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Radio Shack raises concerns about the safety of your valuables-including the baby. WEARY AND WARY OF VIOLENT CRIME, AMERICANS SEEK HELP RANGING FROM PEPPER SPRAYS TO LATEX MEN

By Published on .

Fear!

It's everywhere you want to be.

Apologies to Visa, for borrowing its tagline, and to the FBI, whose statistics should lead one to believe otherwise, but Americans are more fearful than ever about their own personal safety and are spending billions of dollars to shield themselves from the mayhem they believe is lurking just beyond their doorsteps.

Relying only on the police or luck just doesn't cut it anymore. And out there to lend consumers a strong hand are companies large and small: from names that evoke security, like Brinks, to retail giants like Sears. Others, such as Winner International, are finding a boom market, pushing their way from the car to the home to help keep Americans safe.

Ironically, this all comes at a time when the latest FBI statistics show violent crime was actually down 5% for the first six months of 1993, compared with the same period in '92, and that figure was down 2% from '91. Also, the U.S. Department of Justice recently reported that while violent crimes were up 5.6% for all of '93, the number of crime victims was virtually unchanged from a year earlier.

But the perception persists-with today's headlines doing their part to keep the flame of fear alive-that crime is omnipresent and increasingly random: Polly Klaas, a California seventh-grader, was abducted a year ago from her bedroom during a sleep-over, then killed. Defendant Colin Ferguson claims "black rage" was behind a December shooting spree on a rush-hour Long Island Rail Road train that left six people dead and 19 others wounded. And there's violence in the workplace, known in today's lexicon as "going postal," because of the number of U.S. Postal Service workers who have killed fellow employees in shooting sprees.

Just a week ago, a 37-year-old man returned to the Ohio school where he had been a student in the '70s and, according to police, shotgunned to death a custodian.

From the schoolyard to the supermarket, no place seems safe.

A survey of 607 adults ages 25 and older, conducted for Brinks Home Security by the Blackstone Group, Chicago, found 99% had taken some action to prevent crime. Some 39% of the randomly selected respondents surveyed by phone last April said their household had been burglarized since 1991.

"Ten years ago, we felt that if you locked your doors and looked around in the parking lot, you could avoid most crime," said Jackie Martin, director of communications for Citizens Against Crime, a Dallas-based franchised consulting, lecture and sales organization geared to safety information. "People I've done programs for feel very out of control."

There's no such thing as a simple trip to the store anymore: Make sure the home alarm system is engaged. Driving? Don't forget the cellular phone. In case the sound of your car alarm goes unnoticed (and who really pays attention to those anymore?), use The Club. For when you emerge from the vehicle, be sure to have your Mace or pepper gas on hand. And then there's a gun ... well, that's your decision.

At home

Brinks has proved that sophisticated security is not just for the well-heeled anymore. A decade ago, home security was the privilege of the rich, with systems starting at more than $2,000, said Peter Michel, president-CEO of the Carrollton, Texas-based company. Few security providers were concerned with the middle-class market.

Then in 1983, Brinks embraced a new line of thinking: Drop the price to a more affordable level ($95) and sign homeowners to long-term monitoring agreements.

The strategy catapulted the industry from $1.7 billion in revenue from residential and commercial new installations and monitoring contracts in 1983 to $11.2 billion in '93, according to industry magazine Security Distributing & Marketing, Des Plaines, Ill.

Today, an estimated 12% of owner-occupied homes are outfitted with alarms, Mr. Michel said. At a consumer cost of $199 plus an annual service agreement, Brinks' business has been growing by more than 10% a year.

Ads from DDB Needham Direct, Dallas, run on national spot TV, newspapers, radio and direct mail, funded by a $7 million marketing budget.

But the perception of the pervasiveness of crime helps as much as any media buy, and media attention on crime issues has grown in recent years.

"If they weren't reading about crime, they'd be less motivated," Mr. Michel said.

Even the perception of having a system makes some people sleep easier. The hottest seller for Citizens Against Crime is the alarm warning sticker. At a half-dozen for $5, the stickers warn all comers a home is protected with a security alarm system-though it is not.

Retail powerhouse Sears, Roebuck & Co. in October began creating Sears Security Stores in about a third of its more than 800 sites. Sears is pulling security- and safety-related goods the company already sells throughout its stores into about 50 feet of space in one area. Categories include fire security, lighting, door security, home and personal safety, and other assorted items like The Club, padlocks and chains.

