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.”