When I met director of marketing Jason Menard in the lobby of Crosley’s Oak Street HQ, the first question I asked was, “How long have you been at this location?” I expected an answer ranging from a few months to maybe a year. After all, the building is a mere four blocks from my house, I travel that road regularly, and I had only noticed the sign a couple of weeks ago.
“Around 30 years,” he said.
That ended up being the theme for our conversation. Crosley, the No. 1 turntable maker in the world, has been being all kinds of awesome right under our noses, and most Louisvillians are totally unaware of it. Unless you’re one of the company’s 90 employees (60-ish on Oak Street, the rest at the Simpsonville warehouse), you probably had no idea the vinyl revolution of the past decade or so is thanks, in part, to Crosley’s hipster appeal or that the radio/turntable/jukebox maker also has a furniture line that is set to outpace its electronics division in a couple of years.
Crosley was founded in Cincinnati in the 1920s by Powell Crosley, who promised his son a radio for his birthday but then balked at the triple-digit price tag. Instead, he whipped one up DYI-style, and his life as a renegade inventor began. Crosley was the owner of the Crosley Broadcasting Corp. and the Cincinnati Reds.
Crosley made its name in the radio industry. The company then went on to make cameras, refrigerators, car stereos, ranges, irons and eventually cars. The Crosley car was a fuel-efficient tiny thing, and it would eventually cause the company’s collapse.
These days, Crosley CEO Bo LeMastus collects and restores Crosley cars. Cars are his passion; he’s a professional ARCA race car series driver, who drives a car branded with the company name. His ride is No. 42.
LeMastus moved to Louisville in 1984 to work for Modern Marketing Concepts, fresh out of college. He oversaw the acquisition of a license to use the Crosley name to manufacture vintage-inspired electronics. Eventually, the company bought the name outright. They started manufacturing turntables and then stared down the barrel of the boom of CDs and decline in sales of vinyl.
But you know how that turned out. Crosley hung in there, and the company’s perseverance was rewarded handsomely when hipsters embraced nostalgia and, in turn, the mid-century vibes of Crosley’s suitcase turntable (even Insider Louisville has one). Crosley’s 25-plus line of turntables and other consumer electronics like radios, jukeboxes, land-line telephones and accessories have since been picked up by mega-retailers like Target, Urban Outfitters and Bed, Bath & Beyond.
This is now a global brand with sales currently soaring in the UK and Australia.
Menard joined the company a year ago this week. Last IL talked to him, he was helming a startup called Our Local Box, which was a subscription box of carefully curated Louisville-made products. The business was pretty successful, but Menard — who previously worked at Zappos, then Amazon — got a job offer from the eyeglass seller Warby Parker and shuttered the company when he, his wife and infant daughter moved to Brooklyn.
But Brooklyn wasn’t for them, so when Menard decided he wanted to move his family back to Louisville, he took the initiative to contact some people at Crosley via LinkedIn and arranged an interview. While the interview went great, there just wasn’t an opening available for Menard. Eventually, Amazon tracked him down and offered him a job in Las Vegas, which he took.
But around six months later, Crosley had an opening for a director of marketing, and Menard enthusiastically tossed his hat in the ring.
He loves his job and loves the company culture. He serves as head of the employee appreciation committee. Menard and six other members meet monthly to plan celebrations, outings and community service opportunities for their fellow employees. Monday is Bagel Monday, and there are Smoothie Fridays. The health benefits for employees are fully paid for by Crosley. They go to soccer games, and everyone gets paid days off to volunteer.
And if you think Crosley’s local profile has gotten bigger, you have Menard to thank.
“Locally, Crosley had barely done any community marketing,” he said. “To me, that was low hanging fruit.”
So if you’ve been to Flea Off Market, Buy Local Fair or Forecastle Festival, you might have seen a Crosley booth and/or Crosley sponsorship. More recently, you might have seen their mobile record store truck, complete with AC and phone-charging stations.
This year, they’re partnering with the Avett Brothers before Forecastle to offer a package of Avett Brothers vinyl and a custom Crosley turntable for record stores to use as prizes. Also for Forecastle, Crosley is the sponsor for WFPK’s members-only show.
Six years ago, Crosley launched a furniture brand that is doing booming e-commerce business. You can pick up a Crosley outdoor sectional (its best-selling item) on websites like Wayfair and Target. Pretty soon, the furniture line will be “getting into beds,” said Menard.
Before Menard came on board, most of the company’s growth was organic and the marketing budget was minimal. The company has great momentum.
“We’ve been in vinyl before it was cool,” he said. “Everyone is hopping on the bandwagon, so we need to stay on top of our game.”
Catch the Crosley mobile record store at Forecastle, get out of the heat, charge your phone and join the vinyl resurgence.