25 March 2013

Narrowing gun safe selection

In my previous entry on Selecting a gun safe I gave my overall criteria for a gun safe and I won't rehash those here.  With the criteria firmly in mind and also a budget to beat, I set about looking just about everywhere I could find that could meet my minimal criteria and who just might have a decent price.  If the listed price (MSRP) was too high, I just crossed that safe off the list – if they want to give a discount they can say so right up front and be honest that their stated MSRP is just too high.

Also note that I don't consider a gun safe a security safe, in truth, but a high end industrial cabinet with locking and fire protection features.  This means I also looked at the antique and used safe markets to see what was available because, really, if I could get such a hefty cabinet without a lot of amenities to my front door for a few hundred, then I would be willing to put in sweat equity to improve it or hand it over to a restoration shop.  I learned a lot about safe history this way... more than I wanted to, but you never know when the odd bit of historical information will come in handy.  With that said I did my best to standardize the feature set, which meant that while a stock safe might have a low cost, it would have to have additional work done to it for things like bolts, fire protection, etc. unless it offered something unique to counter what would be a normal deficiency (say, having a body made of stainless steel but only at 11 gauge).  Finally, to leaven the mix, I got one quote from a high end manufacturer for their lowest end model that fit my needs, just to give a sanity check on everything.

There are a lot of non-big box store brands out there and it is worth the effort to find them as they can offer somewhat better quality at an equivalent or even lower cost than those with large advertising budgets but are skimping on their specs.  I was not out to eliminate the big name brands, but the minimal spec. and pricing limit process effectively did that.  The fun thing was that for a few of the brand names you can dig back just a few years and find advertising that will tout them never stinting on quality or materials and, just a few years down the road, they are skimping on materials which makes you wonder a lot about quality.

In no particular order, the list and do keep in mind that this is personal experience only, not an in-depth, customer base review or anything of that sort:

Security Products

These were not the first people I found, but they did have the most unique set of safes and features.  Their claim to fame is the Clearview Safe, which features bullet resistant glass so you can get the combined benefits of a display case AND a safe.  Great stuff and I can't afford that and actually wouldn't want it.

Their other unique feature is the use of ATM style key locking mechanisms for their safes.  Since they started in that business, they have an idea of what your typical semi-sophisticated criminal has in mind for getting past security features.  I got a pricing for their Regency Safe, which fit my basic criteria.  I actually like the locking mechanism from the gadget standpoint: yeah a criminal can beat you up to get your key, but they can also beat you up to get your combination.  Keys are also easier to hide and I can think of a few dozen places to slip a key that no one will look for or even find, metal detector or no.  I would get that very Evil Genius from a James Bond flick putting a key into the safe and having it open itself... really, that is just plain cool.

Unfortunately they hit at the high end of the price range and while they didn't out price the high end manufacturer, they did put themselves at the top of the field for everyone else.  When it came down to final selection, price matters when all else is equal.


Smith Security Safes

Anyone wanting to secure their firearms before a new child arrived would normally just purchase a safe or a bunch of chain locks and be done with it.  Most people would NOT build a gun safe, right off the bat.  That is the founding story here and the business started in the 1980's and then got into the vault door end of things which was the majority of their business right up to around 2009, where safes suddenly started pushing ahead in the sales column.  When I first ran across the website I didn't know that there was an actual dealer for these safes, but as they are just one site orders can go either way.

Unlike every other company, Smith Security Safes does not give you a 'stock safe' but gives you the full itemized price of everything they normally put into a safe.  That was daunting to look at until I realized that a spreadsheet would do me just fine so that I could get the three types that generally fell into my sizing category ( Redwood, Oak and Oak Plus) and all I needed was what shipping would cost.  I contacted the owner of the business to ensure that I got the numbers right, got the basic shipping costs and had my first  manufacturer that handily beat my price limit with all the minimum features being met!  That was only a week into my search.  Suddenly I had multiple choices to work with.


Sun Welding Safes

This was actually the last company I found and it was by accident going through a message board based in California.  Then I saw the safes being resold by an online retailer and decided to drop by the web site and look around.  With good local word of mouth, people visiting the manufacturing site and decent customer service spanning decades, its just a wonder that they can survive in California.

I went with one of their Pony Express safes for a quote, but that then needed additional features added into it so as to meet minimum specs and each of those small things cost money.  What had started out as the lowest cost contender now only became the lowest cost that was going to set the price range's bottom by beating out Smith Safes.  By the end between the last three that I would have to decide upon, the price range was down to $150, delivered.  From what I can see they offer a fine safe, don't change the product lines all that much over time and I would be happy to own that safe.


Hall's Safe

From their satisfied customers the one thing I heard over and over again: You can't go wrong with a Hall's.

They blow my minimum specs all to hell and gone, what can I say?  They are my sanity check on pricing and they bust past the budget limit I had very easily.  Just their Standard Stage in my size category is a far better safe than I need.  More than happy to get the quote from them!  Nothing else I looked at will touch their price.  Damn right I would be happy with a Hall's.  Ain't happening.  Besides I am no longer convinced that they would give me the best value for the price.


