Victor Dealer Locator
Even in the early years, The Victor Talking Machine Company had a strong selling dealer network. Some of these dealers were carried over from Victor's predecessor, The United States Gramophone Company (founded by Emile Berliner), while others were simply jumping on-board the sales "bandwagon" at a time when the relatively new phonograph industry was showing significant potential.
Victor had a very strong and long-term sales vision; it realized that the company's growth depended on a growing consumer base across the country (and internationally). Victor enticed as many new dealers as possible during the formative years, and continued doing so throughout the life of the company. In so doing, they were able to reach millions of potential customers across the country. In smaller towns, many dealers were simply drug stores and dry goods markets, who happened to carry a few Victor phonographs and records to sell to local residents. The larger department and music stores in metropolitan areas found that, if they carried a large stock of machines and records to be seen and heard, including special premium models, consumers of all income groups could be easily encouraged to buy a new phonograph.
Victor's sales model was based on a distributor network. Victor shipped phonographs directly to licensed distributors who purchased the phonographs at a cost far below the "list" price. Dealers ordered only from the distributors, which allowed Victor to focus on building machines and not managing a gigantic network of dealers and wholesalers. The markup to the customer was considerable; let's look at the 1913 breakdown for the sale of the popular Victrola XI, which sold to customers at a retail price of $100.00:
Victor's Production Cost: Materials: $10.23 ; Labor $8.63; Overhead and Expense $4.99; for a total manufacturing cost of $23.89
Victor sold these to distributors for $45.00 each; meaning the company made a profit of $21.11 on each one produced
Low-volume retail dealers paid the distributor $60.00 each, meaning the distributor made $15.00 on each one they handled. Dealers who met a high sales target could buy them for as little as $54.00 each from the distributor.
Dealers sold them for $100.00 each, giving the dealer a handsome $40.00 profit.
The potential profit was considerable, and many large dealers became quite wealthy. When you consider that well over 800,000 VV-XI's were sold (and that's just one model of hundreds), you can get an idea of the revenue that was generated. Dealers varied in size from small drug stores that stocked only a few machines to large department store chains like Macy's, as well as piano/music stores, and in some cases, dedicated stores that only carried Victor products.
Once a phonograph was sold, the customer would need something to listen to, so the successful dealer would carry a very large stock of records, and would be sure to update their inventory with the latest "hits" every month. This was a source of immense additional profit to Victor, as well as to the dealer network. It would not be uncommon for a customer, who bought a $50.00 VV-IX phonograph, to purchase in excess of $100.00 of records over the course of several years. They would also need needles and other accessories. It was all money in the bank for the entire enterprise.
Victor directly managed the advertising and promotion of their products, and a great deal of money was spent on magazine spreads and promotional concerts around the country. The company also sold dealer signs (right) as well as many display items. During the early years, almost 50% of the company's net income was dumped back into advertising; a move that paid-off very handsomely. They also learned that having a large group of renown artists (like Caruso, Sousa, etc.) act as promoters of Victor products could do wonders for sales. Victor soon reached the Number One spot in phonograph sales and became the "world's largest manufacturer of musical instruments". Victor trained salesmen, offered special dealer meetings and promotions, and published a dealer magazine called "Voice of the Victor". Unlike some of their competitors, they steadfastly maintained the quality of their products as the company expanded.
The network of distributors grew dramatically up until the start of America's involvement in World War One, with many distributors also operating directly in the retail business (Victor had no objection to this, even though it could potentially cause a conflict of interest with other competing retailers). Victor had long mandated "minimum sales prices" on their products, meaning that dealers could not provide a discount below the list price to the buying public; therefore those distributors who also had retail stores could not legally undersell small competing dealers. However, the major distribution companies that also operated retail stores could display a much larger variety of machines and provide very rapid delivery directly from stock, unlike the small retail store which often had limited products for display, and could only "special-order" unique phonographs for those customers who wanted something special. In truth, it really didn't take much to become a distributor. All you had to do was sign a contract and agree to purchase a fixed amount of product within a specified period; consequently, many dealers were also distributors. This became somewhat of a complex tangle, as there were many competing dealers/distributors in large cities, some located just a few doors apart from each other. (See picture below; two large Victor dealers on either side, with only a boot store separating them. "F" Street NW, Washington DC, 1920. Talk about competition!). However, this sales structure, as awkward as it seems today, served Victor's corporate interests; the more outlets available to customers, the more phonographs and records were ultimately sold. Victor experienced phenomenal growth between 1910 and 1917, at a rate that is staggering even by today's standards; by early 1917, Victor was selling every phonograph it could make, and was continually unable to keep up with the demand. Dealers in small towns and large cities profited equally well from this demand; there were dealers to be found in even the most obscure rural areas. Everyone wanted a Victrola.
