John Dean–Locked Up Tight

John Dean–Locked Up Tight

By S. Clayton Moore0412015_1.jpg

John Dean knows a thing or two about keeping things safe. After more than two decades working in the safe industry, Dean’s store, Dean Security Safe Company, in Van Nuys, Calif., has the largest selection of gun, jewelry and other types of safes on the West Coast and ships all over the United States and often overseas. He and his team of professional locksmiths sell hundreds of safes per week to anyone wanting the best and most appropriate safe for their goods. Their customers range from airlines to movie stars to government agencies to everyday folks with valuables at home.

“They’re the last line of defense, and in some cases, they’re the only line of defense,” Dean explained. “Alarms aren’t a bad thing, but an alarm is more of a mental barrier. A safe is a physical barrier. You can physically get into an alarmed house; you can’t physically get into a good safe without a lot of time and effort.”

Time and effort is one thing that Dean knows about after working in the security industry for decades. Following four years doing military work in Southeast Asia, including hot spots like Vietnam, he started working in the safe industry. He spent several years working for companies like American Security Products and Adesco Safe, where he was originally part owner of the company. Upon leaving Adesco, he intended to retire and go sailing, but that didn’t last long.

“I got bored with that idea real fast,” laughs Dean. He bought a locksmith shop from an ex-LAPD officer in Van Nuys in 1988. Today, the store is the largest safe store in southern California and is still growing, with 10 employees, including three generations of Deans. It has a 2,900-square-foot showroom specializing in safes for the home as well as an adjacent 1,500-square-foot showroom specializing in gun safes. Dean credits the success to his team’s devotion to customer service.

“We’re trying to eliminate problems for our customers,” Dean said. “We try to find out all the reasons why a customer might not buy from us and we solve those issues. Installation and delivery is a big deal, so we bought three delivery trucks. We have top installers. We deliver in the area for every safe company in the United States. If you’re going to deliver a supermarket safe to a house, you can pretty much use anybody, but if you want a safe professionally installed in your home, we’re the guys you pick. It’s white glove service and we do a better job.”

Unfortunately, one problem that comes up often is his customers’ illiteracy about safes. While most people purchase a safe based on its fire rating, there are 32 different safe ratings altogether, based not only on fire, but also on burglary. While fire safes are tested at 350 degrees, they give little burglary protection, because they’re easy to break into and they can’t have holes drilled into them to bolt them down.

“I wish we could touch base with more people,” Dean said. “They would be shocked. We show people safes with a two-hour fire rating and then they start talking about putting their jewelry inside. People think that just because a safe has a lock on it, it’s completely safe.”

They even consult with the Los Angeles Police Department and various insurance companies from time to time on burglary investigations. It’s almost shocking how much they know about burglary, alarms and safecracking on top of their sheer product knowledge. Dean tells one story about a customer whose home alarm system was disabled in seven seconds.

“These burglars were home free and they spent hours there. They managed to create an awful lot of havoc and did steal two small safes, but they didn’t get into his big safe,” Dean remembers.

In addition to his own expertise, Dean relies on Maggie Gerichter, a certified locksmith and security expert whom he calls his “Swiss Army knife.”

“One thing that helps in satisfying people is that we educate our customers,” Gerichter said. “We want them to make a knowledgeable decision about their purchase. When most people walk in, they know nothing about safes. It’s a box with a lock on it. Once they walk out, they know the difference between a burglary safe and a fire safe and they know the ratings.”

The myriad types of safes available from Dean Safe are staggering and range from $30 fireboxes to 5,000-pound jewelry safes. Specialized safes for coins, jewelry and data, and customized safes are all available. Recently, Gerichter sold several combination-controlled pistol boxes to an airline for use in their fleet.

“We just had a general aviation company call us up and want to buy some pistol boxes to put into their airplanes,” Gerichter explained. “They bought seven or eight of them to put in the cockpits for their pilots. The pistol boxes from V-line and American Security Products have a mechanical push-button lock on them. It’s five buttons and you set your own combination. You put your pistol in, push the buttons and you can open the box. We carry nine different types of those safes alone.”

Dean explained that California’s Department of Justice has tested the safes they carry for specific use in aircraft.

“They load a pistol in it, throw it around the room and go after it with a screwdriver and tinker with it,” Dean said. “If they get it open, it flunks. It will keep away an opportunist. It might not ward off a sophisticated burglar with tools, but it will stop kids and any opportunist.”

They even have Hollywood connections. When George Clooney broke into a black-matte safe in the film “Out of Sight,” it was Dean who put the finishing touches on it. Another of their regular customers is the star of a hit NBC sitcom. However, Dean does have to walk a fine line between meeting his customers’ needs and respecting their privacy.

“We have to be very careful because we have to be tactful,” he said. “We’ll ask what items someone is putting in one of our safes because it makes a big difference. If they confide in us, usually we can help people more than if they do not.”

Interestingly, their customers keep coming back. “There was always a feeling in the safe business that once you sold someone a safe, you never saw them again because the products last much longer than they’re going to live,” Dean said. “Since we got our retail store, we’ve found that over 30 percent of our business is coming from referrals and repeats. That’s considered highly unusual because most people don’t talk about their safe. If you have a swimming pool, you tend to brag on it, but a safe is much more of a private thing. The fact that people think enough of us to pass the word along makes us feel pretty good.”

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