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Many who follow us have already read the article in Ecoustics "20 Questions for Christopher Rensman". While that gives a little insight into the question it does not fully tell you who Analog Restorations really are. We can't promise this will be a short read, but we will dive into what makes up Analog Restorations This includes highlights from how we started, how we have developed thus far, and how we plan to keep moving forward. We will also explain a bit about marketing and how that compares to the rest of the industry.
Before we go into the history of Analog Restorations, which is a silly name for a company specializing in cork platter mats, we want to explain our position in the marketplace. Doing cork mats is not an original idea and believe us, despite claims of many, that it is even a little ridiculous to claim that among a company that makes just a piece of cork that goes on a turntable. We also would want think about what exactly they are saying is original. Is it the cork, the designs, or maybe both? The fact is that in some ways being the original is great and almost creates a prestige. However, in other ways, it becomes a very needed progression for someone to take an original idea and make improvements. When a company decides to do that it is because they have recognized, through the use of the product, that there are concerns that can only create a better experience for the consumer. We have seen this in every aspect of our lives. Ford can claim to be the “original” car off an assembly line, but as natural industrial progression happens that becomes a story and no longer a claim that produces a better product. So, what does this rambling mean, well, frankly in our case it is that there are always going to be companies doing what we do, we were not the first and there will certainly be another one down the pipeline.
So why are we starting with that? Well to us it is simple. Since we know that the "original" doesn't always mean it's a better product we want to investigate the reasons why another company decided to do the same thing. It is in that statement that we can go back to the beginnings of Analog Restorations.
So, what’s with the name?
Analog Restorations did not start making cork mats and other products. We started as a turntable and vintage audio sales and repair shop. With a couple of locations we saw that, during the beginning of the vinyl resurgence, most people could pick up a table at a yard sale or another used marketplace and have no way to ensure it worked, fix it if needed, and then make it reliable. With the options new reasonably priced turntables being limited and the Crosley's of the time being to basic or just a gateway for some, vintage tables became very popular option because most were built very well. They were designed to be serviced and keep working. We continued to do this for 10 years, with a heavy focus on the average consumer spending a couple of hundred dollars on beautiful and almost new equipment (still vintage), going home, listening to their albums, and being tickled pink. The name at the time made sense as it was pretty literal. At the start of Covid, like a lot of companies, we decided to close the doors. We thought we would hang our hat up and call it a day. However, that thought lasted about 3 weeks.
When we first opened the retail repair and sales stores we always dabbled in making a DIY cork mat and even purchased a bunch from the few available companies. At that time, we realized that while cork was an excellent product for a platter mat, they weren't always that good in quality. We put it on the back burner and never thought much about it. At the time in which we closed the store, we saw such a huge influx of new tables available that filled a large prior void in the marketplace. A lot of these tables were really good and put a damper on the vintage market. These new tables had the look, function, style, and price that the average consumer wanted, and they were happy with them. These tables allowed these consumers to enjoy what they set out to enjoy. To buy some vinyl, listen to it, and be tickled pink. What we noticed, and because we have an engineering background and hands on experience, is that these new tables could be better, with very little money. The companies that came out with the tables all put inexpensive platter mats on the table. They did this to cut costs and divert those costs to a feature that was more of a selling point. This could be better cartridge, anti-skate and VTA adjustment, counterweight adjustments, etc, etc. They knew that the info in the community made those bullet points hot. They furthermore knew that not having one of those features and exchanging it for a better platter mat was going to lead to fewer sales. This quickly made a platter mat an overlooked item and almost all turntables at this new price point came with the most basic mat possible, they could not absorb the cost and have a more expensive table. These same companies eventually released an upgraded platter mat option. This meant that the consumer could buy a table and then purchase the mat as an accessory. This took what we already knew about a proper mat and put the importance back on it.
From this, we realized a couple of things. First, it made it so that the tables still came with basic mats leaving the door open door the consumer to increase their experience for very little money. Secondly, with the upgraded mat being offered separately it allowed the consumer to purchase from anyone, it did not have to be the company that made the table. As we were already very much on top of this we had a plan. We saw that the tables that destroyed our vintage market, our business model, had a better option. We also saw that the companies offering an upgraded cork mat still had the same issues with the cork that we saw 10 years earlier. This meant that nothing changed. While the cork mats were better than the OEM mat, they had other problems.
We decided to go back to the drawing board with cork. We wanted to solve the problems. These issues were anything from the cork being dry and brittle, to improperly cut, static issues, scratching records, and a slew of other things. Interestingly enough, with all those concerns, musically it was still a much better product and a large improvement. We decided that we were going to start a crusade to prove that all cork is not the same, a fact we were quickly learning. Cork, as we saw it at the time, was mixed in with 4 main options. These included rubber, felt , and acrylic as alternatives. If a consumer had a bad experience with one material it was typically equated to the material. While we understood the logic behind that we also thought, well if you had a bad experience with a car, should you have to use a motorcycle? Furthermore, was it equally safe to assume that all cars are the same and that's just the way it is? So, in our world, the car being cork, was there a way to make it better?
