T.J. Tollakson was tired of paying extra fees to the airlines to check his bicycle whenever he traveled. So, to circumvent those charges, he designed a new kind of luggage to hold his disassembled bike.
With that idea, Rüster Sports was born in Iowa ten years ago.
“It started out as a personal invention, but soon grew enough demand to dictate manufacturing them,” said Tollakson, the company’s founder and CEO. “I started making the bags with just my mom, and we sold something like 20 in the first year.”
Since then, Rüster Sports has continued to challenge the status quo and now distributes its products worldwide. Tollakson, a professional triathlete, has also added Dimond Bikes – a lineup of world-class racing bicycles – to his innovative luggage, which he calls the Hen House collection. That branding and the company’s name are a nod to its heartland heritage.
“As an Iowa company, we wanted to keep that agricultural farm-based feeling and that’s where we got Rüster,” he said. “It’s spelled a little differently than the farm animal, but it means the same thing.”
Tollakson, a triathlete, said the motto not only stands for getting up early and getting to work, it also means making something out of yourself as an individual. It’s an attitude, he said, that helps drive the company’s success.
“It has a pretty significant meaning to us and we continue to try to push the envelope of technology and innovation in products that we manufacture right here in Des Moines, Iowa,” Tollakson said.
He explained that having the company based in Iowa not only gives him access to an abundance of homegrown talent, but it also provides a strong selling point for recruiting folks from outside the state.
“What we’ve found is when people come here and visit, they see the community, they see the company, they see the passion, and they learn to love the rest of what we have,” he said. “They can really appreciate the low cost of living, the low tax rate, the affordability and the high-paying jobs we have here.”