For roughly a century, the primary medium to play back recorded sound was via the phonograph. Phonographs, which became vinyl records in the 1940s, are those large black discs your parents may have stored in crates in the attic.
Over the last 50 years the medium was eventually replaced by tape and digital technologies. Still, many music listeners acquired massive collections of records and even a small collection can consume plenty of attic space.
So instead of those old Motown, Chess and Stax records collecting dust or going to the local dump in the form of waste, a Germantown-based company called Vinylux has decided to – in their own words: “re-use, re-present, re-cycle and re-imagine” vinyl records to produce modern functional products.
Jeff Davis is the founder and creative force behind Vinylux products. While attending graduate school for industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design, Davis began Vinylux in Brooklyn, N.Y. With his wife and two children, Davis then moved to Germantown, which has a history of manufacturing and industrial properties> The move also lowered his overall operating costs substantially.
The philosophy behind Vinylux is to promote a society in which all that can be is re-used and recycled, promoting a sustainable and energy efficient society. Davis thinks he is very much a part of the movement that is “going green” – a euphemism for establishing an environmentally and energy conscious, sustainable future for the world.
Davis found inspiration to form his products as many of the great inventors have – by way of necessity. In art school he was experimenting with reshaping plastic and found that a design that he had as an idea looked very similar to a vinyl record. As the supplied plastic tended to be pricey, he tried out his idea with an old record and then Davis had his “eureka moment” as he says.
“I used to go to record stores and flea markets and yard sales and pick through the record bins looking for the Beatles or Frank Sinatra,” said Davis. “And these record store or flea market owners would say ‘You know you come here and you buy three hundred records from me and you take all day looking for them and if you just bought all 5,000 records I’d give you a much better deal. My challenge then as a designer and a business owner was to come up with a product that could really take advantage of any record.”
Vinylux has been in business since 2002 and now manufactures clocks, drink coasters, sketchbooks, snack trays, bowls, vinyl cuffs, ornaments and various other custom products made from old vinyl records. Davis’ products ship wholesale to places throughout the world.
With digital media replacing the need for records, vinyl has developed into a niche product used primarily by disk jockeys or nostalgic music listeners. Some vinyl records have increased in value similar to other collectibles. With this collectability some of the vinyl enthusiasts have been critical of Vinylux.
Davis rejects the criticism. He says that first he was a collector of vinyl through which he realized there are literally millions of records in existenc–many of which are scratched or worn and too damaged for listening purposes anyway.
“Most of the vinyl I get has passed through several levels of vinyl enthusiasts before it gets to me,” added Davis.
There is no shortage of vinyl as a medium for creation. Vinylux brings in about 150,000 to 200,000 records a year from a variety of sources. Most of the records that go into the products are donated from around New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, but sometimes the company gets large donations from radio stations, schools and libraries.
“We‘ve recently took in a full tractor-trailer load from a company in Dallas that shipped them up to us – 27 pallets of records.”
Vinylux also works with local record shops that support those niche collectors, by offering the shops more buying power to acquire large volumes from private collectors. A certain private collector may have thousands of records but the local shop only wants a select amount and Vinylux will help take over the rest of the collection.
“I get inquiries almost everyday from people who have stores interested in selling our stuff.”
With using a new medium to make an old one better, Vinylux has been able to find success and capitalize on the growing concentration of consumers online.
“I think I’m really fortunate that I started this business just when Internet communication was become really commonplace,” said Davis. “Instead of having to print up expensive flyers and spend a lot of money on postage I could just email people images of my products, prices – communicate with them really easily and start building up a contact list of digital addresses rather than physical addresses.”
Vinylux products can be purchased at various vendors around the world. In Philadelphia the Big Green Earth Store at 934 South St. across the street from Whole Foods carries some Vinylux products. Shop owner Tony Fisher also promotes local artists and shares many of the same philosophies about a sustainable future as Jeff Davis.
“The record coasters are by far our top [Vinylux] product and the recycled record bowl made out of an LP and the sketch book made from the cover are all good sellers for the store,” said Fisher. “Typically the disco ones do really well, you can specify what you like, whether it’s disco or rock or 70’s and 80’s and they’ll fill that request.”
Visit Vinylux.net for more information on all Vinylux products, purchasing information and custom orders. Davis would like all patrons to understand his products are no longer playable and that his mission is to “re-invent” a new product from what once was primarily waste.
“Ask a lot of questions and dare to ask questions that you may think are dumb,” said Davis to any aspiring entrepreneur with a bright idea. “The only way you’re going to learn is to ask people that know more than you. There are a lot of online marketplaces now where anyone who has a product or an idea or a painting or T-shirt can post it online and have a little shop.”