The Changing World of a Locksmith

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The question every locksmith should be asking right now is, “what business am I in?”

More than 60 years ago, Theodore Levitt famously asserted that the railroad industry weakened, not because the need to move passengers or freight had declined but because those running the railroads saw themselves in the railroad business rather than the transportation business.

A few years ago, the locksmith might have been described as a tradesperson who duplicated keys, installed and replaced door locks or got into an old safe with a forgotten combination. But all that is history now. Or is it?

Indeed, the bread and butter for a great locksmith are getting someone “in” as soon as possible. Lost your car keys? Locked out of your home or business? The locksmith is right there to help you — night or day. However, the often-used word evolution has arrived in the locksmithing space, with technology and digital transformation at the forefront of the growing movement in the locksmith industry.

Physical security systems, touchless access and video surveillance are all part of the new world of the locksmith. So, the question remains: what business are you in? Is it the security business? The access control business? Is it an all-encompassing locking solutions business that provides for the new worlds and the old all in one?

It’s true that a locksmith shop can and does thrive purely by doing the aspects of the business mentioned earlier – lock replacement, keying and emergency services for auto and safes, among others. What we’ll explore here are some areas of growth for the locksmith industry with ideas taken directly from experts in the field on strategies to build a locksmith business in these key ways:

  1. Shifting from door locks to access control
  2. Learning and training on security systems
  3. Scaling up and owning the entire building

Shifting from door locks to access control

For those locksmiths who consider themselves in the business of access to buildings, the easiest and most logical step in the evolution of locksmithing is to embrace access control because, in the simplest terms, access control starts with a door closing and latching properly.

Some locksmiths are akin to a security integrator, while some have never implemented access control before. One of the best ways to begin the journey into access control is with starter products that are simple to install and easy to understand. Once you have a handle on access control, it will open more possibilities for advanced projects. Many of those new to access control believe it might be difficult for them to adapt and cross over from mechanical to electronic security. In practice, the access control technicians might have a more difficult time understanding and learning mechanical security than the locksmith, who already understands mechanical security and has an easier time adapting access control solutions.

The impact of the pandemic created another area of growth for the locksmith industry around health and safety concerns. The drive to add that extra layer of health security for employees and visitors has manifested the installation of touchless and anti-microbial hardware in commercial buildings across the country.

But this is a trend the industry has already experienced. Twenty years ago, accessibility for people with disabilities was not a foremost concern, but the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) changed that in the same way that the pandemic has impacted the current choice of products. In the future, many of the health-related solutions we have adopted will be the norm, and most openings will likely continue to have features of health protection and security.

Key takeaways:
  1. Get trained on access control solutions and learn the capabilities of products so you can lead informed conversations with customers and offer the best options for their unique needs.
  2. Starting small will help you prepare for more advanced projects.
  3. Focus on health safety solutions and the ADA analogy as a conversation starter with customers to find touchless and antimicrobial hardware opportunities. Here is an example conversation with your customer: “Just like the ADA changed how we provided accessibility for people with disabilities, I believe that access control will include health-related solutions for customers now and in the future. Is your company working to incorporate safety solutions using products like antimicrobial hardware, low-touch hardware, and touchless access?”

Learning and training on security systems

A day in the life of a locksmith can range from something as simple as cutting a key all the way up to installing access control and cameras. Clearly, elements of locksmithing and security go hand in hand, and both have overlapped and evolved in many ways over the years. But security integrators aren’t the only ones who can install systems like access control or video surveillance. There are growth opportunities for locksmiths in the installation of connected devices.

The locksmiths who are educating themselves on connected devices are getting the business. Mechanical devices will never go away, but the electro-mechanical side is growing, and locksmiths should seek educational opportunities, including training sessions. And with the immense number of offerings available, this is creating a need for new product introductions from suppliers so locksmiths can deliver the right solutions to their customers.

