Record-making is a specialized business. Not many vinyl-pressing plants exist in the United States these days: Reports estimate that there are between 12 and 20 facilities making records stateside. But it’s not enough. Existing plants — including ones located overseas — can’t keep up with soaring demand for new vinyl.
That’s why Northern Virginia company Furnace MFG is planning to open its own pressing plant.
Based in Merrifield in Fairfax County, Furnace MFG has been in business since 1996, when it began cranking out large numbers of CDs and DVDs for various clients. Later on the company got into the vinyl business, which proved to be lucrative. It started taking vinyl orders and sending them to pressing plants in Europe, handling packaging and shipping from its Virginia facility. Furnace’s sales doubled, according to Virginia Business magazine.
Furnace still didn’t manufacture its own records, though. Even with annual revenue reportedly in the multimillions, the company deemed the equipment too expensive. A new press could cost as much as $500,000, Furnace president and CEO Eric Astor told the New York Times in 2013.
But in February, Astor says, he got his big break. He’d been in touch with a man in Mexico whose family had purchased a number of presses to use in their plastics business. The man initially wanted to start his own pressing operation, but decided it was too big a job. So Astor bought the machines and sent some of his employees to pick them up from Mexico City. Retrieving the presses was no small task, Astor says.
“It was quite an adventure, like a telenovela, if you will,” says the business owner. One of the men helping his staff move the presses out of their facilities armed himself with a machete to scare away squatters, he says, and Furnace employees were encouraged to lay low to deflect attention in public.
“It was obvious [that] gringos were in town taking equipment out of the country,” Astor says. “We had to shut down streets, and there was all kinds of commotion… We really didn’t think the machines would make their way to the U.S…. It was kind of a crapshoot.”
But he says it was worth the trouble because usable, affordable record presses are hard to find. It could be a big boon for his business, too. Word of a new American pressing plant should relieve the many musicians and record labels frustrated by existing facilities’ long wait times, caused by relentless demand at a limited number of plants.
Furnace MFG hasn’t decided on a location for the facility, Astor says, and that might take a while. He wants to buy a building — concerned about the risk of installing more than $2 million in equipment in a leased space — and he wants to stay close to Merrifield, because he’d like to keep the skilled staff he already has.
Astor estimates that getting the plant off the ground will cost several million dollars overall, and could take at least a year or longer, especially considering the level of technical savvy required.
“This is kind of an art form,” Astor says. “You really need to know the machines. You need to know the squeals and squeaks and hisses and know what they mean. Because there’s no manual for any of this stuff.”