Monday, November 24, 2008

On the Job. Monday, November 24, 2008

Seth Derderian, owner of Joseph’s Lock and Safe Co. in Worcester, with a selection of the products his company sells and services. (T&G Staff / PAUL KAPTEYN)
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What do you do?

“I’m the owner, but I’m the manager. I do estimating. And I oversee the company and I’m actively involved. As an owner, I wear many hats. I’m involved in accounting, human resources. I’m involved in purchasing. I’m involved in service. I’m fascinated with locks and safes and keyless entry systems. I was always extremely mechanically inclined. I always wanted to understand how things worked.”

How did you get started in the business?

“My father and uncle started the business after World War II. I started working there when I was 15 or 16 years old. I bought the business when I was maybe 30. I had passion; I was just intrigued by it. When I was a kid, I was, ‘Oh, how does this work?’ When I was a kid, I used to say, ‘Dad, can I go to work with you?’ ”

Is your safe business more residential or commercial?

“Most of our business is commercial. We do banks, we do credit unions, all sorts of convenience stores, restaurants, package stores, offices. The residential side is off. With the turn of the economy, people don’t have the extra money to build a safe into a room they might be remodeling or I don’t think people have as much cash or valuables. It’s a down cycle, on the residential side of it.”

I would have thought with the economy and stock market sliding that more people would want a safe in their home as an alternative to the bank, but that’s not the case?

“No, and if they’re buying it, they’re buying it from someone else. No one is coming into the store and saying, ‘I’ve had it, I’m afraid. I’m taking my money out of the bank.’ We saw this 15 years ago. There was a time when the market started to fluctuate and people were coming in and saying, ‘I don’t know where this economy is going, and I think I’m going to buy a safe because I don’t trust the banks anymore.’ ”

Do you think that could happen again?

“They may. The first time around, there was a lot of concern with a lot of the banks closing up and going bankrupt, but now, with what I have been reading, I think we’re going to be OK.”

Should more people have a safe in their home?

“Everyone should have a safe if they have anything of value, if they’re concerned about a fire or robbery. Whether it be jewelry, whether it be a passport, whether it be a birth certificate, they should be kept in a safe place. There’s no doubt.”

What is the best part of your job?

“I love it because it’s different every day. The job is different, the customer is different, the problem is different, the solution is different. I personally am satisfied that we help people resolve a problem.”

What is the worst part of the job? “The problems we run into are scheduling conflicts. The toughest part of the business is to be able to be there for the customer at the right time and the customer to be there so we can do it all. The most difficult part of the job is keeping the scheduling with our customer. We strive hard to do it. You call a customer about a 2 o’clock appointment and you get voice mail and no one there to pick up the phone and you got three guys ready to do something, so sometimes that can be discouraging.”

Have you installed a safe for someone who had an unusual amount of valuables to store away?

“We’ve had some very, very interesting cases. They are people who have acquired an incredible amount of jewelry, gold, coins, and like that.”

What have you learned from your 38 years on the job?

“I would have liked to have a master’s degree in business and a master’s degree in psychology. It’s understanding the dynamics of dealing with the people, the customer. How they act and react. They’ll say, ‘I need it right now.’ When our customers call sometimes it’s generally a crisis.”

What kind of emergencies do you come across in the safe business?

“It’s when (the safe) won’t open or they have to change the combination. Things like that. They’ll say, ‘We’ll be there at 4 o’clock.’ But the person has to be there. And then you call at 4 o’clock and you get voice mail. Then 40 minutes go by and they end up calling you at 5 o’clock. That’s the service side of the business. It’s not like we’re showing up at a building to paint a wall or wash a window. We have to meet somebody to get a combination and it’s not just anybody in the company. It’s usually the owner or one or two people.”

In movies, safecrackers can open safes by listening to the tumblers clicking. Is that for real or is it just a Hollywood thing?

“It can be done, but it’s not as simple as it is in the movies. Some safes have to be drilled to be opened. We have these modern computerized robotic dialers that we can put on a safe. And we can turn them on at the end of the day. They’ll run 100,000 possible combinations. And that’ll work on maybe 30 or 40 percent of the market.” Compiled by: Correspondent Richard Price