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A combat veteran who made a customized steel flag for President Trump has retooled his Alabama home decor business during the coronavirus pandemic to design free products for everyday heroes on the frontlines of the crisis.
Colin Wayne, CEO of Redline Steel in Huntsville, decided to give away steel wall decor as a thank you to professionals putting their health on the line during the pandemic, including nurses, truckers, health care workers and U.S. Postal Service mail carriers.
"It's just been a tremendous way that I can -- from a small town in Alabama -- make a difference," Wayne, a 30-year-old Army veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and a former fitness model, told Fox News. "And I can really tell that it has."
Since launching the giveaway from his online store, Redline Steel has gifted more than $2 million worth of product to first responders and essential workers across the country. The company has 17 different giveaway products, including new additions designed specifically for each profession -- and it has shipped more than 300,000 products during the pandemic, Wayne said.
"I really believe that if you're operating from a place of integrity that you can't go wrong," Wayne said. "And so we started to offer free products, literally free products, to first responders and medical professionals."
Rocket attack survivor
Wayne considers himself blessed that he's even in a position today to give back.
Wayne was a military police officer in the Army serving in Afghanistan when he was nearly killed on May 3, 2012. A rocket attack on his base in the Paktika province blew up the gym with Wayne inside. He was severely injured with shrapnel in his legs, nerve damage to his back and a traumatic brain injury.
Through months of physical therapy and surgery, Wayne did more than recover. He built his physique so much that he became a fitness model after being discharged from the Army.
"It's ironic because I almost got killed in the gym and then I made it kind of a career," Wayne said.
In 2016, Wayne launched Redline Steel, a home furnishing retailer that specializes in steel-made products, to transition out of modeling to something with more longevity.
"I feel like I can offer a lot more than just my looks," said Wayne, a husband and father of three. "So that's why I started my business, Redline Steel, to provide generational wealth for my family."
White House attention
The veteran-owned business caught the attention of the White House last year and Wayne was invited to represent Alabama at the White House's "Made in America Showcase."
He had a chance to meet President Trump briefly at the event and he apparently left an impression. Earlier this year, the White House contacted Wayne saying the president wanted to order a flag art piece from his collection. The stars and stripes steel wall hanging was custom engraved with "God Bless America."
Wayne wanted to gift the flag to the president, but the White House insisted that Trump pay so he owned it personally and could take the art home with him after he leaves office.
Wayne was beaming with pride that the commander in chief would want to purchase a U.S. flag from him. A receipt shows the full price with shipping was $173.84.
"It meant that he liked our product enough that he was willing to pay for it, and that's exactly what he did," Wayne said.
The White House confirmed the purchase.
“President Trump purchased a piece of art from Redline Steel earlier this year with personal funds," a senior administration official told Fox News. "The piece is among the president’s personal belongings at the White House.”
Retooling the business
Now times are different in the midst of a pandemic when Americans are focused on their health and livelihoods and not buying new home decor. So Wayne retooled his business to focus on giving back to the people on the frontlines of the deadly coronavirus.
His company is also benefiting from the federal government's new Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses impacted by the coronavirus. On April 8, he received a $238,800 forgivable loan to help cover his employees' payroll.
The free artwork promotion is still going on. What's been most gratifying to Wayne has been seeing positive posts on social media of coronavirus responders receiving the free items from friends, families and sometimes strangers. Families, for example, have been ordering the Postal Service steel wall art and leaving them for their mail carriers as a surprise thank you.
Wayne said he launched the giveaway March 15 when he was driving to work thinking of his stepmom, a nurse, who died recently from a non-COVID-19 illness. He decided he wanted to do something to uplift all the nurses who are working hard to fight coronavirus.
His warehouse already had 1,000 pieces in the inventory of heart-shaped "Nurse Life" steel wall art. He'd give them away for free on his website -- no verification needed -- for nurses. All they'd have to do is pay the $5.97 for shipping anywhere in the United States.
The promotion went so well, all 1,000 pieces were ordered within an hour, Wayne said.
Wayne's steel manufacturing company was able to stay open during the pandemic because under Alabama's shelter-in-place order manufacturers of steel were considered essential businesses.
So he made the business decision to keep his employees busy by expanding the promotion to a range of other professions, including respiratory therapists, farmers, police and more.
Support for employees
Last month, as a thank you to his employees, Wayne surprised them and announced he'd cover their April rent and mortgage payments.
It cost about $20,000 to handle the housing payments for roughly 35 employees. Nine employees declined the help. Instead, Wayne rewarded them with $500 bonuses in their paychecks.
“Family is not only blood," said Wayne, who challenged other businesses to cover rent in a March 18 social media posting. "Family is who has your back when you need it the most and it's the least convenient for you.”
Sending free steel wall art would cost Wayne money in the short term if customers only want the one product. But he gambled that once people receive his American-made gift, they'll return to buy something more. By reaching a new range of customers around the country, Wayne believes his company will grow long-term.
As a result of the surge in orders, the warehouse has hired 18 new staffers in the last month to bring the total to 62 people. Wayne is looking to hire between 20-25 more employees to keep up with the manufacturing and shipments.
“I believe in what we're doing," Wayne said of the giveaway. "And I think that it'll come back in time."
To order free products from the giveback collection, click here. Customers can choose steel wall art for farmers, firefighters, military, police, medical professionals and traditional inspirational words like "Hope" and "Faith." One item with the black matte finish is free, but flat-rate shipping is $5.97.