Korean safes are cracking open new market
In times of crisis, people want to keep their valuables near and protected.
Egypt has had more than its fair share of crisis in the past decade, and that has made it a promising niche market for a not very well-known Korean export: personal safes.
In Egypt, political instability followed by the pandemic has led many people to keep money and other valuables at home, according to a report by the Egypt office of the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (Kotra).
Egyptian's habit of storing things in home safes is also related to relatively weak public security in the country.
"We expect demand for safes to increase in Egypt as people try to prepare themselves for potential disasters [and] economic downturn," Kotra noted.
Despite growing demand for safes in the country, Egypt depends on imports, and that spells opportunity for Korean exporters.
As of 2020, Korea was the second largest safe exporter to Egypt, accounting for 26.87 percent of its imports, according to data from Egypt's Central Agency for Public Mobilization And Statistics.
China has the crown, accounting for 32.14 percent of safe imports to the country.
Total imports of safes to Egypt amounted to $2.8 million in 2020, a 20.4 percent decline from 2019, but higher than in 2018. The freeze in international trade due to Covid-19 is likely to have affected overall imports to Egypt last year.
The most prominent Korean brand in Egypt is Eagle Safes, which is made by Sun Safes Mfg.. The brand accounted for 15 percent of Egypt's safe market share in 2019, according the Egypt's statistics agency -- the highest share for any single brand.
"Our strategy has been to offer quality products at a reasonable price," said Jung Byeng-il, general manager at Sun Safes Mfg.. "Our safes go through very strict quality management to ensure high levels of durability."
Chinese products tend to be cheaper and are used in many hotels in Egypt. Safes in hotel rooms don't need to be of top quality.
Korean safes are used in homes, banks and companies, where higher standards are required.
According to the latest data by Kotra, Korean companies were the largest producers of safes in 2018, accounting for some 23 percent of the world's safe production.
The safes were exported to a wide range of countries from the United States and Japan to the Middle East and Europe. Safes were designated a "World Class Product" by Kotra and the Trade Ministry in 2002 and continue to have that status.
That title is given to Korea-made products that rank at least fifth in terms of global market share and have more than a 5 percent share.
What quality safes mean
Korea's safe exporters are betting on quality in a fierce competition with Chinese and Southeast Asian producers.
The quality of safes is determined by how well they serve specific purposes -- for instance, whether they need to be resistant to fire or robbery, or if they will be used in homes, offices, or banks.
Korean exporters specialize in fire-resistant safes. Most of the safes used in homes and small businesses are fire-resistant.
There are certifications that safes need to obtain to prove they can effectively withstand fire, including the United States' UL standards, Sweden's P-mark, Korea's KS and Japan's JIS.
Major Korean safe exporters including Sun Safes Mfg., Bumilsafe Mfg., and Diplomat Safe have acquired all four certifications.
To be certified, safes need to withstand at least an hour in fires of 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperature inside the safes need to be maintained at below 170 degrees Celsius while they are in the fire, protecting the contents within.
The most expensive fire-resistant safes can withstand 2 hours in fire.
Burglar-resistant safes are judged by how long they can withstand attempts to break them open using tools. These safes are designed to automatically lock, based on a dual lock system, once an outside attempt to break in is detected.
"Korea's safe manufacturing technology is widely recognized in the world," said Cho Hyun-jin, a director at Bumilsafe Mfg., a major exporter of safes to Japan and Nigeria. "Most Chinese products are non-fire-resistant safes for simpler use, though they have expanded market share due to low prices."
Local safe makers grew in the same way as other Korean exporters such as chipmakers, automakers and steelmakers.
Korea is the third largest safe exporter to Japan, accounting for some 14.6 percent of its imports. The No. 1 and 2 slots are held by China and Thailand. Korea is also the third largest exporter of safes to Jordan, accounting for 16 percent of imports, after Germany and China.
Future of Korea's safes
Korean safe makers are focusing on improving their designs and technology to differentiate their products in the global market.
"Safes used to be something hidden secretly behind wardrobes, but we are making safes fit in naturally even when they are beside beds and sofas, like all other furniture," said Jung Young-hoon, vice chairman of Diplomat Safe. "We are trying to market designed safes as high-value-added products especially in Asian markets including Hong Kong, Malaysia and Taiwan."
"Our mainstream brand in Egypt was Eagle Safes, which are traditional safes that we can picture in our minds with physical dials," Jung from Sun Safes Mfg. said. "We have recently started promoting our designed safe brand LuCell in Egypt as well."
LuCell safes have flat fronts decorated with famous paintings. Say goodbye to iron handles and dials in the center!
Made-in-Korea safes are also adapting to the internet, like everything else made in Korea.
Sun Safes Mfg. partnered with three major mobile carriers in Korea -- SK Telecom, KT and LG U+ -- to add Internet of Things (IoT) technology to their safes. The IoT-applied safes alert owners via mobile phone if there is an attempt to break into the safes or unusual movement around them. Camera-attached IoT safes can also monitor the areas around them.
BY KIM JEE-HEE [email@example.com]