I had been cruising around Philly listening to XPN for a couple days. Lou Reed had just passed away. It was a very appropriate time to visit Jeff Davis in the Vinylux studio, a business created in celebration of everyone’s favorite music.
Jeff began collecting vintage records in 2002 to re-purpose into home decor and fashion accessories, the production of which looks similar to most of what I have seen in other studios: work tables, hand-tools, storage space. However, over time, Jeff realized there were machines and tools he required for his designs that did not exist — a vacuum to clean vinyl splinters, a machine to melt a record into a smooth bowl in a matter of seconds — so he took to creating them himself. Most artists show off their finished products, but in Jeff’s case some of his most impressive designs are his machines.
It wasn’t a surprise that a trip to Jeff’s studio would be incredibly exciting for me — all that vinyl and someone to talk to about my favorite albums — but it was a surprise to learn about the business savvy of one of our oldest vendors, to meet an entrepreneur who cares deeply for the safety of his employees, and see such an exciting company sprouting from a city I called home for so many years. Meet Jeff Davis, small business owner, expert at reincarnating old vinyl, and, in my opinion, example of what it means to be living the dream.
What are your most essential tools?
My hands, trim router, machines I have built to aid in the fabrication of our products.
Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Having the task of creating products from records limits my scope, but also pushes me to innovate and consider the material in a very thorough way.
Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Lunch, walking the dog, listening to records (but honestly, there is not much down time)
What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Running a business is the business of the business. Designing, making, creating, etc. is part of the picture, but running your own business is not about being a good designer–a whole different set of skills and information is needed to start, run, and sustain a business.
How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Every day there are small victories–getting big orders out, coming up with a great new product. We celebrate with food.
What quote keeps you motivated?
“Maybe there’s just two extra pieces”–this is a quote from an episode of the Amazing Race that stuck with Jeff. There was a couple completing a statue as one of their challenges. They made a statue that looked complete but there were extra pieces. One teammate tried to figure out how they were incorporated into the statue, while the other just offered the advice that perhaps there were extra pieces to throw them off. It has offered Jeff a reminder to try to see things from another perspective and not be thrown off by what is handed to you.
What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Hire someone to do the books, make the sales calls, and organize the admin side of things.
How do you set goals for yourself?
I try to have new product for every trade show (2x year) and for important catalogs (like the UncommonGoods holiday book).
What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I am looking into purchasing a CNC router. It is a computer-controlled cutting tool that will make us very agile and aid in the design and production process.
UPDATE from Jeff: I have purchased the CNC router! It is really helpful in the aid of designing new products, a truly time-saving, mind-expanding tool. Woo hoo!
How do you recharge your creativity?
I read a lot, and try to synthesize the ideas and information I encounter into something meaningful.
Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I meet with other designers and makers to discuss craft, business, design, etc. I also work closely with the guys who work in my studio, and we figure out a lot of things together–how to make a product, new design ideas, etc.
I’m into collecting and listening to old vinyl records. This artist appears to be destroying a lot of vinyl that many people would like to listen to. Please tell me that these records can’t be used for their original purpose (scratched, warped, broken) before they get re-purposed!
Thanks for thoughtful question, John. You’re not the first person who’s wondered about this! There’s no need to worry. As artist Jeff Davis says, “Once you start looking for lots and lots of records, you quickly find that there are lots and lots and lots and lots of records out there. Billions. And because we purchase our vinyl from dealers and collectors, most of the “good stuff” (i.e. valuable) has been picked out already. Most of the records we get are scratched, warped, or otherwise played-out.”