Furnace Record Pressing moves the needle with vinyl record manufacturing in Fairfax County

While Fairfax County is well known as a global hub for defense, IT and cyber companies, it is also home to a company in a surprising segment of the music industry. Yes, the music industry. And that’s no spin.

Founded in 1996, Furnace Record Pressing manufactures high-quality vinyl records for wholesale distribution at its 50,000 square foot state-of-the-art record pressing facility in the Alexandria area of Fairfax County. And while the music industry is generally associated with places like Nashville, New York, or Los Angeles, the company says Fairfax County is an ideal place for its location.

“We do all of Metallica’s vinyl. We do all of the Foo Fighters and Nirvana catalog. We do the Red Hot Chili Peppers catalog… and records for Sony, Universal and Warner Brothers,” said Mark Reiter, director of manufacturing operations at Furnace Record Pressing. The company also presses vinyl records for a select group of new music artists.

And business is booming despite the impact of the pandemic, Reiter said. Furnace had to lay off some staff at the beginning of the pandemic, but it received a Paycheck Protection Program loan to bring back those employees. Over the past year the company added 24 new hires, for a total of 73 current employees.

During the pandemic the “vinyl resurgence” of demand for “old style” records over the past 15 years actually increased, Reiter said.

The vinyl resurgence started around 2007, when vinyl sales made a sudden jump – and by the early 2010s, global vinyl sales were booming, according to Nielsen.com. Vinyl records were the main vehicle for the commercial distribution of pop music from the 1950s until the 1980s and 90s and then largely replaced by the compact disc (CD).

When the vinyl resurgence began there was only a handful of record pressing plants in the states and nobody’s prepared for what happened. Those plants have been making small-scale production runs. And there are genres of music where vinyl never died, never went away. And so they were servicing those markets,” Reiter said. “But nobody expected that out of nowhere people were going to want Green Day records or they insisted on having Led Zeppelin on vinyl or The Who or Neil Young.”

Since the pandemic began “there’s just been this insane demand for vinyl,” said Thao Nguyen, human resources manager at Furnace Record Pressing. “Vinyl demand has outpaced vinyl-pressing capacity.”

“A product like vinyl records not only made it through, but thrived in the pandemic,” according to Nguyen. “I have this running theory that maybe there is a nostalgic factor, like during the quarantine, everyone kind of fell back into things that they felt were comfortable to them. Whether that be watching old movies, reading good books, or listening to records.”

Launched 25 years ago, Furnace has pivoted its business focus several times corresponding to trends in the music industry.

“This started with one guy, Eric Astor, Furnace Record Pressing’s president and CEO. He owned a record label, and then a music distribution company, and then got into CD and DVD duplication. And then we got an offer from Warner Brothers to package a Metallica record and we sort of jumped in to action and learned how to do large scale packaging. And that was our point of entry into the business,” Reiter said.

“What separates us is we do quality at scale. So we’re trying to do both things, which is to make really, really good records, very quickly,” according to Reiter. In terms of its business strategy, Reiter said that Furnace focuses on “lean manufacturing” to produce the high-quality records efficiently.

“Without going too deep into it, lean manufacturing is an outcropping of the Toyota production system. And there’s sort of two threads that run through that. One is the elimination of waste and in process. And the other one is building a culture of mutual respect for your teammates. So I think in that way, pursuing those two avenues with almost like a spiritual dedication is probably what makes us different for sure,” Reiter explained.

Fairfax County is a great location for Furnace, Reiter said. Not only is there a vibrant music scene in Northern Virginia and the D.C. metropolitan region, but there are optimal location options for a manufacturing facility in Fairfax County. The company was first located in Merrifield and then moved to the Alexandria area of Fairfax County in 2018.

“Fairfax County is where we started and pulled our workforce from. So when we moved from this from the old facility to the new one, we wanted to retain that workforce, not lose all of that experience and dedication,” he said.

“And Fairfax County is strategically a smart place for us to be because we do import/export and we service several locations, distribution locations, on the eastern seaboard,” Reiter explained. “So we’re very close to large airports, one of which Dulles Airport handles a ton of air freight. We’re strategically situated near two major interstates north, south, east and west, and we are close to both the ports of Baltimore and Norfolk and we bring in sea freight pretty frequently. The actual material that vinyl is made of is polyvinyl chloride, PVC, which comes in from Holland, so we receive it at port and bring it here.”

“So being in Fairfax is strategically smart,” Reiter added.

July 15, 2021