Vinyl Vi­sion­ary

Forbes - - Entrepreneurs - BY Zack O’MAL­LEY Green­burg

a deal­maker re­sus­ci­tates the Vic­trola brand and makes a killing in, yes, record play­ers.

Corey Lieblein isn’t ex­actly old-fash­ioned. He lives in a Long Is­land, New York, home with mid­cen­tury mod­ern decor, and he named his com­pany In­no­va­tive Tech­nol­ogy in a nod to the elec­tronic gad­gets he’s been sell­ing since 2003. Yet the best busi­ness de­ci­sion he ever made was buy­ing a 112-year-old record-player brand: Vic­trola.

Three years ago, In­no­va­tive Tech­nol­ogy was do­ing $60 mil­lion in an­nual sales, a lit­tle over half of that com­ing from a bur­geon­ing busi­ness ped­dling generic turnta­bles through re­tail­ers like Sam’s Club and Kohl’s for as lit­tle as $49.99. But Lieblein longed for a brand iden­tity that would res­onate with con- sumers. So he pur­chased the de­funct trade­mark for Vic­trola, one of Amer­ica’s first man­u­fac­tur­ers of record play­ers, pay­ing “deep into the six fig­ures.” “It was the juici­est cherry on top of the most deca­dent sun­dae,” says the trim 46-yearold with Mitt Rom­ney hair. “Now we had the most his­tor­i­cally rich brand on planet Earth.”

Though Lieblein—a con­sum­mate sales­man who’s hawked ev­ery­thing from DVD play­ers to women’s cloth­ing—is prone to ex­ag­ger­a­tion, vinyl’s come­back has been im­pres­sive. Af­ter nearly spin­ning into obliv­ion, LP sales have in­creased 12 straight years, leap­ing 9% to 14.3 mil­lion in 2017. That’s 14% of all nondig­i­tal al­bum sales, a small slice of the phys­i­cal cat­e­gory that is still dom­i­nated by the de­clin­ing CD for­mat, but last year’s vinyl sales were the high­est since Nielsen started mea­sur­ing in the early 1990s. And they’re still grow­ing, says David Bakula, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of in­dus­try in­sights at Nielsen: “From a mass-mer­chant stand­point, you see them all the time in places like Ur­ban Out­fit­ters, Tar­get and Wal­mart.”

Lieblein’s prod­ucts can be found in those places and be­yond—in­clud­ing in the foyer of his head­quar­ters in Port Wash­ing­ton, New York, where suit­case turnta­bles gleam in chrome and ruby red (the ’50s Retro model) across from creaky wooden mu­sic play­ers (the Avi­a­tor) that look more likely to be found at a garage sale than a shop­ping mall.

Pri­vately held In­no­va­tive Tech­nol­ogy, which em­ploys about 50 full-time plus an­other 50 or so sales con­trac­tors, now does $100 mil­lion in an­nual rev­enue, roughly 80% of which comes from Vic­tro­labranded units. And it’s been prof­itable for 15 straight years. Ac­cord­ing to the re­search out­fit NPD Group, that makes Lieblein’s com­pany the world’s top seller of record play­ers. Though au­dio­philes may pre­fer high-end Euro­pean op­tions that can run north of $100,000 per unit, Lieblein has more room to run with ca­sual lis­ten­ers at his lower price point. “As kids go out of col­lege dorms and they’re buy­ing their first homes or rent­ing, I see more of those things be­com-

Turn­ing the ta­bles: When Corey Lieblein, shown in his Port Wash­ing­ton, New York, head­quar­ters, added the Vic­trola brand, “the mar­ket went ab­so­lutely crazy.”

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