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Business Observer Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021 2 months ago

Panic room firm posts frightening good growth

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Business is booming for a manufacturer of high-tech safes, panic rooms and gun cabinets.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Panic room technology has come a long way since Panic Room, the 2002 thriller starring Jodie Foster as a single mother trying to survive a home invasion. Naples-based Safe and Sound, founded in 2008 by Mark Gabel, has also rapidly evolved, growing from a simple locksmith company to a manufacturer and importer of high-end, high-tech safes, gun cabinets and, yes, panic rooms.

The firm’s growth is evident not only in its gross revenue — Gabel says Safe and Sound is on track to surpass $3 million, up from $1.2 million in 2020 — but also in its new 3,000-square-foot showroom, which opened in May at 2900 Tamiami Trail North. “It’s given us a lot of great visibility,” Gabel says.

More than doubling the revenue of a niche business in the span of a year is a huge leap forward and leads to a core question: How did Gabel and his staff of 10 pull it off? The answer, it seems, lies partially in Gabel’s ability to spot trends and quickly adapt Safe and Sound’s offerings accordingly. After all, he’s been doing it since the early days of Safe and Sound, when he reached out to banks swamped with foreclosures amid the housing market crash of the late 2000s.

“There were hundreds, sometimes thousands of foreclosures every week,” Gabel says. “We’d go out, secure the properties, change the locks and make sure the bank had control of it. I was doing five to 10 of those a day.”

Courtesy. Naples-based Safe and Sound recently moved into a new showroom.

Everything changed for Gabel a few years later when he enrolled in a safecracking workshop in Atlanta. Having trained extensively in martial arts, he’d always had an interest in personal security and had even considered joining the military after finishing high school. “Who doesn’t want to learn how to crack a safe?” he says. “It just sounds sexy.”

It also gave Gabel a whole new skill set, as well as access to “the one percent of the population, in terms of wealth,” he says. It’s a customer base that has a lot to lose — and that will spend huge sums to protect themselves and their families.

“It’s seen as a good investment for them because the most precious thing in the world is your life,” Gabel says. “No matter how much money you have, you can’t get [your life] back if you lose it. So, to spend 10, 20, even $30,000 on a room that’s really safe, for people who have the means, it’s not a question — it’s like having an alarm system on your house and not considered a luxury.”

Societal factors, such as civil unrest stemming from the pandemic and 2020 election, as well as record-breaking numbers of gun sales, have also contributed to a surge of interest in panic rooms and safes, Gabel says. Even more mundane trends, including a dearth of safe-deposit boxes because of banks’ closures of brick-and-mortar branches, are driving sales for Safe and Sound.

“Who doesn’t want to learn how to crack a safe? It just sounds sexy.” Mark Gabel, Safe and Sound

“Last year, when everything shut down because of the pandemic, you couldn’t get cash out of the bank; you couldn’t get stuff out of your safe-deposit box,” Gabel says. “People have realized you can’t rely on a bank to keep things that you need quick access to.”

Gabel’s initial foray into the panic room market was through importing bulletproof — but luxurious — doors and windows from an Italian manufacturer. He still does that, but Safe and Sound also designs and makes its own products at a 6,000-square-foot workshop on Mercantile Avenue in Naples, where technological advancements allow his team to make ballistic products that “can look like every other door and window in the house; they can be really extravagant.”

That’s another accelerant of Safe and Sound’s success. Existing rooms in a house can be retrofitted to be impregnable, eliminating the need for a purpose-built panic room like the one featured in the movie.

Courtesy. Naples-based Safe and Sound has 10 employees and both a workshop and showroom in Naples.

“We can literally make a house completely bulletproof, like a fortress,” Gabel says, “or just the bedrooms. The average person is not even going to know the windows, doors and walls are bulletproof. The technology is quite incredible. It’s not cheap, but if you have the money, you’ll have security.”

Like many other companies, hiring and supply chain have been challenges for Safe and Sound. The company has been trying to fill several positions for months, while shipping costs have gone up because of congested ports and other logistical logjams. So far it’s been able to avoid raising its prices.

“I had a shipment come in from the Middle East two weeks ago that normally would’ve been released in two days, but it’s been two weeks,” Gabel says. “Thankfully, our volume has been increasing, so we’ve been able to offset [shipping] costs because we’re spreading it over a larger volume.”

 

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