Record-player maker Victrola moving its HQ to Denver

Not every technology Denver is attracting is new. In fact, one is very vintage, like gramophone old.

The modern-day successor to Victrola, which popularized records and record players in the first third of the 1900s, has relocated its headquarters to Denver ahead of an aggressive expansion strategy.

“We are launching new products that we know have never been seen before — what people need when it comes to a record player today,” said Scott Hagen, Victrola’s CEO.

The company recently relocated from Long Island to the Shift Workspaces in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Its new home is in a building once used to repair audio equipment and consumer electronics. Be it coincidence or destiny, old Victrolas left behind now decorate a space the brand inhabits.

Victrola is looking to grow its headcount from about two dozen to 40 employees this year as it aggressively expands its product line to appeal to a new generation of record enthusiasts, Hagen said. It is looking for a financial controller, commercial finance analyst, cost accountant and product manager. More hires are expected in sales and marketing, product development and commercial operations down the road.

Victrola got its start in 1901 in Camden, N.J., as the Victor Talking Machine Co., making gramophones and in the process helping spawn the recording industry. But it also was a master of furniture design, making its expensive and finely-crafted cabinets status symbols and collectibles.

One hundred years ago, the company shifted from wind-up cranks to electrical devices and went mass market, becoming the world’s largest producer of records and record players. In1929, it ended up in the hands of RCA. Victrola survived the advent of radio but not another entertainment device families gathered around — the television. Starting in the 1950s, consumers moved on and the brand was eventually discontinued.

Over time, vinyl records were replaced briefly by 8-track tapes, then cassettes, then CDs, then digital music and then streaming services. And yet, somehow, they never went away completely. Millennials drove a rebound in vinyl record sales starting around 2007, one that continues to this day. Record sales have tripled from $200 million in 2013 to $600 million in 2020, and would be even higher were it not for a shortage of vinyl, Hagen said.

That interest in turn drove a rebound in record player sales. About 15 years ago, a company called Innovative Technology launched, developing and selling a variety of niche products, before eventually finding its groove selling turntables, many with a vintage design. But its products were somewhat generic and susceptible to knock-offs. In 2015, the company acquired rights to the Victrola brand, which consumers still recognized and respected even though it has been languishing for years, Hagen said.

“Some of my best musical memories were winding up a Victrola at my grandma’s house and listening to jazz artists back in the day,” Hagen said. “When they purchased the brand, there was something special going on. I don’t think they knew what they had.”

Even for those who never cranked up or lifted the needle on an original Victrola, the Grammys, with their gramophone-shaped awards, served as a reminder of Victrola. The two dogs synonymous with the brand, Nipper and Chipper, were not acquired.

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RAF Industries, a private investment group in Pennsylvania, acquired Innovative Technology and made Victrola a free-standing subsidiary. It stepped up efforts to understand what consumers wanted when it came to audio entertainment. Last October, the company launched its own online record store, not so much to corner the market but to better understand what the artists producing records and consumers buying them cared about most, Hagen said. It also worked on acoustical engineering improvements to set future products apart.

Hagen said adults in the 18 to 34 age range, not nostalgic baby boomers, are driving the revival in records sales. Those young adults subscribe to digital music services but are seeking the full range of audio experiences.

“They are music lovers and they want to appreciate the analog,” he said. “They want sound quality. They want the player to look good and they want it integrated.”

Victrola would probably still be based in the greater New York area were it not for the pandemic. The company was looking to relocate from Port Washington on Long Island, which was difficult to access, to Brooklyn when a COVID-19 scare forced Hagen to send his staff home to work.

They performed well, leaving Hagen less worried he would lose employees if he relocated the headquarters. The company sifted through 19 possible locations, weighing accessibility, appeal to new hires, the cost of living and the cost of doing business.

“We wanted it to be a cultural community that we felt fit with the brand, with music and music appreciation, with art and art appreciation,” Hagen said.

And Denver hit all the right notes.

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