Back in 2014, running a cell phone store was a dangerous business to be in. Robberies were a daily occurrence, with heavily armed robbers striking almost with impunity. Barge in, hold the staff at gunpoint, open the safe, grab the goods and bingo. For serial entrepreneur Michael Gewer, who was managing a division at a large cellular dealer at the time, there had to be a better way.
Driving home one day, Gewer had his ‘Eureka moment’. What if he were to build a secure locker with separate compartments, each with its own time delay? No robber would wait around to get one phone every five minutes.
“If you think about a robbery, the thieves have everything on their side: inside information, the fear factor, the element of surprise. The one thing they don’t have is time, so we set out to create a product that builds time into the process”.
It was a revolutionary idea. There was just one problem: the product didn’t exist anywhere in the world and would have to be conceptualised and created from scratch. Gewer needed an engineer to help design and build the kit – and his lifelong friend, technology entrepreneur Lance Baum, was just the person for the job.
SA solutions, for SA problems
The VaultGroup was born. Gewer and Baum patented the idea and started working on various designs and technologies. After several months, they had built their first working product, aptly named CellVault. It was a huge step for the young company: a home-grown solution for a uniquely South African business problem. But getting mobile phone retailers to buy into a brand new, untested concept proved challenging at first. Gewer and Baum persuaded ten stores to try CellVault as proof that the concept would work. Their breakthrough came when one of the pilot retail stores was hit by robbers. The store lost around R1-million in high-end cell phones from its standard safe but zero from its CellVault. The credentials were established.
Today, the CellVault product can be found in more than 1 500 high-end stores. In barely six years, VaultGroup has grown from a start-up to a 40+ person business that has prevented or minimised loss in its clients stores more than 600 times.
But while CellVault was the product that launched the VaultGroup’s entrepreneurial journey, the company has barely scratched the surface of the growing demand for secure storage solutions in the country - from retailers, banks, commercial and residential property owners, to courier and logistics companies.
Using technology to meet business needs
In fact, Gewer believes the company’s new PackVault product is ideally placed to capitalise on the ‘next big thing’ in retail, Click & Collect. Consumers order and pay for their goods online, then collect them from a secure locker using a one-time pin or a QR code.
“Retailers are in a tough place right now. The cost of acquisitions and getting product into clients’ hands is too high. Covid-19 is keeping people out of the malls. Most of all, consumers want a different experience. Click & Collect gives them the convenience they want, while still offering mall owners and retailers the opportunity to get people into the malls, and do a potential upsell,” says Gewer.
For Baum, it’s all about the power of using technology to drive real innovation and real-world solutions for the problems facing businesses and consumers alike – and the sky’s the limit, with numerous potential applications for secure storage across a range of industry verticals.