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Nearly three years ago, Kristina Leipzig was ready for a career change and picked locksmithing as her new career. The 29-year-old and her fiancé first started a mobile locksmithing service, Aurora Lock and Safe, almost three years ago. Then in January 2008, they bought an existing Portland, Ore., locksmith shop, Woodstock Lock and Key.
Following are Ledger’s questions and Kristina’s answers.
Is starting out mobile seemed to be a good way to get into the business?
That seemed to be the best way for us because we didn’t have the expenses of the shop; you don’t have that overhead. We also took over an existing shop rather than opening one from scratch. That’s probably an easier route to take because people already know the shop is there and you gain some existing customer base.
What are the pros and cons of being the owner rather than just working for a lock shop?
The pros are 100 percent of the profit comes to us and we have more flexibility about who takes the calls. The cons are running a 24/7 business. Especially the first year, you don’t get much time off.
What are your hours?
The shop is open 9 to 5, so usually one person will open the shop. The second person will come in later the afternoon or run all the service calls, and that can run from 7 to 8 in the morning till 8 or 9 at night.
Do you have additional employees?
Not right now, but we do foresee it in the future. We do some work with the former owner.
On your website, it looks like you do a little bit of everything. Which part of the business do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy the commercial business the most. Usually you’re dealing with people who know what they want and know the pricing for it. The commercial business is the widest range of different kinds of issues, from access control to regular locks and keys and masterkeying.
With the shop, we have some commercial accounts we took over, and we do quite a few schools. A lot of our commercial customers are right in this neighborhood (southeast Portland), and it is kind of nice for them to be able to call up and say, ‘I have a problem with door number 12,’ and we know exactly what hardware is on that door and what key it uses.
Are you seeing more demand for electronic access control systems?
People want to go to a keypad for residential, but right now with the recession, a lot of people are not expanding or upgrading their hardware. I see the same thing with businesses. They want access control, but the pricing is what hinders them from going that route.
What about emergency lockout calls? I see you do 24-hour lockout service?
We do the whole metro area of Portland and parts of the Vancouver, Wash., area. That’s actually the sector where I’ve seen the most decline. We still get a lot of rekeys, especially from property managers, but with the lockouts, people are waiting for their friends or family to bring keys even if they are three hours away. A lot of people don’t want to pay the amount of money for you to come out there and they don’t understand how much it costs to have someone available to come out there all the time.
Do you charge them a travel fee to come out to their location?
Not if they are in our regular area. We just charge them a service charge, especially for car lockouts since they are so easy if they just want their car opened. It’s the same with houses as long as we don’t have to replace locks.
Do you do transponder programming?
Right now we do not. It is something we’d like to do in the future. They are actually fairly easy to do – it’s just that the price of the equipment is so high.
Do you think that in 10 or 15 years from now, people won’t want keys at all?
I think there will always be a key override in some fashion. I think businesses will go towards key fobs or some kind of keyless entry. It’s easier on the locks too, even though they will always need batteries and maintenance.
What kind of advertising are you doing? How do you market your business?