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About 30 years ago Perma-Vault developed the PRO-30 Under Counter Drop Box, a familiar item to many in our industry. The company has grown substantially since then and has managed to be profitable and continue to manufacture products that are relatively unique. My contact with Perma-Vault has typically been Norman Bartwink, Perma-Vault's sales manager. We see each other at trade shows as well as other functions and they happen to be located in my neck of the woods, just outside of Philadelphia . Norm let me know that Tina Williams would be the better person to conduct an interview with because she's been with the company much longer and had a much better perspective on where they were, where they are now and all that happened between now and then.
Norm mentioned a part of Perma-Vault's future is vested in the lodging industry. He also talked about how they've managed so far to successfully fend off the import market and felt good about still being in business.
“As we see competitors not being able to ship in eight weeks when they thought they'd be able to ship in two weeks because the container's not in, we feel good about what we do here. We're here to service at the point of the order. You give us four to six weeks for a custom order and we're there. We never know where that next phone call will come from, which is why it's so important to keep our name out there constantly,” Bartwink says.
“Our niche is interim security. We're here to protect people's cash, products and personal property from what I call ‘unauthorized borrowing'. We don't want to wander into the backyards of the other safe companies. If a customer wants to buy a larger safe after doing business with us, that's fine, but our mission here is to provide interim security, which is not a place the others seem to want to go.”
Following are Ledger's questions and Tina Williams' answers.
How long have you been with Perma-Vault and what did you do when you started?
I've been here 22 years and I was actually hired then as a part time bookkeeper. I spent about two years doing that. We only had four people working in the building then and I can remember billing out as little as five invoices per day. Our standard product at the time was the PRO-30 and within a few years we brought in the PRO-20 and the wall safe became an item that moved. Most of the items we made back then were customized for corporations with certain needs.
What corporations and what were their needs then?
Builder's Square was a big one. They were looking for something that didn't yet exist and we offered to make it. I think we've proven that putting the cash box near the cash registers was a good idea. It didn't take care of your back room problems, but it helped prevent stealing large sums from the register itself. So most of the items we offered originally were the result of what these stores were telling us they needed. Our Twice-as-Safe model (PRO-1200) has an inner and outer compartment. It was developed as a means to transport cash and receipts from the front end to the backroom without exposure.
What were the stores doing before?
We've seen grocery stores that would take money out of the cash register and stick it in a notebook and walk through the store that way or just a plain envelope. We designed carry carts for the Clover department stores. Many directors of loss prevention have great ideas on how they would like their cash protection to work; we tailor our products to fit their needs.
So you would come up with a solution to a customer's problem and in many cases the solution would become part of your regular offering. As someone who began as a part-time bookkeeper, you're very involved in the business; did you see this happening from the beginning?