By Eileen Stilwel, Courier-Post Staff
March 23, 2006, (Pennsauken, NJ) — Will Smith started here. So did rapper Eminem. And reggae star Burning Spear is still a satisfied customer of Disc Makers, a niche business that caters primarily to budding musicians and filmmakers in need of ways to showcase their talents.
Sixty years ago, Disc Makers began pressing personal pizza-sized 78-rpm records in Philadelphia. Eleven years ago it moved to Route 130 to begin a period of rapid innovation and expansion. Today, its 400 employees create and package 40 million CDs and DVDs a year for singers, drummers, comedians, preachers, teachers, marketers and just about anybody who wants a cheap, easy way to distribute information or entertainment.
In between, Disc Makers pumped out 7-inch 45 rpm records, 12-inch LPs, 8-tracks and audio cassettes. Then in 1986 came the optical disc revolution which allowed the transfer of information via reflected light. Disc Makers led the charge.
High demand keeps the Pennsauken plant humming 24 hours a day. Last year revenues exceeded $66 million.
Disc Makers' nimble style has kept it growing at double-digit rates for the past 15 years.
"Our greatest strength has been our ability to migrate through the format changes in the industry," said Tony van Veen, executive vice president of sales and marketing and second in command of the privately held company. Predictably, more change is brewing and the company is closely watching the life span of HD-CD and Blu-Ray, two warring formats that can hold four to seven times the content of existing DVDs.
With the advent of MP3 technology and at-home CD burners, Disc Makers made the risky decision to sell equipment capable of duplicating 10 CDs and now DVDs at a time, despite concerns about cannibalizing its primary business. Today, duplicator sales constitute 25 percent of the company's revenues.
"Churches are a big part of our business. Some record the sermon and music program on CD then make copies on the spot for sale to the congregation on their way out, or to take to shut-ins later in the week," said van Veen.
Typically, customers of Disc Makers begin the process with their own CD or DVD and some artwork. Disc Makers will incorporate the artwork, or choose new artwork from a vast databank of stock art. It also can remaster the sound to bring it up to broadcast quality, if necessary. For $99, the company will print 300 posters identical to the CD cover.
The average customer orders 1,000 CDs for $1 to $3 each depending on the level of assistance required, and sells them at shows or online for $10 or more each. Two to three weeks after placing an order, the customer receives stacks of professionally packaged discs, complete with bar code.
"These independents are very demanding. If they find the slightest imperfection, they want it fixed, or they think it will ruin their careers," said van Veen.
Disc Makers is happy to dominate the indie market and leave the heavy lifting of the music industry to giants like Sony Corp, said van Veen.
A look at the company's daily phone log posted prominently in the customer service wing of the Pennsauken plant tells a tale. Most days more than 2,000 calls come in, largely driven by the 5 million catalogs the company mails each year, a 1,500-page Web site and referrals from more than 12,000 recording studios in the country.
Terry Carr, who spearheads economic development in the township, called Disc Makers a local secret.
"They've become a dominant player in the industry, yet they're not well-known locally unless you need their services. The company seems to take good care of its employees and property. Recently, they bought a small building nearby, so I hope that means they're not going anywhere. They make excellent neighbors," said Carr.
In business since 1946, Disc Makers is the nation’s leading independent CD & DVD manufacturer, offering a wide variety of products and services, including state-of-the-art automated printers and duplication systems as well as complete CD & DVD duplication, CD & DVD replication, custom disc packaging, and vinyl record pressing for independent musicians, filmmakers, and businesses for the last 70 years. Disc Makers also offers a variety of additional services including download cards, posters, custom USB Flash drives, music distribution, in-house audio mastering and post production, DVD and CD-ROM multimedia authoring, award-winning graphic design, and their Blog, which offers free tools and professional advice from industry experts. Disc Makers’ main office and plant is located near Philadelphia in Pennsauken, NJ, and the company has regional offices in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Seattle, and Nashville.
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