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No, I actually spent the first few years just bookkeeping and eventually we needed to hire people to keep up with the assembly work. I'd go back and see how things were made which was important since I was on the phone with the customers all day. I wanted to know what I was talking about instead of asking them to hold while I got the answers from someone else. I learned a lot about the product and moved into doing customer service, keeping track of all the key records, etc.
What else changed during this busy time?
We eventually got to the point where we were doing in-house fabrication and everything got done in one building. Before that we outsourced the welding and then we'd send it out to a paint shop. We always looked for the most cost-effective means to manufacture our products without jeopardizing the quality.
Until we got a decent computer system, production projections and tracking was a difficult task. Most of our market then consisted of distributors and a few corporate accounts and product demands were not easily determined at any given time.
How did you grow? Did the company do much marketing or was it more the result of referrals and companies contacting you?
When I first started, most of it was done by word of mouth. By the time I was dealing with customers all day and was familiar with their needs, we were set up with about a handful of distributors and didn't yet have any kind of advertising plan. I was not fully involved in marketing at that time but I do recall preparing for trade shows regularly. It was important to get word to the locksmiths since they were the ones who would be selling it for us.
Back in those days, our distributors would order stock consistently. These days, we find almost everyone relies on just in time inventory, which can play havoc on any kind of projection level. When we see our own lock suppliers running eight weeks delivery and our customer's expectations are same-day shipping, it takes some constant inventory evaluation to keep our customers satisfied.
I see a difference between how distributors were 22 years ago and now. I don't think distributors focus on drop boxes or safes for that matter so much as standard locksmithing supplies such as locks and door hardware. This is somewhat distressing as I feel they lose out on quite of bit of sales opportunities as a result of them limiting their promotion of our products.
Do you think there's less of a market for your product or has the focus of suppliers shifted?
Our product is so versatile and used in so many markets and the increase in sales over the last few years leads me to believe that there certainly is a demand. I do think, however, that when many manufacturers started selling direct, it resulted in distributors dropping safe lines. Most haven't dropped our line and we feel we work well with suppliers. The next major market for us is hotels and colleges and it's a tougher market to enter because of the competition coming from overseas.
I'm not sure that distributors today are able to sell our product the way we need it to be sold. Many of the imported items are cookie cutter safes where as Perma-Vault does everything customized to the customer's needs. We can't emphasize enough how important it is that we play an active role in introducing the product to prospective clients. Our greatest asset is service, knowledge and the clear understanding of just what our client's needs are. I can't tell you how many phone calls we receive with customers who currently have an imported safe that needs new locks or even keys and cannot find anyone to replace them.
Few distributors actually sell what they make. Typically a distributor is representing many, many manufacturers and isn't in a position to promote one product more than another. Most distributors would rather sell items that are made in the USA and contribute less to eight year olds being paid $1 a day to make these items. How can the distributors do a better job here?
While we do participate in many locksmith-associated trade shows annually, we've gotten away from a real connection where we talk to our distributors and get a firm idea of how we can assist them in promoting our product or even the direction they are going. There are a few distributors that I hear from quite regularly and feel very comfortable with our direction on a sales lead. I feel that the locksmith drives the sale; they are in direct contact with the decision maker many times and we would want them to know that no job is too small for us; we like custom work.