"This is a legitimate retail opportunity," said Kurt Ulbricht, associate buyer-home/personal security and hardware. "Crime is among the foremost issues on people's list of concerns."

"What we decided was looking at that opportunity that presents itself by all the attention the issue gets, we weren't doing a very good job in serving that need," Mr. Ulbricht said. "We weren't taking full advantage of the opportunity, nor were we serving the customer well in not bringing these things together."

Supporting ads from ABD Group, Chicago, broke in Oct. 16 Sunday circulars, with the theme, "Shop Sears for your home security needs."

Builders Square for the second year declared October as Safe & Secure Month (it was also National Crime Prevention Month). A new 30-second commercial from Fogarty Klein & Partners, San Antonio, using the "We've got you squared away" theme, highlighted the company's array of security products, from lighting to locks.

Working with local crime watch groups and police and fire departments, stores nationwide planned to hold seminars on crime and fire prevention, said Bob Bierley, Builders Square senior director-advertising.

Executives hoped end-cap displays featuring products from corporate partners First Alert and Owens-Corning, along with in-store seminars on home safety and security, would position Builders Square as more than a hardware store.

"The opportunity is to get away from portraying the entire store as a destination, but target it as a destination for home safety and security items," Mr. Bierley said.

Radio Shack also jumped on the security issue in October by tying into a program with the National Crime Prevention Council and the National Sheriffs Association.

Network TV and radio from Lord, Dentsu & Partners, New York, that was part of the $6 million, one-month campaign, urged people to empower themselves to prevent crime in their own lives. The TV advertising featured blue-tinged pictures of a night scene in a house, talking about valuables and eventually turning to a scene of a baby in a crib.

Radio Shack accompanied the spots with a newspaper ad and a mailed supplement that pitched specific products and added the tagline "If security is the question, we've got the answer," a variation of the normal "If you've got questions, we've got answers" company theme.

In the car

With the house snugly under lock and key, the next concern becomes your beloved wheels. For starters, there's The Club. The name alone seems to symbolize consumers' heightened fear of crime and auto theft.

Since 1987, Winner International Corp. of Sharon, Pa., has sold 10 million units of The Club. In 1993 alone, the company sold 3.7 million units for $120 million, said Tom McCartney, director of public relations. The Club, he offered, "came along at the right time."

Winner spends about 25% of gross sales on its in-house-produced marketing and advertising, 85% of which is on cable and regional network buys supporting the company's 14 products.

And The Club isn't just for cars anymore-there's the Door Club for homes and the Bicycle Club. Winner has also branched out into pepper sprays and the Help Me line of personal audio alarms.

Winner hopes to become "the premier provider" of safety products for the home, personal and auto security markets, Mr. McCartney said.

Charles Johnson, The Club's inventor, is also behind a new, rival product, LockJaw, marketed by International Business Development Corp. And there's LoJack, the silent auto tracking device marketed by the Boston company of the same name. David Manly, VP-sales and marketing, said the product was introduced in 1986 and now is available in 11 states.

The $595 electronic homing device has been installed in more than 330,000 cars, he said; the company anticipates revenue this year of $45 million.

LoJack claims a 95% retrieval rate for cars reported stolen within 24 hours of initial theft, a claim essential to its marketing plan. The company spends about $4 million annually on print and radio ads handled in-house. When LoJack gets word of a successful retrieval, Mr. Manly interviews the customer for a radio spot.

Cellular phone marketers have also dialed up safety marketing. Consumers, especially women, have surpassed business users in recent years, from 33.8% in 1989 to 51.5% in '93, according to a study from Herschel Shosteck Associates, a Silver Spring, Md., research consultancy. In '93, women made up 33.6% of cellular phone users, up from 20% four years earlier, said VP Jane Zweig.

The shift to consumer from business can be attributed in part to safety reasons and in part to cost, she said. As the price of phones and per-minute rates alike have dropped, more people are buying them for personal use. Some plans offer higher per-minute rates, assuming use will be limited to emergencies and crises.

"All of those things have driven the market," Ms. Zweig said. "It's much more of a security market."

