Secure Mechanical Products, or SMP, first emerged in 1974 and produced its first cash safe, the ‘Mercian’, in 1975. Over the last 40 years the company has carved out a reputation synonymous with quality, if slightly pricey, products. Following its merger into the Associate Security group of companies in 2013, SMP has refreshed its image to ensure the next two decades are equally as successful.
SecurityNewsDesk recently visited SMP’s renovated headquarters in Telford to chat with Andy Palmer, European Sales Director for Associated Security, and Howard Bailey, Production/Development Director for SMP, and it quickly became clear that there’s much more to the safe industry than meets the eye.
First and foremost, we discovered that rather than being a stagnant industry, the way people use safes and the vertical markets that make an investment in a safe are constantly evolving. SMP have become quite adapt at tracking trends to ensure it is able to anticipate the needs of the market.
Palmer said, “The industry has changed as the crime rate’s changed. For instance, the retailers used to spec high graded safes but because the threat has changed to ATM machines the grades seem to have lowered.”
Another key trend that has driven an increase in domestic safe sales according to Palmer is Cash for Gold. He explained that in the Yorkshire area, where he resides, there used to be a big problem with cars being stolen from homes in the middle of the night by opportunist thieves – until Cash for Gold took off. Suddenly the new crime trend became as simple as a brick through a window, a pillowcase to throw your jewellery into and a prepaid envelope into a post-box. So the domestic demand has gone up because of a raised crime profile.
“Trends come in cycles,” said Palmer. “For instance, time delay locks, were on most safes in the 90’s then the trend changed and everybody insisted in time delays again. The trend may change again and delays could be removed.”
So just how does SMP keep up with the evolving criminal element?
“We try to be very proactive in the market,” said Palmer. “We look out into Europe, Africa, and beyond for crime trends that might not have hit the UK yet. We inform all our clients of the threats and advise with products to counter these threats but due to budget restraints most business’s only react once the threat is here.”
Palmer added that SMP makes every effort to keep its clients up to date with the latest products and threats, and that’s why the company holds regular security awareness days. The most recent awareness day at the Telford HQ saw over 200 people through the door in two days, and Palmer told us that the feedback was that visitors hadn’t seen anything like the SMP set up in newly refurbished offices along side a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility.
SMP are currently the only safe company in the country that manufacture to Grade 6 in the UK. It’s this dedication to keeping the manufacturing process in house and putting the effort into evolving its facilities that Palmer and Bailey credit with enabling SMP to buck another key trend in the industry – a decline in quality.
“I can see that the standards of safes has really declined over the years,” said Palmer, “and that’s driven by manufacturing abroad. For Associated Security SMP was probably one of the best acquisitions we made to continue with a quality safe that’s manufactured in the UK, and the standard of quality is something that’s not going anywhere because of the reputation we have. It’s not the cheapest on the market but they are the best made safes in this country at the moment – without a doubt.”
Palmer and Bailey are unanimous in the opinion that there has been a decline in good quality safes in the country as the manufacturing process has been moved abroad. In addition, they explained that even when companies are meeting established standards they are only passing by as little as possible, implying that current standards don’t go far enough. Production/Development Director Bailey neatly summed up how much further ahead SMP look when developing a safe.
“Our present graded safes, called the Community Range, were actually brought into production when Euro grading came out in the early 90’s, so it’s knocking on for 20 years old,” he said. “Back then the average angle grinder was probably about 450 watts in power, there were very few battery powered tools at the time, and petrol driven disc cutters weren’t even used in the building trade that much. So when the Community range was designed it was designed to combat the tools that were around at the time. Some 20 years later, the Community range, without any alterations, is still resisting the modern-day power tools. The quality is clearly reflected in the fact that over two decades the power tools and attack methods have snowballed but the safe is still maintaining its integrity against these modern tools.”
Palmers added that it’s this forward thinking, planning for the future approach that makes SMP unique. That’s why the company spends so much time getting to know its customers to find out exactly what they want their safe for. As well as looking to the future, the team at SMP have a realistic view, knowing that there’s nothing that is truly impregnable.
