The world’s largest roller skate maker is in Lenexa
Deep in Lenexa’s subterranean Meritex Executive Park, a little company called R. C. Sports quietly goes about the business of keeping the world on a roll. Literally.
The official birth of the rollerskate was 200 years ago — Frenchman Monsieur Petibledin patented the invention in 1819 — and today R.C. Sports is the world’s largest distributor of skates and skating products. The name Lenexa is stamped on hundreds of thousands of feet around the world.
It started in 1958 in a small warehouse in Merriam, Kansas, when Carl Smith started a little business assembling roller skates. In 1972, Smith sold to Ron Cretin, who put his initials on the business. Today, R.C. Sports is owned by its 14 employees.
The company assembles and distributes roughly 40,000 pairs of skates a year, including 4,000 pairs of The Lenexa Skate.
“There’s a Chicago skate, a Detroit skate and even a California skate, so about 25 years ago, we decided there should be a Lenexa skate,” says chief operating officer Mike Munden.
“We laugh because most of the people who wear The Lenexa have no idea where or what Lenexa is,” he says. Wholesale customers often mispronounce the name, calling it the Lex-ana skate.
“You go to any roller rink in the United States and there’s a good chance the majority of skates on the floor were assembled here in Lenexa,” Munden says.
R.C. Sports receives parts from as far away as China and Cambodia. Some of the boots come from Red Wing, Minnesota, but the plates, which connect the boot to the wheels, are made in Independence.
Of the 40,000 pairs of boots assembled in the Lenexa underground, about 10,000 pairs go to Sonic Drive-Ins across the country. R.C. Sports is a sponsor of the Sonic Skate-Off each August, the competition for the best skating carhop in the country.
When Munden started with the company nearly 40 years ago, most skates and their parts were black. Over the years, he’s witnessed an explosion of color and fashion accents. For example, the company offers 240 shoelace colors, patterns and sparkles. Today, about 20 percent of the company’s business is devoted to women’s roller derby.
“More women than men skate, so it’s definitely women driving the fashion statement of roller skates,” he says.