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?
We advertise the mobile business with the Yellow Pages. The book and online, on the Internet and in some community directories. The store’s been here 20 years, so it’s known in the neighborhood, it’s its own advertising.
A lot of our business is actually referrals from our older customers. Our advertising has just started this year. We get new customers here and there, but we also get a lot of referrals from our older customers. That’s good because that means they’re satisfied. Referrals are the nicest customers, too –they already trust you because somebody else trusted you.
Are the ‘phony locksmiths’ in the Yellow Pages impacting your business?
There’s supposedly one located right next door to us, based on the addresses, but there’s no shop there. I know the Yellow Pages has no requirements as to what people need to advertise with them. Our contractor’s board is trying to crack down on that, and they’re starting to fine people who don’t have licenses.
(Note: the state of Washington does not license locksmiths but instead requires contractor’s licenses.)
Is part of the problem is that residential customers don’t know who to pick or what questions to ask?
When people do call for lockouts, we try to give them some information over the phone even if they don’t choose us to come out. We tell them to make sure the locksmith has a storefront or is local and to make sure they give you a full price quote up front over the phone because there are companies that change their prices when they get there.
Are you active in any local or state locksmith associations?
We are interested in becoming a member of the PLA (Portland Locksmith Association) and I do think it is important. It is hard to attend locksmith classes and shows when you are the only employees of your full-time business.
How many locksmith distributors do you use?
One local and three that are national.
How did you select them?
Based on ease of services, pricing and how quick they can ship products out. I do a lot of my shopping online through their web sites. It’s kind of hard when you are ordering 90 different items to do that over the phone.
Do their reps come visit you at the shop?
We do have a rep for one of the companies who visits us at the shop. We don’t really use a lot of their resources. They give us brochures and information. One of them is particularly good when I do have questions, so I just call them up and they’ll usually give me the rep of that particular product in the area.
How much contact do you have with the manufacturers?
Very little, we usually work through our distributors, unless it is something unusual. For example, we needed 1000 padlocks keyed alike from Master Lock, and our distributor didn’t think that could be done, but we were able to work it out talking to Master Lock.
Do you see some positive trends out there that make you think business will be good in the next year or two?
I think, just talking to the businesses in our area, the people haven’t gone away – it’s just that they are not spending as much and I think once the outlook is more positive, people will start spending again
I’ve heard some people say that all the foreclosures in the real estate market have been good for the rekeying sector.
That is true. We do that and we do work with some businesses that do repossessions. We have done a lot of rekeying for property management firms.
Is being a female locksmith different from being a male locksmith?
My first reaction is not really, I think everyone wants to do good work and get the job done. My fiance’s first reaction was, “Well yes.’
I thought more about that and there are a few challenges, things that people say to me a lot, but I don’t really notice the difference until somebody points it out. Sometimes when I go up to a door, people think I’m a solicitor, even though they called a locksmith and I am carrying tools. If I’m in the shop, sometimes people will say ‘I want to talk to the locksmith.’ Once you get past those challenges, then people are usually fine.
Especially if it is a lockout situation at night, they like it when I come out there. They are a lot more relaxed and some of them even worry about my safety. I also sometimes bring my 100-pound dog along.
Have you met many other female locksmiths in the industry or in your area?
Our distributor has one who works at their store and I know there’s another female locksmith in Portland. I have not met her.
Have you met many other locksmiths under 30?
No, the trend in our area is older locksmiths. There are a lot retiring right now. That’s why we thought it was a good idea to get into the business right now.
So how much competition do you have?
We see a lot more national security companies like Pop-A-Lock going into residential and commercial business, expanding their horizons. I wonder if that’s going to a trend – more national companies taking over some of the local accounts. At our local shopping mall, the stores are national chains, and we handle some accounts, but others may be turning to national service providers.
For more information on Woodstock Lock and Key, visit their web site, www.auroralockandsafe.com. If you are interested in being interviewed for a 30 Under 30 feature, contact managing editor Emily Pike, e-mail Emily.firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 800-547-7377, ext 2224.