Redline Steel CEO turns failure into success

Sunday, 05 November 2017, 09:43:13 PM. Erwin's goal to be 'the Amazon of home decor'

Jennifer R. Statham For AL.com

Redline Steel Founder and CEO Colin Wayne Erwin is a social media guru disguised as the unassuming owner of a home decor steel company.

The 28-year-old self-described "serial entrepreneur" talks about his mishaps and failures before talking about his successes in social media or steel. In fact, Erwin talks freely about one business mishap, opening an Extreme Nutrition store in south Huntsville that was only in operation for six months.

"I lost probably $70,000 plus shutting down that Extreme Nutrition, so that was a tough pill to swallow, but I don't regret it because I learned a lot from those failures," Erwin said. "I would say my success today is because of that failure."

The Huntsville native says learning to commit to a single "vertical," or to a single industry niche, has helped mold his work focus. Now Erwin owns Redline Steel, located in Huntsville, which is one of the largest customized steel manufacturers in the United States, specializing in home decor steel pieces.

"My advice for any entrepreneur is that I think a lot of it is derived off of your thought process and your work ethic. Look at this new business as a baby, a newborn baby, and you have to give it 100 percent attention all day, everyday. If you neglect it, it could hurt, and it will eventually die," Erwin said. "If you live for the weekends this is not the place for you. You need to be all in or don't even jump in at all, because you're going to lose."

"Really deep dive into 'Where it is that I want to be and what is it going to take for me to get there?'" he said. "Don't look at what you're already accomplished, keep preemptively looking ahead at your next goal."

Military to Modeling to Media

Erwin's career path started early and was unconventional. He was on his own by age 16, dropped out of high school and got his GED. He joined the U.S. Army at 17.

He served as a military policeman from 2006 to 2013, participating in operations based in Egypt, Iraq and then as a civilian in Afghanistan. In 2012, Erwin was a Department of Defense contractor and got injured in a rocket attack.

The rocket hit just over 3 feet from him, leaving him with shrapnel through his leg, tinnitus in his left ear, and nerve damage in his back. Erwin did physical therapy for six months as he transitioned out of the military. Along with physical therapy comes working out, but the gym was familiar territory for Erwin.

"I started working out in 2009 at Fort Worth, Texas, right before I went to Iraq. I was like 150 pounds soaking wet," he said. At 6 feet, 2 inches tall " I was like a walking stickman."

"I started working out since 2009 and never stopped. It became a passion for me," he said.

While transitioning out of the military in 2013 he did his first modeling job with FuriousFotog and within 30 days of taking photos he had about 100,000 followers on social media. During this time, Erwin contracted with several supplement companies as a "social media influencer" for more than two years.

"I acquired multiple six-figure contracts through digital marketing, and I learned very fast that this is something people need to take heed of," Erwin said. "If contracts are willing to pay so high for social influencers, imagine what they're making off of me."

Reshaping business models

Erwin said the business strategies of the companies he was contracted with began to change. He had less and less control over what he posted on his own social media profile pages, and he wanted to be in a career with more longevity. He let his contracts run out and began working with companies as a digital consultant. Meanwhile he started a nutritional supplement company called Integrity Driven Nutrition.

Consulting lead Erwin to the steel industry. While working out at the gym with Col. Marc Neely, Neely mentioned a steel baseball art piece he had made for his son. Erwin inquired about the piece and called the maker to order a piece for his own son. The steel company owner recognized Erwin from social media.

Erwin said he ended up consulting for the steel company and eventually made a deal to buy into the company. The deal fell through at the last minute. However, Erwin said he already had his mind made up to go into business and invested in the equipment he'd need the day after the deal failed.

"I saw a market opportunity based on a competitors analysis that there was a wide open market and that nobody had gone past a certain threshold," Erwin said. "I knew there was a lot of room for growth."

Part of the market opportunity Erwin saw was the under-utilizing the digital media to give Redline Steel a "direct to consumer model of business." Redline Steel does the majority of its sales online through its website and social media presence. The business expanded rapidly within the first year and went from only two employees to 40 today.

The company started in a 5,000 square-foot building, doubled to a 10,000 square-foot-building within 7 months, and to the current 52,000 square-foot- building located on Cochran Road in January 2017. Erwin also sold Integrity Driven Nutrition for a profit in Sept. 2017.

"I think it's hard for us to fathom and put projections on realistic goals. "We've grown so fast that it's hard to put a scale number to that. But I know where we're going to be, my vision for this company is to be as big as Amazon in home decor."

Within five years, his goal is for Redline Steel to be a billion-dollar company.

"I think we're going to disrupt the market," he said. "The brick and mortar stores, they're having a very difficult time. Everything needs to be transferred over to digital and also social platforms and online shopping needs to be something that's very preemptive," Erwin said. "Setting short-term goals and carrying those out and making sure that they're achievable in your mind set.

"When I say that I want to be as big as Amazon in home decor, some people look at me and say "You're crazy. That's never going to happen,'" he said. "Five years from now, they'll look at me like 'How did you do that?'"

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