Smaller dealers would usually buy from those distributors with whom they maintained a longstanding business relationship; however, if need be, they could buy their stock from any distributor they wished. In the end, those distributors who had the best reputation, maintained a large stock, and provided fast delivery service tended to fare much better than smaller and less service-oriented operations.
The advent of America's engagement in World War I changed Victor's retail sales model. War needs superseded conveniences, so by the fall of 1917, Victor was tasked with producing rifles and biplane wings, amongst other munitions, for the government. Victrola production slowed as war production ramped-up, but consumer demand remained high. Phonographs, which only a few months before were filling thousands of retail sales floors across the country, became harder to find during the Christmas selling season of 1917. Victrola shortages started putting the squeeze on Victor dealers, who had very little product to sell. However, some of the large distributors who also had retail outlets could route scarce phonographs from their distribution warehouses directly to their own dealers, and refuse to sell to smaller independent dealers. This created a large and organized protest, with many dealers crying "foul" to the process of allowing distributors to concurrently operate retail stores. About the same time, the Federal Courts ruled against Victor's policy of mandating "minimum sales prices", in support of the recent anti-trust laws. Although the process of appeals and delays pushed a final decision well into the 1920's, Victor's previous model of selling at fixed prices and allowing dual dealer-distributor franchises was quickly fading into a more conventional retail free market sales model, where dealers could set their own prices and distributors focused on wholesale operations. When the war ended, and troops returned home for Christmas 1918, there were almost no Victrolas to be found in retail stores; the company had to make a second major transition from war-production mode back to phonograph-making mode, and it took considerable time to complete the process.
As Victor was ramping-up phonograph production and dealers were struggling with no product to sell, hundreds of upstart companies took advantage of the situation and began manufacturing their own phonographs to fill the void. By 1920, literally every large city had some kind of phonograph plant producing machines at a frantic rate. Quality of these off-brands was usually marginal, and repair parts were hard to get, but they still sold well due to the pent-up consumer demand caused by the war. Local dealers who had no Victor products to sell were more than happy to act as retail agents for these new competitors. Victor eventually got production back into full swing, but a lot of sales had been lost to the upstart competitors, and the company was never able to dominate the market as it had done during the previous decade. By 1922 a new threat appeared; radio was coming into vogue, and phonograph sales fell dramatically. Most of the small upstart phonograph companies quickly collapsed once radio became the dominant form of home entertainment. Victor seriously struggled with decreasing sales and a exploding unsold inventory of products, as the dealer network stopped pushing Victrolas and started promoting and selling radios made by RCA, Stomberg-Carlson, and many others. By the autumn of 1924, Victor was in serious trouble, approaching financial insolvency. Some quick and creative corporate licensing and partnership agreements (to introduce radios and newer technologies into their product line) and a plan to dump their massive unsold product inventory at half-price, eventually brought the company back to solvency. In late 1925, Victor began producing combination radio-phonographs and introducing electronic amplification and improved audio technology into their products, and sales again returned to profitable levels. But the era of seemingly endless demand for Victrolas, and the monstrous dealer network never returned to the levels seen in 1917. The Depression of 1929 sealed the fate of many small dealers, and Victor (who had now been taken-over by RCA) saw its production nearly grind to a halt. It was not until the late 1940's that the country again saw the kind of sales expansion that had occurred with the Victrola. But this time, a new product was being marketed....television.
This listing will eventually include thousands of Victor distributors and dealers that have been documented via company correspondence, advertising, tags on phonographs, sales receipts, and by other means. However, it is just being populated, and will likely take many years to become mature, so please be patient! It documents distributors, long-established dealers, as well as those dealers who may have gone out of business after only a few months. Where available, a little background information will be included with each dealer, along with a Google Map search link, so that interested readers can find the dealers' locations and/or buildings in any city they choose.
Special thanks to Mr. Mark McDaniel and Mr. Jim Stewart for their support in contributing to the dealer database!
Click on the state of interest to view dealers, organized by city.
For Washington DC dealers, please click here.