Unlocking ABUS UK – 21st Century Security Solutions

Report by Peter Brett

History Means a Lot

The ABUS story starts in the village of Volmarstein, Germany, in 1924 when August Bremicker and his sons (hence AB und S = ABUS) founded the company. Initially they made padlocks and accompanying hasps and staples in the cellar of the family home, but 92 years later ABUS production is based in five different German locations, and two Chinese plants with worldwide partnerships and subsidiaries. Its 3000 or so employees are urged to live up to ABUS’ motto of “Security built on quality” so ABUS is justifiably proud of its market-leading security solutions for homes and mobile objects aimed to provide ‘the good feeling of security’

Founder August Bremicker and his family had very strong Christian values and these principles still guide his great grandsons who head the company today.  Honesty and integrity in dealing with customers, suppliers and staff are very important, as well as more current preoccupations like “green” issues and energy usage that have strong implications for the future of next generations. For example, ABUS production methods are so stringent that pollution from its factories is a fraction of current EU targets.

The UK’s current debate over a living wage has not been an issue at any ABUS operations.

There have been many milestones along the way since production restarted in 1947 after World War II. These include the iconic Diskus Padlock in 1949 – still an icon today set apart by its German production and trademark ‘Diskus’ logo.

Increasing demand and market share made it necessary to open the Rehe factory in 1957 in Westerwald, which is now also the centre for developing and testing commercial, domestic and mobile security products.  Rehe is the production base for the ABUS ‘Granit’ padlock range.

1957 also saw the introduction of the first brass padlocks on the market, the ABUS no 75, followed swiftly in 1958 by the first ABUS bicycle lock and a telephone lock. I remember my mum had one to stop my elder sister from having long teenage telephone conversations while she was at work!

The first bicycle U-lock was launched in 1971 and has been much copied, as was ABUS’ first additional retrofit window lock.

With the demand for extra home security solutions in the seventies, ABUS produced a range of retrofit domestic door locking products and the oil tank lock from 1981 again reflected the needs of consumers during the 2nd oil crisis.

In the “noughties” ABUS acquired the Pfaffenhain cylinder system company based in Saxony and later the Security Centre Company that enabled it to expand its competence into video surveillance and alarms as well. By 2008 modern security needs required the development of the Secvest 2WAY danger detection system which combined fire and intruder protection and in 2011 ABUS was selected as a security system “best for children” for its range of “child friendly” locks.

A relatively new development, also located at the Westerwald factory, is the ABUS Academy. Its modern facilities are used to train and inform ABUS’ distributors and installers about ABUS security products and general security issues, so their business partners have the best information about both ABUS security solutions and the security industry in general.

This lightning tour of ABUS’ past history is complemented with the introduction of the new series of TITALIUM padlocks in 2012 – a brand new alloy developed by ABUS using, amongst other metals, titanium and aluminium, to create a padlock body that provides a lower cost alternative to brass, but with equal or higher security rating – and the image of solid steel!.  This month sees the launch of shutter and closed shackle TITALIUM padlocks offering further high value and security.

ABUS in the UK – Markets, Marketing and Products

Inevitably there are always differences in the way that markets operate in different countries and Nick Vanderhoest, MD of the UK subsidiary of ABUS has had the job of managing ABUS’ growth since 2006 when CK stopped marketing ABUS and started marketing its own brand of locks independently. Today the bulk of ABUS UK’s padlock business is been managed via wholesale partners Toolbank, Hoppe and Aldridge.

However, markets don’t stay the same. Increasing internet sales and the introduction of more complicated electronic security products using smart technology and video recording, has meant that ABUS has had to develop its own team of experts and additional specialised distribution.

ABUS has not ignored the impact of the likes of Amazon and other internet sales companies, nor have they ignored the big retailers like Screwfix and B&Q and this has meant the development of a range of strategies to keep customers happy. 

The sizeable premises in Avonmouth near Bristol, is home to a team of sales and support staff who manage all the functions of a modern subsidiary. IT, as we would expect, is a key area, with roles in communication, accounts and product development. Each area of ABUS’ security products has its own dedicated Product Manager, whose role it is to explain and develop products and markets, support sales staff and all the other 101 things that come up.

Marketing is also an inevitable part of explaining and expanding awareness of products, and this important role is filled by Sarah Utley, the lady with the “In” tray that is constantly being filled with new demands – some from this magazine.

The building also houses a substantial warehouse space needed for stock as well as cylinder system assembly, servicing and demonstration space for new products and ranges.

Nick is a mine of information about the UK market for security products and how it differs from other markets – particularly the continental market, where security needs differ greatly than in some sectors of the UK.

One example he quoted was window security, where screw type sash locks are considered enough for most purposes in the UK. However, Germany and continental Europe they have floor to ceiling windows that can be tilted or fully open for ventilation and for easy cleaning. These windows provide a significant security risk, because they are easily big enough for an adult to enter through, and big enough to manoeuvre a giant flat screen TV through as well. ABUS has been providing both inbuilt and retrofit window locks for these types of windows for many years and continental householders think nothing of spending €100 or more for secure locks on each window. Hard to imagine an average UK householder spending £80 on door or window locks…… And yet with the more and more modern buildings with walls of glass being built in the UK, it will be only a matter of time, so perhaps specialist security retailers will need to start looking around at the products needed to fulfil the demand. 