“Anything is breakable with time, nothing’s truly impregnable,” said Palmer. “However, to get into a vault or safe might take two days; from a burglars point of view, they can’t spend two days trying to open a door, it would just never happen. Our design, manufacturing and testing is driven round is time because that’s what our customers are buying – the peace of mind knowing that the time it will take to get into our products the Police will already be on site before they are anywhere near opening it”.
SMP literally test its safes to destruction with staff attacking products with anything they can get their hands on. Bailey explained that this is the only true way to know exactly what your products are capable of and where improvements can be made. Testing this way, rather than to simply make sure they meet the latest industry standard is what has kept SMP ahead of the pack, and Palmer and Bailey argue that existing standards in the industry do not go far enough and, as it stands, can be an obstacle to trading internationally.
For instance, SMP operate in the USA, and though they’re governed by VdS and LPCB testing in the UK, in America it’s Underwriters Laboratory (UL), and UL test for a different type of attack and have a different type of grading system.
Bailey said, “There’s very strange factions in the testing industry. They’re all working for the same goal, but they all have slightly different takes on it and if you’ve got a product that’s accredited certain countries will say we won’t accept it because it’s got, for example, a certain label on it, there’s too much politics within testing. There needs to be a global standard that is fair and works for both the consumer and the manufacturers, all test houses should test to exactly the same standards, with the same attack tools and methods and charge the same fee’s to test security products, this would then ensure that the customer purchases a safe built to the correct standard and the manufacturers can produce safes certified by one globally recognised test house and not have to pay numerous test fee’s to be able to sell safes worldwide. Both the manufacturers and test organisations should be monitored by one independent body to ensure quality and integrity.”
In addition, Palmer explained that there is a discrepancy in standards around the world, with places like the USA placing a premium on certain types of testing compared to areas like Eastern Europe not going as far in their testing.
Efforts towards standardisation are gathering pace, with organisations such as Eurosafe working to this end. The idea behind Euro safe is to unite Europe with its certification, which SMP welcome as an initiative – if it worked effectively.
“The problem with organisations such as Eurosafe,” said Palmer, “Is that they’re run by people from within the industry who may have other motives. To make a difference this should be a recognised association similar to Gas Safe. Our argument has always been that an independent body should run this organisation with no vested interest in any safe company who can set regulation across the sector.”
Anyone who knows of SMP will be aware that the company has never been known as the cheapest manufacturer and supplier on the market. The team are working on ways to ensure their products are competitively priced, but they have no intention on creating cost savings by sacrificing quality.
“When people heard that Associated Security had acquired SMP there was a lot of talk that it would be the end of the quality safe and that Associated Security would obviously make them as cheap as everybody else, but that’s not our ethic,” Bailey said. “Our goal is to maintain the quality but make the safes more affordable to produce. Our safes are still resisting what they should, so there isn’t a problem with the product. But for them to compete more equally with other safes we have to look at better working processes and better methods of manufacturing. Simple thing like building in batches and buying in bulk, and that’s one of the things that didn’t happen at SMP historically, but we’ve changed the way we work now so we can pass savings on to customers.”
These advancements in the business have also enabled SMP to cut lead times down, with general products are available next day and bespoke safes completed within 14 working days – which is from 12 weeks for even standard products historically. It seems that’s what it’s all been about for the company since Associated acquired SMP, to fine tune things, speed up production, and become a more sleek and cost effective company so the effort of the last 40 years isn’t lost in a market flooded by cheaper alternatives. With seven depots including the Telford HQ and a help line service run by staff trained in the operation and maintenance of all SMP products the company is well set up to support a quality product with quality customer service.
Already operating in Europe, the Middle East, and America, SMP are looking to develop existing partnerships in these and more regions as well as exploring logistics hubs in Europe to meet customer demand.
When you’re looking to upgrade or purchase a new safe it’s definitely worthwhile getting to know a company where the senior management team has 110 years’ experience between them; where the sales teams do not operate on commission so you’re going to get the best safe for your needs – not the best for their margins; and where there are customers that have dealt with them for 40 years.