Record collectors around the world are looking for vinyl sleeves for Winnipeg engineers

In 2021, over 50 million new vinyl albums were sold in North America, each one shrink-wrapped. There’s a reason it’s called that; Leave a record in its tight-fitting sleeve long enough and it’s bound to warp.

Which brings us to Mike Sarazin, founder of Vinyl Storage Solutions, a local success story creating very clear, fully recyclable vinyl record sleeves designed to protect an album sleeve and its innards once the outer plastic has been removed. Online reviews for his products are almost universally positive, ranging from “superb” to “brilliant” to “my albums have never looked so good”. That’s music to his ears, of course, but the praise the 58-year-old engineer has longest remembered had little to do with how functional his patented designs are when it comes to protecting people’s prized LPs from wear and tear to protect. Tear and – achoo! – Dust.

Sarazin shows patents for protective record sleeves he designed. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Not long ago, Sarazin received a message from a launch customer who lived in the United States and had previously placed a sizable order for Vinyl Storage Solutions’ 12-inch twin-pocket cases, which they say includes a case for the album cover and a second for the vinyl itself. It wasn’t a personal purchase, he pointed out; Rather, they were intended for a record collection that had belonged to his father, who had died a few months earlier.

In his email, the lad detailed how he and his mother spent a couple of hours one afternoon carefully placing his father’s beloved albums in Sarazin’s sleeves one by one. They kept smiling as they discussed how much his father had enjoyed listening to this or that artist, or where and when he might have picked up a particular track.

“It brought us closer together, and I just want to thank you for not only making everything look great, but also keeping a memory alive,” the author concluded.

One couldn’t ask for a nicer compliment than that, claims Sarazin, seated in a café on Academy Road, where other customers glance over at a small stack of vinyl records he’s brought along to demonstrate exactly how its different-sized cases work.

“It was definitely nice to read,” he continues, “and all I can say is that I’m glad my products were able to play a part in what sounded like a very meaningful experience.”

Vinyl Storage Solutions was founded in the fall of 2018, but the innovative company’s story actually begins in Sarazin’s hometown of Sudbury, Ontario, where as a teenager he spent many Saturday afternoons combing through the trash cans of a neighborhood Sam the Record Man outlet.

Sarazin joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1981. He served 14 years in the military, three of which he studied at the Canadian Forces School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering.

One of the first things he did after leaving the army in the mid-1990s was to gather his belongings that he had left with his parents, including a few boxes of records. He brought the same notes with him when he and his wife moved to Winnipeg from Ontario eight years ago. He didn’t think much about it until 2017, when a company he worked as a consultant for went out of business and suddenly he had time.

After learning that the minimum order to make the record sleeves was 5,000, Sarazin kept what he needed and sold the rest online.  (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

After learning that the minimum order to make the record sleeves was 5,000, Sarazin kept what he needed and sold the rest online. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

He was sifting through his albums one morning when he was struck by the fact that albums that had been stored in plastic sleeves for nearly 40 years looked almost as good as new. On the other hand, those with bare jackets showed visible signs of ring wear; That is, the impression of the vinyl album had carried over to the Shroud of Turin-style album cover due to friction.

As he put on his engineer’s hat, he thought what if he could build a better mousetrap, using the experience he had gained operating a polystyrene plant in Kitchener, Ontario to design what he thought was the outstanding record sleeve to design from plastic ? One that, unlike the variety he was staring at, didn’t “tarnish” over time? (Without getting overly technical, cast polypropylene, the film Sarazin chose for its sleeves is not only clearer than what was previously available, it’s more moisture and heat resistant, as well as being highly resistant to tears and wrinkles.)

Here’s the interesting part: It was never Sarazin’s intention to commercialize what he had dreamed up. After spending almost a year perfecting his design, only to learn that the minimum order quantity for the Canadian manufacturer he had chosen to manufacture was 5,000, he decided to keep as many cases as he could for his Plates needed about 800, and the rest sell to interested parties via the Internet.

That turned out to be easier said than done. Says Sarazin with a chuckle, noting that he’s been selling ‘Null, Zilch’ over a period of six months. Even when he approached record store owners to offer free samples, they told him he definitely had a superior product but doubted the average record buyer would be willing to pay a dollar a sleeve compared to the lesser PVC variant Quality that cost about a penny, each.

Sarazin sleeves protect record sleeves from wear and tear caused by friction.  (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Sarazin sleeves protect record sleeves from wear and tear caused by friction. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Things changed for the better in the spring of 2019 after the host of a popular vinyl-only YouTube channel put together a video promoting Vinyl Storage Solutions cases. Sarazin sold out within days, prompting him to tell his wife he was considering placing an order for a further 50,000. What was she thinking, he asked?

“Hey, you’re the entrepreneur, tell me,” came her reply.

Three years and thousands of happy customers in dozens of countries later, Vinyl Storage Solutions has become a full-time job for the father of two.

Steve Ward is the owner of Selkirk’s Hi Tone Records, one of 150 retail outlets in Canada stocking Sarazin’s cases – not just 13 and 12 inch models for traditional albums, but also smaller versions for 45rpm singles and CDs . Ward got involved with Sarazin’s craft two years ago when he was trying to source sleeves made in Canada.

“Its ultra-clear sleeves make albums look stunning; the cleanliness and quality set them apart from the competition,” says Ward.

Vinyl Storage Solutions clear covers are made from molded polypropylene.  (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Vinyl Storage Solutions clear covers are made from molded polypropylene. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Ward concedes that Vinyl Storage Solutions cases are a superior product, but notes that serious collectors don’t mind paying a little more for quality. Neither do 20-year-olds who lost $40 on the latest Taylor Swift or Harry Styles release and don’t want their jacket to wear out.

“Not only do I sell Mike’s sleeves in bundles, I use them on my premium used vinyl and give my customers a free sleeve with every new album purchase,” Ward continues. “Obviously this eats into my bottom line somewhat, but my customers seem to appreciate it and often come back for a pack to upgrade from their older cases.”

At the end of May, Sarazin received its third utility model, this one for a plastic sleeve with fold-out square edges, specifically designed for multi-album box sets. As soon as he got around to filling pre-orders, people started sending him shots of box sets wrapped in his sleek-looking cases. It happens almost every day, he says, turning his phone around to show a picture of someone’s freshly sleeved Elton John’s 50th Anniversary issue Crazy over the water.

He’s delighted with his success so far, but still feels he’s only scratched the surface.

“Last year they sold about 150 million albums worldwide, so yes, quite a number,” he says, adding that he recently landed a licensing deal with a European distributor which should allow him to focus his attention on the huge market south of the US border. “Throwing all these records into people’s private collections and selling two or three million cases a year seems perfectly feasible. At least that is the goal.”

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