Robert Andrews: Safe Salesman

312 E 46th St, NY, NY 10017

Neighborhood: Midtown

I call myself a security consultant because it sounds better than salesman but, essentially, I’m a salesman. I sell security products, primarily safes. My dad preceded me in this. He was with the Mosler Safe Company starting around 1948 and, quite frankly, as a kid, the work sounded very dull to me. I wanted to be a playboy of the Western world–travel, meet girls, etc. So what happened? Fast forward a few years to 1974 and I’m engaged and I haven’t got a job. So I go to my father and I say, “Pop, let me come work for you.” And as fate and luck would have it, I’ve been in the business ever since.

Me and my dad were a team. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him and I’ve really missed him since he retired six years ago. In those early days, we’d go up and down the aisles and he’d test me on everything. “Robert, what kind of safe is this? What’s the classification? How would you recommend it? How’s it constructed? What’s the insurance rating?”

I was very lucky. Dad had gone to a school that Mosler ran for their employees and he had the time and patience to really pass that information on to me. Those schools don’t exist anymore and my competitors today just don’t give their staffs that kind of education. But you have to know your stuff. When you’re talking about security and protecting assets, you can’t lie about a product or there goes your reputation. Most of the new people in the safe industry today could be selling cars or encyclopedias. They are not specialists in my opinion. Whereas I live and breathe safes.

After my dad retired, I joined a company called Mega-Safe Industries as the vice-president and general manager of one of their divisions called Safe Factory. I run two showrooms in New York City and a big showroom in New Jersey. I have roughly thirty employees, of whom five are actual sales people like myself.

I work around sixty hours a week, including a half day on Saturdays. Eighty percent of my time is spent on the phone. I’m always calling clients for some specific reason, like I find out they’re moving, or expanding, or adding a division. My business really follows the economy. In times of prosperity, there’s growth, people need security equipment for new offices and homes. And they’re making money, so they want to keep it and they don’t quibble as much over price–they see the value of my products. In bad times, they’re not making money and they don’t see the need to have security products since they feel like they’ve nothing to secure.

Right now, the economy’s booming, and I’m forever talking on the phone and sending out brochures and information to potential clients. Of course, I always try to get them to come into the showrooms because, with a safe, you really have to see it in the flesh to appreciate what it’s about.

This is a very specialized industry. I have safes designed specifically for protection of software, microfilm, guns, jewelry, art collections, as well as safes for certain businesses such as restaurants, banks and supermarkets.

Our products range from the very simplistic key operation models, which we sell to college students to maybe keep a passport inside, all the way up to what we call the “Super Diamond,” which is an explosive resistant safe. It’ll stop plastique and Nitro-glycerin. It’s the top of the line–the Rolls Royce of the safe industry. You could easily get five million dollars insurance coverage using this safe. The babies weigh around five thousand pounds. They have massive ten inch thick doors. They start at $14,000 and, in most cases, it’s overkill. And I’ll tell people that, which may be why in almost twenty five years, I’ve sold exactly three Super Diamonds.

A more reasonable top-line safe is the “Excalibur”–which has torch and tool resistancy for sixty minutes. That means a crook with a some serious torch equipment will need a minimum of sixty minutes to break in–during which time, your alarm system is gonna summon plenty of security. So that’s a great safe. It’s in the $8000 area.

We also do a lot of custom work. If a client wants a safe to fit in an oddball location, we’ll work with an architect and an interior designer to do it. We’ve actually designed and built entire vault rooms in private homes just like for a bank. And we’ve had clients ask us to hide safes in strange places like garages, fireplaces, under the kitchen sink, under the ground–that’s very popular right now, particularly in home use, as are these miniature safes that go inside refrigerators–although to me, that’s a gimmicky sort of thing. I think if you’re going to get a safe, you get a real safe–meaning something you can put in the middle of your bedroom and the average crook will not be able to get into.

However, a lot of custom jobs aren’t primarily about getting a good safe–they’re about the client wanting their safe to look pretty. It’s amazing how many people just want their safe to be part of their décor. I don’t necessarily approve, but I do offer a wide selection of colors and interiors. We even have safes with different kinds of interior lighting. (Laughs.) Of course, the clients pay for those privileges.

My job, essentially, is to know all about all these different kinds of safes and then educate the consumer by telling them what’s best for their particular needs. You know, is it for your home or your business? What will you be keeping inside the safe? And, of course, the kicker: how much are you willing to pay for this wonderful protection? I tell everybody right off the bat: there is no such thing as a good, cheap safe. There are good safes and there are cheap safes, and the two never meet. And good safes, safes that will answer the problem of “I want burglar and fire and flood protection,” start in the $1000 area. You can’t buy Fort Knox for two hundred bucks–although a lot of people want to kid themselves that they can.

It’s actually a rather personal job. I get to see behind the scenes of people’s lives and businesses. I get to talk to them about their possessions and their fears. I’ve gotten to meet, on occasion, celebrities, major heads of corporations–important and interesting people. A lot of them are pretty down to earth individuals, and I thoroughly enjoy that part of the job. However, I’d also say a good majority of my clients are extremely paranoid, especially the homeowners.

I don’t make too many impulsive sales. You know, people don’t walk in off the street saying, “Hey, maybe I’ll buy a safe today.” My clients generally seek me out, and there’s a reason for that. Usually it’s either: (1) they have been burglarized in the not too distant past, or (2) they are rich and they are starting to get nervous because crime is such an issue in the world today, or (3) they’ve inherited or otherwise come into some money and they want to protect it, or (4) they’re disillusioned with their bank. The last reason is surprisingly common. People are doing less business with banks today because they’re learning that their safe deposit boxes are not insured like their savings accounts. If there’s a burglary or a fire, whatever you have inside your safe deposit box will not get fully reimbursed. In fact, legally, your bank only has to reimburse you for five hundred dollars.

So, rightly or wrongly, my clients are paranoid. And I end up trying to accommodate their fears. For example, when we deliver their safes, we make sure nobody sees them. The clients don’t want anyone to think there’s something of value in their house. Of course, I sometimes chuckle to myself when I see these people living in mansions with a Rolls Royce in the driveway and alarm stripping on the windows and they don’t want to let anyone see a safe coming in because then they might think there’s something of value here. (Laughs.) It’s funny, but I understand it–the safe is the stereotype of wealth–Rockefeller lives here. So I take pains to make it very low key when we do deliveries. I send my own men, no outside trucking outfits. And they don’t wear uniforms, just plain jackets and sweaters, and I hide the word “Safe” on my trucks. We have these magnetic labels that go over the word so we can be whatever–Smith Moving Company. And the safes, of course, are completely concealed in fake packaging.

Naturally, when it’s a commercial job, I advertise the hell out of the trucks. I want the world to know MegaSafe is putting the vault in your local bank or wherever. But I’m selling more and more safes to the home market these days. People are scared. We live in a world where there’s a lot of fear. It’s unfortunate (laughs) but it helps my business. I feel I’m a form of insurance. Nobody really wants or likes insurance, but they know they have to have it. It’s a necessary part of life. I think of safes as kind of a necessary evil. Basically, it comes down to this: you have to trust somebody, and I’m the guy that you’re going to have to trust.

Edited by Sabin Streeter.
This is part of a series on Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood brought to you in collaboration with the editors of GiG, a book of interviews with people about their jobs. Click here for more information about GiG.

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