It is a similar story with UK home security. As some readers may know already from continental holidays, each European manufacturer may have a range of different keyways to fit a continental euro cylinder lock. This means that European potential thieves would have to have literally hundreds of “bump keys” if trying to access a home via the ‘bumping’ method. However, in the UK, 95% of us use the 1A Yale keyway. While this is convenient for distributors cutting extra keys, limiting the range of key blanks distributors have to stock, it also means that a potential thief has to carry only one “bump key” to potentially gain entry to most UK domestic locks.

ABUS promotes it’s high quality cylinders as the ‘brain’ of the door, and rather promotes correct size cylinders protected by internally fitted strong door furniture across many often patented different key profiles as the better door cylinder security solution.   ABUS has just developed and launched a solution to consumers’ varying cylinder size requirements with its ‘Modular’ cylinder lock system that both minimises the sizes of cylinders distributors need to stock while adding extra strength against ‘snapping’ type break ins.

But as we would expect, Nick is also keen to tell us about the latest developments that ABUS has been making in “Mechatronic” (access control via a combination of top class mechanical security with electronic programming) and video security. Ironically this area has grown in the UK because some ABUS dealers have asked the company to help them install their own security system. The knowledge gained with involvement in installing the system has then led to the dealer to be able to confidently recommend and manage the more complicated sales process involved in installing a mechatronic system.

ABUS cylinder systems are already used in a number of high profile buildings like the Burj al Arab Hotel in Dubai, Wembley Stadium and the Gherkin, and ABUS confidently predicts their Mechtronic solutions will be exploited in similar icons. Security issue in large organisations will be complex, with staff needing access to clean and service, while clients need the reassurance of security for themselves and their possessions.

This can now be achieved via electronic key fobs using 6 digit pin numbers that are almost impregnable to either manipulation due to the millions of combinations they offer, and their inherent mechanical strength and quality.

Either commercial or domestic needs can take advantage of this system, but it is not too much of a stretch to see that as the systems become more common (and therefore cheaper) these simple to operate systems will become the norm for “ordinary” householders to programme in unique numbers to allow a plumber access at a certain time, enable the Ocado delivery and let the kids in after school. Done remotely via a smartphone, AirBnB owners could manage a unique access time and code for their individual guests.  ABUS successfully sells many thousands of “key garages” for carer or holiday homes access.  But the mechatronic solution eliminates the potential “key garage” risk where actual house keys could be stolen or copied, and where guests inadvertently or deliberately reset a new “key garage” combination.

Increasingly, even home security now involves the use of video cameras to record movements and events. ABUS’ latest contribution to this are high technology low cost camera systems that are able to use existing analogue cabling to record high resolution digital images that can be used to identify individuals or car number plates.

The ABUS Academy can help provide extra information and training and ABUS’ team of individual Product Managers and Sales team can all be involved in helping clients choose and install a security system that is suitable for particular premises.

By now, readers should be able to gauge that ABUS’ knowledge of security is in-depth and extensive and this is reflected in the range of security solutions the company offers. Whether it is a cylinder lock for a front door, a disc brake lock for an expensive motorcycle or a surveillance and security system for a luxury house, the ABUS people have the expertise to recommend and supply a system that suits – whether this is in the UK or pretty well anywhere else in the world.

My big realization after our visit to ABUS UK is that I need to wake up a bit when it comes to my home and workshop security. And perhaps this is also a message that ABUS dealers could be passing on to customers. Increased security may not always cost that much extra, but as Nick told us, security is only as good as the weakest link and even a determined thief can be put off by the extra time that that extra bit of security might buy us. Time for a security evaluation I think. 

ABUS’ Security Viewpoint

I’d like to firstly stress the vital point of ABUS’ Christian belief.  We live today in a multi-faith country and world, but whatever one’s personal creed, faith or doctrine, we hope all our customers recognise, as do all ABUS staff, the very real benefit of the high ethical code on which all ABUS business is conducted.

This links strongly with the ABUS’ insistence on constant high quality of material and manufacture, and as Peter has already pointed out our founding statement is “Security built on quality”.

While on links, I also pick up and emphasise Peter’s point on security being as strong as the weakest link.  We see unbalanced situations where containers full of high value merchandise are secured by a brass padlock, or where a garden shed with high value leisure goods is secured with a Granite padlock, but the shed door needs only a screwdriver to take off the hinges.  So the fundamental rule of security is recognising all potential points of entry, and ensuring balanced appropriate security for the risk and value is comprehensively applied.  Police advise on cycle and motorcycle security is to spend at least 10% of the value you are protecting on security devises.  This commercial advice can be applied to all security applications.

I also stress Peter’s comments on the varying security needs in different countries, which as an international manufacturer and supplier of security solutions leaves ABUS with the continual challenge, to think global and act local.

I am very proud to work for the brand ABUS, and while we strive for perfection, recognise we sometimes may fall short of all expectations.  We none the less genuinely believe that ABUS, through our valued customers and UK distribution does make a genuine valuable contribution to ‘the good feeling of security’.

Nick Vanderhoest – Managing Director - ABUS UK

 

ABUS Security Safety company profile Peter Brett
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