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Business deals are strictly on the record

Business deals are strictly on the record

Asbury Park Press - Asbury Park, N.J.


Date: Jun 30, 2004

Sheila Weisfeld doesn't need anyone to tell her that audio turntables and record cleaning machines are still hot items among audiophiles. All she has to do is look around the offices of VPI Industries Inc.

The Aberdeen-based business she runs with her husband, Harry, has been manufacturing turntables and record cleaners for 26 years (; 732-583-6895). VPI's products are carried by more than 100 dealers and distributed in 50 countries overseas, and have been consistently given high ratings by various audiophile magazines. Among VPI's list of customers is the Library of Congress in Washington, which has a VPI custom-made record cleaner for its collection.

"Popular? Our turntables are back ordered. We can't keep them in stock. We showed at a home entertainment show two years ago and people were giving us checks right there on the spot to reserve their turntables," Weisfeld said. "Our top-of-the-line turntable costs $10,000. If we were to ship one every day for the next six to eight weeks, we would still be back-ordered and that's for a $10,000 turntable."

Indeed, Weisfeld said she doesn't even have a complete, working turntable in her own home. VPI employees keep borrowing parts from the turntables she and Harry bring home to complete outgoing orders, many of which are for overseas clients.

"The overseas market is tremendous and everyone wants their product yesterday," Weisfeld said. "Audiophiles want instant gratification."

Weisfeld knows about audiophiles and their hunger for the latest product that will make their record collections sound their best. Harry's hunger as an audiophile is what drove the family into the turntable business in the first place, she said.

"My husband was a sheet metal worker. He saw this great audio equipment and we couldn't afford it, so he made his own," Weisfeld said. "Then, someone asked him to make a base for him and he did. Then Harry wanted a record cleaner, which was around $3,000. We couldn't afford that, so he made his own."

This behind-the-scenes work went on for a while until one of Harry's private customers mentioned to an audiophile magazine that Harry was the source of one of the customer's favorite products.

"Suddenly, we had all these orders and we just grew from there," Weisfeld said.

Weisfeld, a New York City schoolteacher, ended up being in on the new business almost from the beginning, since she had taken a leave from her job to care for a child the couple had recently taken in as foster parents. The couple moved to New Jersey almost 18 years ago.

While Harry handles 90 percent of the technical design on all of VPI's products, Sheila oversees the office work - from taking orders to handling shipments and answering the telephones.

One of VPI's most special products is a tone arm named for that son, their eldest, Jonathan, who was killed in an automobile accident in 1995. He was 17. A percentage of sales from the Jonathan Weisfeld tone arm benefits a memorial fund supporting an arts and music scholarship at Jonathan's alma mater, Holmdel High School.

The couple's other son, Mathew, 19, is a student at Monmouth University.

Despite the recording industry's embrace of the compact disc, Weisfeld said records never went out of vogue for audiophiles.

"And now, there are more and more record industries making records. Old records are very valuable. Audiophiles buy them at used record shows, garage sales, auctions," Weisfeld said. "At one point, things seemed to be slowing down. Now, it's really growing. People are inheriting records and the quality of records doesn't change. There are some things you just can't find out on CD. So you have to buy the record."

But $10,000 for a turntable?

"It makes you feel like you're sitting in the concert hall. It's a gorgeous piece of equipment. It was featured in the April issue of Playboy magazine as one of the sexiest turntables," Weisfeld said.

Sheila's life doesn't totally revolve around turntables. Among other things, she is very active in the Girl Scouts and serves as a trainer with Girl Scout Councils in New York City as well as in Monmouth County.

But music does play a big part in the Weisfeld's lives.

"We have boxes and boxes of records and Harry is always bringing more in," Weisfeld said. I say, "How can you keep buying them?" But he does.

"Wherever we go, people will save their records and give them to us. I guess it's like any hobby, except my husband's hobby grew into an international business."

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