Proven Industries President Ron Lee

Proven Industries, a Port Richey, Fla.-based manufacturer of heavy-duty trailer coupler locks for the aftermarket, traces its roots to the theft of the family-owned company’s cargo trailer almost a decade ago.

Security footage showed it only took a few seconds for a thief using a crow bar to dismantle a conventional trailer coupler lock, who then made off with the cargo trailer and the $40,000 of equipment inside.

“We trusted one of these low-grade, entry-level locks. You think a lock’s a lock before you really dive into it. That was so expensive. It was definitely a setback,” said Ron Lee, president of Proven Industries. “So we started looking for a superior lock, and we really couldn’t find one out there that wasn’t just like what we already had.”

Lee and his team started developing their own version of a lock that would be “superior to others on the market.” After several prototypes, they ultimately were satisfied with one resembling a cylinder that fits securely over the trailer coupler. The shell itself is made of 1/4-inch hardened steel, while the puck-style locking mechanism is made of aircraft-grade 6061-T6 aluminum.

“We incorporated the puck lock into it because, with how we use it, you can’t pry it open – plus you can interchange it with another one,” Lee explained. “Let’s say that an employee isn’t working out and you get a new person there, you can change the puck locks and re-key them.”

Landing on a prototype for what would be known as the Proven Locks line was only step one. Step two was finding a domestic manufacturing partner – keeping production in-house was too expensive – that had the right mix of quantity, quality and price. Once that was settled, Lee incorporated in 2011 and Proven Industries was born – which sent him headlong into step three: marketing.

Proven Industries trailer coupler lock

“You know, you can cut down the biggest tree, in the woods, but if nobody’s there, nobody’s going to know it was cut down,” Lee said, adding the company has settled into a mix selling consumer-direct as well as to retailers while universal pricing overcomes the expected issues posed by two competing models.

“Coming up with the marketing strategy was definitely a learning curve,” Lee explained. “It’s true, you do need traditional retailers in certain marketing aspects, but that cost per acquisition for those retailers is quite expensive. You have to go out and talk with them. You have to send them product. You have to have them ship the product back. Plus you need to go out and do demonstrations. Being a small company at this point, if we were to exclusively do that, it would have taken 20 years to be able to get the market share that we have now.”

Today, Proven Industries has about a dozen different models and its pricing ranges from $215 for model 2178, which fits most 2-inch trailer couplers, to $295 for model 2516-AS, designed to fit the 2 5/16-inch couplers on Airstream travel trailers. Replacement puck locks retail for $50, and the company also makes a wheel lock with a $199 price tag. All carry a lifetime warranty.

In marketing directly to consumers, Lee added, Proven Industries has a straightforward pitch: “It’s a little bit more expensive, but it’s better. It’s made in America. It’s made of better components. And it’s nearly impossible to compromise.” The company just had to make consumers stand up and take notice, and in doing so, Lee found that his satisfied customers were all too happy to do the marketing for him.

“We started making our own demonstration videos, posting them on YouTube, redirecting the consumers to our site, and that’s when it really kind of snowballed. Now we actually have a lot of our customers do the groundwork for us. They get our product and they’re passionate about it – which we love – and they bring it into their trailer stores and they show the people there and they contact us. When they hear more about our product, we set up accounts with them, and so on. It’s quite interesting how it changed, and that it went a lot faster and a lot easier once we started going directly to the consumers.”

Lee said a similar marketing strategy is what’s known as “influencer marketing.” In this case, Lee reaches out to RVers with a popular YouTube channel. He provides them with a Proven lock for review, and when their video is posted about a trailer coupler lock that works, their followers end up being customers. They, in turn, become ambassadors for the company.