Mark Tuttle of Grandville loves removing the doors and top from his 2016 Jeep Wrangler and heading into the woods of Michigan for a weekend of hammock camping. It used to be, when he stopped at a gas station to grab a Payday candy bar, he would leave his belongings exposed.

"My vehicle is accessible to anybody who walks by," he said. "Anybody (who) wants to can walk up and take anything. Most of the time that's not a problem, but I'm not going to leave my wallet or phone or a handgun accessible."

He started looking for more "secure" storage and made a discovery: a hidden 12-gauge cold-rolled plate steel safe that's bolted inside the center console between his two front seats. The secret hiding place is designed to protect money, phones, credit cards, handguns or anything of value.

"I installed it myself, in the center console, underneath the armrest," said Tuttle, who works for an auto parts supplier. "Several people have bought them because of mine. They all had Wranglers. Every time you'd get out of the Jeep, you've got to grab everything of value and stuff it in your pockets and take it with you."

Columbus-based Console Vault expects this will be its most profitable year in nearly two decades. Co-founder Scott Bonvissuto said people are more focused on personal safety and securing weapons in compliance with conceal-carry laws.

"We have seen a significant trajectory in orders of the in-vehicle safe over 2019 due to the impact of COVID-19 and the increase of firearms sales since the quarantine," he said.

Gun sales in the USA have surged, according to national data.

The FBI said it did 3.7 million background checks for firearm purchases in March, the most recorded in a single month by the bureau – exceeding sales in March 2019 by more than 1 million, according to USA TODAY.

Customers in Texas, California and Florida purchase the most vaults – for their Ford F-150 pickups, Ram Trucks and Chevy Silverados.

As other companies have caught on to the trendy vehicle accessory, about 75,000 people made their purchases in 2019 from Console Vault, which invented the concept. The company, founded in 2002, also installs the hidden vaults as part of an option package for buyers of the bestselling Ford Super Duty pickup at the factory in Louisville, Kentucky.

Console Vault, a trademarked brand, expects to sell more than 200,000 safes annually by 2024. 

Ford and Toyota dealerships sell vaults to people who take them 真人百家家乐官网网站home to install themselves. Owners often buy directly from the company at a cost ranging from $250 to $350, depending on the size of the vehicle and whether the owner wants a key or combination lock.

The vaults are designed to fit most major truck and SUV brands, including Cadillac, Dodge, GMC, Lincoln, Nissan, Subaru and Volkswagen. There are security vaults for a handful of passenger cars, including the Dodge Charger, the Ford Fusion and the Toyota Camry. Harley Davidson is brand new. 

Other companies create safes for many uses, but Console Vault meets or exceeds strict specifications required by auto manufacturers for in-vehicle use only.

Law enforcement officers who buy the vault praise its easy installation and bolt design.

"When we first developed this, we were the only game in town," Bonvissuto said. "We'd do a trade show, and people would say, 'Omigod. Where have you been all my life?' Now, fast forward to current times, other companies have caught on. We rely on our innovative engineering design and reputation for detail. A Chevy vault will not fit in a Ford, and a Ford vault will not fit in a Chevy."

The initial idea for the company came from working with Rolls-Royce owners who wanted to protect their valuables. 

Women make up a growing portion of the vault buyers.

Erika Licon, 37, a small-business owner in Houston, said she went to a charity auction and noticed the secret vault was an item for bid. She went 真人百家家乐官网网站home and did a little research, ordered one and surprised her fiance by installing it herself in their 2019 Toyota Tundra.

"My fiancé carries a gun, so we had it for that," she said. "But in my line of business, I carry a lot of important documents, like passports. You always want personal documents locked in your car. You have no idea how many people have their backpacks stolen from their car, whether they just run in to grab a Subway sandwich or go inside the gas station for a pack of gum."

Smash test

Bonvissuto, 56, grew up in Cleveland the son of a civil engineer and an office manager. He is a street smart car guy who started out selling running boards, spoilers and pinstriping. He figured out what people wanted and needed, then built up his company, focusing on security. He said customers tell him guns are increasingly common, and they want a solution for when they can't carry their firearms, especially when going into schools, courthouses, post offices and fitness centers.

"We do a destructive test," Bonvissuto said. "How long does it take you to break in? We use several different tools like a car thief would use. We have a hammer, a crow bar, a screwdriver, a wrench. We tell our engineer to take this 5-pound sledgehammer and how long does it take you? Or a crowbar and try to pry open the lid. We're testing our own product. We'll try and think like a thief. What kind of tools does a smash-and-grab thief carry?"

The core buyer of the vault, based on the company's last demographic study, is a sportsman age 35 to 55 with an income of $125,000 or more, Bonvissuto said.

"The concealed-carry community gravitates to us. Women fall into the group more than ever," he said.

Goodbye, stress

James "Chris" Nicola, 60, of Austin, Texas, is a retired Houston police officer who works as a security adviser and recommends the covert safe to ease anxiety – especially for men and women carrying handguns.

"You just don't have to worry," said Nicola, who has led safety classes for the license to carry. 

Tim Dye, 47, a law enforcement officer in Delaware County, Ohio, installed a vault on his 2018 Harley Davidson Ultra Classic Limited. Before that, he had one in his 2006 Dodge Ram pickup.

"Normally, you get a simple box from Walmart, Meijer or a local gun shop, and you put it in the back of your truck or a saddle bag. It's not secure, just setting there," he said.

"The first thought people have is just put things in your glovebox," he said. "But they can take a screwdriver and pop that – and get your gun. Now a criminal has your gun. But this is not just for firearms. When you go to the beach, you don't want to take your wallet or your cellphone. And it's there when you get back."

Kayaking, hunting, hiking

Marianna Magyar, 46, a high school teacher in Madera, California, does product reviews on the YouTube channel Hun.tress.308 – a nod to her Hungarian heritage. Console Vault sent her a safe to try out, and she loved it so much she made a video in May; the response from consumers has been overwhelming.

"What I love is that nobody knows it's there," she said. "I have this big armrest in the middle, you can fold it up, and it looks just like a seat. But then you open that up, and it's where the console is. If I'm just trying to get out and about and go for a hike, I don't want to take my phone or my wallet. But you want things to be out of sight."

Magyar said she took five to seven minutes to install the vault, which she uses when she's camping, hunting and kayaking. She loved the product so much, she asked the company if she could become an ambassador. She has an arrangement by which she can receive a percentage of her referrals.

The Free Press asked to interview her after seeing the video review, Magyar was not initially suggested for the story by the company. 

"All these Facebook pages and different groups, people loved it," she said. "I had men say they had a lock box but this is better. You have men who carry guns and these tomboy girls in Montana and driving trucks and hunting. I have it for my 2014 Ford F-150 Ecoboost. I'm part of a lot of groups with women hunters. They say this solves a lot of problems."

Follow Phoebe Wall Howard on Twitter @phoebesaid.

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