx History
Speaking of changing times. With the recent "lockdowns" causing gym closures nationwide, Jim noticed there was still some of the original lifting strap webbing in storage. "Why not bring back our fitness category?" And so today, Red Oxx has reengaged the home fitness craze with a new version of an old friend.
The Red Oxx story continues with the world’s finest nylon luggage and sporting gear. It’s all meticulously made by hand by dedicated craftsmen and craftswomen right here in America. Red Oxx has forged to build a culture of true quality. We highly value customers to the point there isn’t any middle-man to come between us. This business philosophy has led to our credo "Not sold at a store near you."
Red Oxx is Rugged and Reliable
In the next installment of the Red Oxx Story, Jim discusses the impact of Red Oxx on the local Billings neighborhood. He also covers his journey in Free Trade work in Guatemala. He details the positive impact it’s had on the local villagers living there.