How did you get started in the locksmith trade?
West Coast Safes is a family business of 25 years now. My dad actually bought a cheap safe from a big box store – whoever the predecessor to Sam’s Club was back in the day – put it in his house, and it rusted shut on him.
Later, a local Liberty dealer sold him his next safe, and as it happens, my dad, who was looking to get out of the elevator industry, ended up buying the Liberty dealer’s safe business from him.
But it was actually my dad’s lack of knowledge about dehumidifiers that was the catalyst for the family getting into the safe business. After that first safe rusted, he started researching ways to prevent that from happening, and that conversation with the Liberty dealer who my dad bought the business from, really illuminated a lot of things about the quality, function and features of safes for my dad.
What is unique about the needs of your customers?
Here in California, Cannabis is huge – it was decriminalized for medical use in 1996, and we’ve been working with medical dispensaries ever since then. They used to buy cheap safes, because maybe they were operating on the fringe, and so if a cop rolled up on them and shut them down, the cops would confiscate everything and that investment would be lost. Today, since cannabis’ legalization for recreational use, cannabis retailers have been buying legitimate safes like TL-15s, TL-30s and even full size walk in cannabis vault rooms.
Though California is generally perceived as a liberal state, Southern California has a lot of gun owners, so that’s the bread and butter of our safe business. But we also ship many gun safes out of state every week as well. We even ship internationally, sending quite a few safes to China because the customers there want a high quality “American-built” product. They know that our steel and our manufacturing processes are of a higher quality than what their own country is putting out.
What has made your business successful over the years?
We focus on selling the best quality products – almost exclusively all made in America. And while we started out exclusively as a Liberty dealer, we’ve been a dealer of American Security gun safes and other home and business safes for 22 of the last 25 years. We pride ourselves on having a wide selection of quality USA-made safes. We love the BFX, BF, RF, CFs – we sell a lot of high-end safes.
Also, being based here in California, with a very diverse population of people and their many needs for protecting personal or business assets, we’re never going to run out of people to sell to.
What trends have you witnessed in the safe retailing business that you find interesting to note?
Consumers are buying high-end safes for purses and shoes – Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Monolo Blahnik, etc. With more and more people starting their own online reselling business like you see with Mercari, Poshmark and others, these high-end purses and shoes represent high monetary value.
And then there are your fashionistas and celebrities, who want to protect their personal collections. Some just buy high-end safes, others have us build custom vault rooms, many times with the use of the vault doors manufactured by American Security.
(One of these custom vault doors is actually pink and was ordered by an uber famous cosmetic celeb who we can’t reveal. Beyond the pink vault door is an amazing treasure trove of collectible accessories and garments that this celebrity calls his “museum of fashion” housing his “personal collection of handbags, luxury items and family heirlooms that have been collected over the past 15 years.”)
What challenges has the industry faced over the last 5 years and what adjustments did you make to your business strategy to overcome those challenges?
The biggest challenge to the safe sales business is a massive influx of cheap import safes – they’re everywhere – they’re at Costco, Tractor Supply, Bass Pro – and retailers are selling them for almost no money – like a loss leader. These cheap safes do not offer the security or fire protection that the customer believes they are buying. They are just cheap. Many times these cheap safe are just used to draw customers in so they’ll buy other things from the store while they’re there.
Big box retailers don’t even install them – they just drop ship them. Then they become the consumer’s problem, until they call us to help them move them or replace them for a better safe.
How do you communicate the value of a safe?
One of the things we’re really big on is that you’re investing in peace of mind. Safes are like a junk drawer for your valuables – be it monetary value or sentimental value. Once consumers start thinking of it in those terms, they’re no longer walking in with a price point of $1,000 in their head, they’re walking out our door with an invoice for $4,000 because now they’re realizing it’s not just guns and ammo you can use a safe to store – it’s financial documents, personal identification pieces, heirlooms, electronics – I have my kids’ pinecone turkeys from first grade and their baby teeth from when I used to play tooth fairy. Those items have no value to anybody but me and my wife.
Burglars take what’s valuable – but a fire takes everything.
What are people typically trying to protect?
The pandemic has been an unprecedented time for us. The panic buying got people buying up all the toilet paper; then the riots started, people got scared and started buying guns and ammo. And historically, political seasons are always good for guns and related product purchases – which include safes.
What are the most common misconceptions people have?
Almost everybody buys their first safe too small. Heck, I’ve screwed up and bought THREE safes because I bought too small twice.
A lot of people are buying a second safe right now with the scarcity of ammo and turning that “too small” safe into an ammo box and buying a larger safe to hold all their valuables.
We also offer a trade in value on someone’s older, smaller safe, when trading up to a larger, better safe. Newer safes offer better fire and security protection than safes manufactured just 10 years ago.
What is the most significant advantage for you in doing business with American Security?
American Security safes offer a wide array of products – I can just about cover any type of customer need – we sell American Security floor safes, high security safes, gun safes, depository safes, etc.
And while we aren’t an advocate of too many overseas manufactured safes, we do carry a selection of your foreign-made safes because they’re of a higher quality and I like that you’re moving away from Chinese production to something a little closer to home like Vietnam.
We’re also only 2 miles away from you all – so anytime I need parts or service, I can reach out to the inside sales team – and they’re very helpful. It’s a great relationship.
If you have something that needs protection from fire and theft, or maybe you’re wondering what kind of safe is right for your unique needs call on West Coast Safes.