Leading disc supplier Paragon Media grew from George Ricci’s 1986 videotape duplication niche

Paragon Media, whose roots were planted deep in Chicago as a small niche custom-duplication business back when videotape was king, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Founded by George Ricci in 1986, Premiere AVD grew and morphed into Seattle-headquartered Paragon Media, one of the biggest suppliers of business-to-business CDs and DVDs.

Last year was Paragon’s best ever. Ricci won’t reveal the privately held company’s sales figures, but says Paragon posted an overall 5% growth “and the Chicago branch had its best year ever.”

That’s quite an achievement, considering the thousands of competitive disc duplicators clamoring for your business.

Paragon in 2005 processed five million copies of CDs and DVDs, invested $400,000 in the latest duplication and replication equipment, and increased staff by 12%.

Paragon’s business comes from Corporate America, “which caters to education and medical and pharmaceutical markets, for example,” Ricci says of long-established clientele.

More business is going over to DVDs from video than in the past, as DVDs are an ideal visual marketing and training tool. “By the end of the year, DVDs will be miles ahead of CDs,” Ricci says.

Paragon’s Wauconda facility, which Ricci founded in ’86, produces around 60,000 discs a month.

Six of Paragon’s full and part-time 40 employees are located in the 5,000-sq. ft. Wauconda plant, managed by Greg Ricci. Sales director Don Conway just celebrated 10 years with the company, and Kevin Kobla joined exactly a year ago. Both previously had been with Allied Vaughn.

“We’re looking for a 10% annual growth in Chicago,” Ricci says confidently.

Ricci starts Premiere while living in Seattle

Like many film industry professionals, Ricci, a Northwest Side native, has trod a narrow track. His duplication business path began in the mid-?70s when then-giant Teletronics International of New York hired him to open a Midwest operation in Des Plaines.

After Teletronics pulled out a few years later, Columbia Pictures tapped Ricci as executive vice president to launch movie and corporate videocassette services in Elk Grove Village.

In 1982, Ricci founded Video Dub Illinois in a downtown office to duplicate commercials. The following year Amaray International, a manufacturer of storage cases for videocassettes, brought him out to Seattle as company CEO.

While living in Seattle, a city his wife had come to love, Ricci founded Premiere AVD back in Wauconda with $250,000 of his own money and $750,000 borrowed from a bank.

The niche he filled was custom-loading, i.e., providing duplicators with the exact length of tape for the VHS program being duplicated.

“If a client had a 13-minute show, we duplicated that length, as opposed to selling standard 30/60/90-minute cassettes,” he says.

For years Ricci spending 10 days here, five days in Seattle, and begin easing cutting back on commuting as business took hold. He now visits once every quarter.

Premiere acquired a controlling interest in Seattle’s Paragon Group in 1997 and merged with it in 2002. Paragon also has a branch in Atlanta.

At the 20 year mark, Ricci finds it’s hard to determine what the future holds, “although we try to follow the trends.”

As an example, he says, “We’re experiencing a slight increase this year over last year in our videocassette business, which has completely died for many companies.

“It’s a little bit of the last Indian standing.”

Paragon Media is located at 274 Jamie Lane, Wauconda; phone, 847/526-1800. See www.paragongroup.com.