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With economy in the tank, people are banking on safes
Thursday October 16, 2008, 9:00 PM
At Cy Drake Locksmiths in Morristown, one of the most popular models of safes these days is the AMSEC combination fire-burglar-gun safe.
It’s not that Morristown residents are buying more guns, said the store’s owner, Henry Printz. They’re finding the larger model necessary, he said, for all the cash, jewelry and other valuables they want to keep, well, safe.
It’s all part of the new economic age, when every day brings another stream of turbulence from Wall Street and everyone is nervous that their bank is going to be the next to fail.
Jeff Baldwin of Cy Drake Locksmiths in Morristown shows off one of the shop’s burglary- and fire-resistant models
“This time of year is usually a little slow,” Printz said. “But everybody’s scared. I’d say sales are up maybe 50 to 75 percent.”
While there are no formal statistics, safe manufacturers, online retailers and licensed locksmiths in New Jersey say sales of home safes have soared in recent weeks as people have grasped for some sense of security in these uncertain times.
“Nobody wants to admit it, but people are afraid the banks are going to crash,” said Dave C. Ribel, owner of Top Security Locksmiths in Point Pleasant, who has sold 15 safes in the last three weeks when his shop would typically sell three. “And they think people are going to turn to crime and break into their house and look for their stuff.”
The spike in retail sales has led to more orders for manufacturers. Sentry Safe, a manufacturer in Rochester, N.Y., said its sales have increased 20 percent to 50 percent over the last three to four weeks. And the Hayman Safe Co., another manufacturer from Ovido, Fla., said its sales are up 35 percent to 50 percent.
Zack Gilmore, an online retailer based in Corpus Christi, Texas, with two websites — www.valuesafes.com and www.vaultandsafe.com — said his internet sales are up 100 percent this year, and he is on track to see a 300 percent increase in the last month alone.
In addition, Gilmore said, some 200,000 people have Googled the word “safe,” in the last 30 days. That’s up from 136,000 for the same period last year.
“We’re getting a lot of folks here recently who are saying, ‘I’m pulling between $10,000 and $20,000 out of the bank,’” Gilmore said. “They’re not taking their life savings. But they’re taking an emergency fund.”
Earlier this week, Sovereign Bank, one of the nation’s largest thrifts, said customers pulled $4.2 billion, or almost 9 percent of deposits, in recent weeks, a trend seen by a number of other large banks since the start of the year.
Gilmore’s current best seller is a fireproof and burglary safe on sale for $539. Gilmore said that is a typical starter safe, which is 18 inches high and about 20 inches deep. But as people stop to think about what they can store in a safe, they often move up to the bigger models. Many are willing to spend several thousand dollars for a high-quality safe.
What about bank safety deposit boxes?
“People want the extra protection,” said Dick DiVittorio, vice president of the Hayman Safe Co. “They don’t know if a sticker is going to be on the door the next time they go to the bank.”
It is not unusual for safe sellers to see an increase in demand after catastrophic events or downturns in the economy. When forest fires ravage the west, sales of safes increase. Ditto for hurricanes in the south.
Likewise, safe sellers saw increases at the turn of the millennium with the Y2K scare and also after 9/11, said Sondra McFarlane, director of marketing and communications with Sentry Safe.
“Our products are the types of products people become aware of in times of peril and uncertainty,” McFarlane said.
While locksmiths and manufacturers said they have seen a surge in sales during the last three weeks, Gilmore, the safe retailer, has also seen more subtle trends.
He said his sales first increased back in January, when the price of gold hit historic highs.
“We started getting what I’d call the fringe of society,” Gilmore said. “I talked to this one guy who said, ‘I live on this island. And I want to keep all my gold bouillon on my island with me.’ We started getting those kinds of odd ones.”
Then, when Bear Stearns collapsed in the spring, Gilmore’s businesses experienced another increase from the “folks that remembered the Depression,” he said.
“Now,” he said, “it’s everybody.”
The last three weeks in particular have been a boon for safes, as huge swings in the stock market have become the norm and the government has struggled to implement a bailout plan and restore a sense of calm in the markets.
“Many people are frightened because of the economic situation at hand,” said McFarlane of Sentry Safe. “Unfortunately, it’s causing decisions to pull money out of financial institutions and put it in our safes.
“We are not condoning the practice of taking money out of financial institutions and putting them in our product,” she added. “But if people are going to take out their money, and they’re going to end up putting it in a mattress or the icebox or a drawer or someplace that’s not secure, then certainly our product is better.”