Vault Pro USA

This is a start-up small business that is expanding in... California.  I'm getting the idea that when CA makes it impossible for the safe manufacturers to continue and they leave, then the State is done for.

I was impressed with the line-up from Vault Pro, and theirs was the first safe to meet all my minimum specs with just one modification (at no extra cost!) in the price quote.  Their safes actually beat my specs in most other areas and they have a good line of upgrades in body thickness that are pre-priced so that if you want to get into something that will compete at the low end of the bigger, established luxury end of things, you can.   They seem to have a decent handle on just what basic security is in a gun safe and then went ahead and made sure they met or exceeded those minimums.

This would not be the lowest cost safe in the round-up, but would not be the highest one, either, as I wasn't looking for something to compete with the higher end manufacturers that don't spend on an advertising budget.  I actually consider that very interesting.


Ironman Safes

Actually their FB Page does a better job showing the company than their web site does.  I found this company a couple of times through online resellers, but finally decided to take a look at them a bit more.  The safe I looked at in the size range did not have the top/bottom bolts that were on my requirements list, but did have a full hinge-side top to bottom passive bar seal to give the door added resistance to pry attacks and to totally thwart bolt drilling attacks.  I hadn't seen many passive designs in anything but the vintage and antique safes, and this was the first of the modern safes that showed one.

As the stock safe at the resellers site had everything I wanted otherwise, and included shipping costs, I decided that I would give an alternate security allowance for Ironman Safes and wanted to have them to help balance out the selection group.  In the end they would make the final three to decide upon because it is always worth having someone doing just a little different to help make sure you've done your analysis right.


Sportsman Steel Safes

I found this manufacturer first, and its hard to miss them in a search engine look-up.  I contacted them through their webform for a price quote... and a week later I got a great call from a sales rep. and that they would send a quote to me via e-mail.  That e-mail bounced which happens on a very rare occasion from my main e-mail provider, and I got a phone call and gave an alternate e-mail to get it to me.  Two weeks later and I sent a message asking for the price quote.  I generally rely on e-mail as my limited time for physical and mental acuity is limited in the day, and e-mail is easier to handle as asynchronous comms.

Luckily I wrote down the verbal one to have when going into the mix.  Lack of sales follow-up does matter, however.  No matter how nice the safe (or any product come to that) and no matter how nice the sales person, actually being able to get a price quote out and assure its arrival is important.


To narrow this field of 7 to 5 was easy: Hall's went and so did Sportsman's Steel.  Do note that this was not throwing out the high and the low, but actually seeing what fit the price range and what was actually available for me to look at in the way of price quotes.  That was easy.

Narrowing things down after that was much, much harder as that remaining field had $900 between top and bottom, but cost isn't the sole criteria: best value for the money is.  In other words I was willing to go $200 over budget if I got a head and shoulders much better safe for that money.  That I had to actually sleep on for a couple of nights as it isn't an easy question and is purely subjective in nature.  Was a single security feature worth the money to pay for it?

If that question is hard then the other end of the scale and weeding out amongst the low end of it is even harder: there are a group of safes and manufacturers that all make the same basic product with a high and low end with just a small number of details amongst them that set one apart from another.  Size of business matters and so does where they were in the business cycle: were they new, were they expanding, were they established?  So does what you are getting in the way of protection and both Ironman and Vault Pro had features that were standard that the others didn't and Security Products had a feature that no one else even considered.  For customization it is hard to beat Smith Security Safes or Sun Welding and they were at the low end of field.  And how can the California businesses stay in business with their business climate?  Would any of them be around next year?  Would a few of them de-camp for lower taxes and overhead cost?  That means you get a multi-variable matrix of cost, features, and business trade-offs that must also include what the manufacturer can arrange as stock 'get it to ground level in front of your home' as their final cost.  Only that cost is objective, the rest is subjective in nature and it is those subjective factors that decide outcomes.  That is a process I described elsewhere in the political realm, but serves as an analysis tool for other venues, as well.

Yes I did narrow it down to 3 and then, finally, to the selection and purchase, which has now gone into production.

At this point I'm looking to figure out how to save on shipping costs by looking on my own since the manufacturer is amenable to having a different shipper.  Of course I want the shipping, delivery and basic placement of the safe done all in one package, along with removal of the skid and packaging.  I would actually look to do that with ANY of the final 5, so this doesn't say much about who I chose.  Shipping, delivery and install are all something somewhat apart from the safe, itself, although base cost shipping if I can't find something better played a part in the decision, itself.

So there you have it – how I decided on a gun safe.

Not WHAT gun safe I decided upon, but the process and procedure to do it.


Unknown said...

Thank you SO much for this post. My brother recently bought a handgun and has been looking for a gun safe because all he has right now is a gun lock and has been looking for another measure of security. This is a fantastic post and I'll definitely be passing it on to him!

A Jacksonian said...

Angela - My thanks!

As I have a number of long guns I needed a larger safe. It will hold other valuables and documents, beyond the firearms and allow some consolidation of those items.

For a single handgun there are appropriate solutions put out by a number of vendors for at home and vehicular storage. Each person's needs will drive what they feel is necessary storage and security.