The need to keep valuables securely squirrelled away has led to an unexpected growth industry in Mexico.
Dressed in chinos, trainers and a black polo shirt, Luis Cobos, the Spanish founder and ceo of one of Mexico’s leading manufacturers of safes, is standing in a factory on the outskirts of Querétaro when he begins to show us around a room lined with rows and rows of lockboxes. Most of them will end up in the homes of wealthy individuals, he says. Or at supermarkets and convenience stores. Founded in Mexico City in 2013, his company Bull Safe has no trouble selling its products.
While safe-making in Latin America’s largest Spanish-speaking economy is still a niche industry – mostly metalworkers managing small businesses – high crime rates in the country mean that it’s a growing one. Cobos, who estimates that most medium-sized businesses and more than a third of Mexican households making more than $100,000 (€94,465) a year own a safe, is intent on meeting that demand. “In Mexico, people who make safes are often craftsmen who have workshops with four employees,” he says. For such businesses, delivering large orders to corporate clients is a big challenge. Cobos, on the other hand, has built Bull Safe into one of Mexico’s most successful medium-sized manufacturing companies. His strategy? Investing in modern production equipment, developing a software-monitored management plan for efficient step-by-step production and training 55 workers to master specific tasks in the factory. “I have very good employees,” Cobos tells monocle. In 2018, the company produced about 1,000 units a year; now it makes up to 700 every month.
At the factory, the tasks vary. Some employees design safes using 3d computer software and create plans to programme machines that laser-cut sheets of steel; others weld, powder-coat and oven-cure the units. We watch a group of workers as they fill the doors and walls of each product with concrete. Cobos nods towards a set of hammers and mallets, and explains that traditional metalworking tools are only used to correct small errors if pieces with small defects emerge.
Cobos shows MONOCLE to a safe that can be tested by pushing its door closed, rotating the circular handle to the left so that the thick steel deadbolts slide into place. Everything locks shut with a satisfyingly solid click. “It feels heavy, right?” Cobos asks, chuckling.
While he is satisfied with the quality of his products, he knows that there is always work to do. Honing Bull Safe’s software and customer service features, for example, is a major priority for the ceo. Customers are already able to monitor and even open their safes remotely. He is interested in finding out how he can make this system better. “We update designs every year,” he says of his products, which cost between $400 (€378) and $3,000 (€2,835).
He is now also looking to the direct-to-consumer model successfully implemented in Mexico by the paint producer Comex, a division of ppg, for inspiration. His reasoning is simple. Over time, Cobos has realised that investing in physical retail spaces often pays off. “I opened a shop in Mexico City – we saw sales grow,” he says. “So I launched stores in Querétaro, León, Monterrey, Mérida and Cancún.” Cobos’s next frontier? “The plan is to enter the US market.”
While Cobos has supervised and guided the company’s development, he still finds it remarkable how quickly Bull Safe has evolved. “There was never a plan from the beginning but we sell better products at better prices,” he says. “It’s been organic growth.”