This leads us to the "almost now" in the history of Analog Restorations. We also promise there is a reason for this explanation. We worked closely with a very small and special cork manufacturer. Why do you ask? Because that's all they do. This small US-based company only does cork. As cool as it sounds, they eat, sleep, and breathe cork. Our way to even know if it could be better was to talk, for weeks on end, with a company that was guaranteed to have the answers. After about 6 weeks of trial and error, we had a product we loved. With this product, we also realized we could print graphics and logos onto it. It was at that point Analog Restorations was in the cork business. We started to produce these mats and sell them direct to the consumer and to record shops. As we look back a lot of the designs and packaging were very basic, but it was taking off. We were slowly proving that not all cork was the same. Additionally, as you upgrade your turntable and improve your listening experience, you can get excited about whatever design you chose too.
We were selling several hundred mats, sometimes into the thousands, a month. People were happy and excited. As we recall these moments I am not sure why we were not 100% satisfied. There is a reason but it's hard to remember if it was just one. We were getting an excellent response from consumers, so again, not sure why this happened. Probably the thing that sticks out most is not so much the improvement in sound but something about how the mat made people feel. I mean they were stoked, but we felt a large part was because the product wasn't crap, so it closed the difference between crap and good. However, the experience was primarily about the graphics and the cool factor that was brought with it. While we enjoyed that, we were audio people, not a print shop.
We went back to the beginning with the cork company and took an almost 8-month dive into cork products. It was after that and almost a full year of trial and error we have what we have now. We were able to develop a proprietary cork, still, precision cut, still correcting the flaws with crappy cork, but completely changing the cork platter mat game. We are not making promises that our cork is life-changing, that would be a strange claim for many reasons. It would also leave us with a lot of questions about your life before the cork mat. But moving along, we now had it, the full experience. This doesn't mean that it stopped the progression of the company in terms of product development, but we knew we felt pretty special about what we had produced.
We mentioned the need for a new company to start making "the same" product for reasons of improvement, to better the customer experience. The flip side of that is that many companies, especially now, have no interest in that. They have decided on just wanting to bring a product to market, in doing so with the sole purpose to sell something knowing they can dress it up with marketing terms. They can explain an "ethos" to the general consumer as a form of pulling the wool over someone's eyes (some of you may need to Google that one). The importance of this separation is very simple. As consumers, they are giving money to a company to receive a product. The consumer needs to understand what they are paying for. Again, we know this is about cork mats, and it's starting to sound a bit dramatic but bear with us. All of the cork mats on the market started with an idea, and this idea is not so original. Nobody steals the idea of making a cork mat. As cork became a highly respected upgrade it was then that printing designs came to fruition. Printing on cork mats is not an original idea either and certainly almost all the designs out there are not original ideas. Some are basic abstract designs, others are done by a real artist, and many are just popular household décor items like farmhouse, rustic, distressed, geographical maps, etc. This is important because it sets the stage for the principles behind the company. Those principles completely dictate the value of what it is the consumer is paying for.
We are going to take a moment and explain these differences and then close with the sole purpose of allowing the consumer to decide what is important to them.
We mentioned our history, our roots, and our hands-on experience with the same products and concerns with what the consumer faces. We explained that we are audio people and not a print shop. We work with one US manufacturer and developed a product, meaning we did not just purchase a product. So, when we say we have experience in the industry, that's the breakdown of that experience which spans over a decade. We can assure you that the experience does not mean we are better than the next group. That is something that is not for us to decide. What can assure you is that there is a division in that experience. The consumer is always told the amount of experience in flashy sales pitches, but that experience is rarely defined. We certainly don't want to speak for other companies, but some consumers might find it important and useful in determining what exactly their money is paying for. Some companies have ideas, original or not, and want to make improvements, to make something. And some companies have one basic idea and just want to bring it to market, to have a product that represents a very small idea. Their vision as a marketing company is on getting "a" product off the ground and presented in a clever enough way. The vision of a company like Analog Restorations is making something and then getting "our" product to market. Additionally, doing so with no constraints on time and no need to be clever with marketing. That when we brought "our" product to market it would not only be exactly what we wanted but it will be the best it can be with no concessions.
In this business of ours, we see that most of the focus is on printing. That the primary idea is to have something to print on and a cork mat became that media. That the start of the company was based on designs and not the product of the mat. So long as the company could get the designs together and find someone else to print them then they had "a" product. While there is nothing overly wrong about that and we see a lot of companies are that way, we feel it is just not what we wanted to be. In a way, it almost isn't fair to the consumer. That being a company in the middle and just buying something from someone else and reselling it to the consumer is not a good representation of what a brand means. With our product, the printing and designs are part of it, but they are not the product and certainly not the brand. Furthermore, it isn't built off of good roots that make a great product. Ultimately it is making that happen that is most fair to the consumer.
So, as you can tell from this lengthy "blurb that is not a blurb" we aren't a marketing company. That our experience in the industry isn't in marketing, human resources, or sales. Our experience is hands-on. This means that we can say what we mean and do what we say. That we didn't just wake up with a design and say, “now who can print this?”. If a customer has an issue we don’t have to call somebody else, eliminating the “let me get back to you”.
Does this mean our products are lightyears better than others? Probably not all of them.
What we would like is for you to take a minute to at least educate yourself on what you are reading on the internet actually means. In our "About our Cork" section will break down why companies use the words they do about cork and what they actually can mean. How certain words are influential just by their ability for the consumer to have to infer.
That section is more important than what you just spent a lot of time reading, so maybe we should have started with that. As we said, we aren't a marketing company. If you already feel you read too much, we have an abridged version.