Crime, accidents, vandalism and general travel-related information all have been addressed by Atlanta-based BellSouth Mobility. Customers paying subscriptions from $19 to $59 a month can serve as Good Samaritans by pressing the "star" or "pound" numbers on their cellular phones to report crime, broken-down vehicles or otherwise unsafe or security-oriented events, said Sandy Wolf, manager of advertising and promotions in the company's Boca Raton, Fla., offices.

A print ad, from Tucker Wayne/Luckie & Co., Atlanta, features a car on a curving country road with the headline: "The farther you go, the more you need to make sure your call for help can be heard."

In a 1993 survey commissioned by the Motorola Cellular Subscriber Group in Libertyville, Ill., 91% of the 660 cell phone users contacted said simply owning a phone makes them feel safer, up 12 points from a similar '91 survey the Gallup Organization conducted for Motorola.

A current Motorola print and national cable campaign from J. Walter Thompson USA, Chicago, and themed "Nothing ever happens to me," tries to offer a "gentle nudge" to those-especially women-reluctant to buy phones, said Sonja Colosia, VP-director of marketing communications with Motorola. Safety "is the one reason that anyone can justify buying the device."

And when you leave the car

How much to fight back is a personal decision. But for those who choose to, there are a plethora of whistles, personal alarms, pepper sprays, stun guns and firearms.

A 30-minute infomercial from Remington Products Co. lauds the merits of non-invasive personal protection. The company launched the SoundMate personal alarm this year. It represents the first in what executives there hope will become a growing niche, said Bob Gaines, marketing director with the Bridgeport, Conn.-based company.

Aegis Corp., the original manufacturer of SoundMate, had been marketing the product through upscale catalogs at $69. Remington brought it down to $39.95, figuring the time was right to take the product into the mass market through Sears and Target Stores, Mr. Gaines said.

SoundMate is packaged with a 20-minute videotape on safety tips in an attempt by Remington to add credibility to the emerging sound-defense segment, he added.

Another segment on the upswing is pepper gas and ink dye sprays. Heightened popularity can be tracked to the November 1992 carjacking-slaying of a mother picking up her daughter from daycare in New Jersey. That year, sales of Mace defense spray shot up by 46% to $7 million. As recently as 1988, Mace marketer MSI Inc. had posted sales of $960,000. Last year, the company did $9.6 million in sales.

"The media went crazy," said Kelly Donahue, director of public relations at MSI, which purchased the Mace name from Smith & Wesson in 1986.

Since then, "fear" has been the single most contributing factor in the company's performance. Ms. Donahue said crime is down but public perception is up.

"The fear of crime, and the selling of crime through the media, actually has a lot to do with the whole system," she said.

Much of the company's sales are an admittedly "knee-jerk response" to crime, Ms. Donahue said.

The same reaction can be associated with firearms sales during recent years. While manufacturers can't quantify to what degree sales are due to crime, and how many are in reaction to recent legislation to ban assault-style weapons, all agree the result has been a boom.

"The firearm as a tool for protection is being driven not because the firearm industry suddenly realizes, `We've got to create a market,'*" said Russ Thurman, editor of Shooting Industry, San Diego. "A market was created by increased crime."

Smith & Wesson, in Springfield, Mass., has pulled all magazine ads in recent months as buyers' fears have driven sales beyond the need for marketing, said Ken Jorgensen, director of communications, adding, "They're selling themselves."

In recent years, the industry has addressed personal protection. Last year, Smith & Wesson rolled a successful LadySmith print campaign designed to lure women buyers, Mr. Jorgensen said.

Along with successful sales has come a move on the manufacturer's part to boost product knowledge and safety, he added. First-time buyers have been offered reimbursement of training course fees, and those marketing efforts that are running present a conservative approach to gun ownership.

"The gun owner has changed; therefore the message has changed," Mr. Jorgensen said.

The future, however, doesn't bode well for all purveyors of safety products. After a little more than a year, Safe & Secure Living, a title of Challenge Publications in Canoga Park, Calif., ceased publishing with its August issue. Managing Editor Brian Hemsworth said the magazine possibly arrived on the market too early-before it could be easily categorized on racks nationally.

Its time may come, though. While federal statistics show crime is slowing, if only slightly, perception tells another story.

"The impression out there is that violent crime is on the rise," Mr. Hemsworth said. "That's one of the reasons the market is doing so well."

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