An example of a new opportunity is if one of your customers reaches out for guidance on a need for touchless options. Walk the job together with your customer and identify solutions at different price points for no-touch/wave actuators. Then, talk to your distributor to find simple and reasonably priced products. Once you place an order, request training at your shop, and when the install date is scheduled, provide hands-on assistance for the first install and programming to prepare yourself for the subsequent ones. After that, you’ll be comfortable and confident to bid on these jobs and begin selling low-energy operators — another excellent opportunity to increase sales and grow your business.

For those who are new to electronic solutions, the first step is to embrace low-voltage products. Once you learn them and become licensed, if required in certain states, you will open your business up for more opportunities. A good supplier partner will not only offer multiple trainings during the year, but they will also introduce vendors and products to help you become comfortable with the offerings and products that might be new to you.

Key takeaways:
  1. Educate yourself and get training on new products and offerings. If you think you might miss out on some business during training sessions, notify your customers via voicemail or an email message letting them know you are engaged in training so you can better serve them in the future.
  2. Once you learn a new product installation, you’ll be comfortable bidding on the jobs that will increase your sales and grow your business.
  3. Embrace low-voltage products.

Scaling up and owning the entire building

“The reason [the railroads] defined their industry incorrectly was that they were railroad oriented instead of transportation oriented; they were product-oriented instead of customer-oriented.” -Theodore Levitt

There are two simple, tried and true growth methods: sell more of the same or expand what you offer. That means having the ability to scale up for larger projects or embrace new products and technologies. The concept of owning the building from the front door to the office door is not only a good business practice, but it also encapsulates the full idea of how the world of the locksmith is changing. There is a laundry list of technologies to learn, or you can expand your offering of hardware products. Having the right partner will help with both avenues of growth. A distribution partner who acts as a customer-first consultant is not just about selling products. Oftentimes, they will provide advice on your showroom or website and help you properly display all your capabilities.

Knowing where business comes from and how a potential customer searches for you will help every locksmith grow. A simple and effective method to drive more business opportunities is to be listed on dealer locator sites, so when end users are searching, they’ll see your business and give you a chance to bid on new jobs. Several locksmith product manufacturers have a place on their websites dedicated to helping end users find a dealer’s location, especially if you are required to be trained and certified on their products. There are dealer locators on most door hardware, safe manufacturer, camera and even access control manufacturer sites. It’s also best practice to check those dealer locator’s sites and make sure your company is listed and listed correctly. This service is free to use and promotes you to potential customers already considering the products you sell.

It’s those day-to-day transactions that often develop into bigger opportunities, and locksmiths play an important role in the security industry. With broad-based capabilities, locksmiths deliver an array of services that traditional security dealers may not be able to offer.

One issue that has impacted everyone from the mobile locksmith to large multi-location companies has been supply chain disruptions. Today, it is essential to work with a partner who has capabilities across the supply chain to ensure you get what you need when you need it and to provide services that will enable scalability. For the smaller locksmith, that means having a partner whose capabilities extend into your company, giving you the opportunity to go after projects you couldn’t before. Examples of capabilities to look for in a partner might be job accounts that provide a separate account for large projects that won’t affect your day-to-day open-to-buy or labor-saving services to help you scale up for larger jobs.

Working with a partner with expertise across the worlds of integrated security, professional A/V and lighting, as well as having the ability to fulfill all your locksmith needs, is a way to enable both growth methods mentioned above — sell more of the same AND expand what you offer.

Key takeaways:
  1. Embrace the idea of owning the building — from the front door to the office door (and everything between).
  2. Make sure your showroom tells the full story of your capabilities.
  3. Get on your dealer locator sites so you have an opportunity to bid on new jobs.
  4. Work with a partner who can be an extension of your company and expand your capabilities.

About Wesco

You drive productivity and progress. We power the path forward. At Wesco, we believe that innovation is driven by inspiration, so every day we seek opportunity in the unexpected and examine creative approaches to help build, connect, power and protect our world.

Your needs can evolve quickly, so we think and act fast. Our expertise enables us to work smarter and build tailored, tangible supply chain solutions that transform the way you do business and, in turn, the way people work and live.

This article was originally published in April 2022 by Locksmith Ledger.