30 Under 30: Tommy Shafer

Getting Started In A family Locksmithing Business


Aside from the hands on lock work, do you see the business as something that you might own or run one day?
TS: Yeah, I pay attention to the things my dad and Uncle do at the end of the day with the register and credit cards. I like learning the business aspect as well.

Where do you see locksmithing going in the future?
TS: It’s too unpredictable anymore with electronics being the biggest thing. Electronics have been a big part of it since I got here and I see that aspect of locksmithing just taking up more and more of what we do.

What are you amazed by so far?
TS: Biometrics; that’s the kind of stuff I see really taking off. Now even Kwikset is using it and it’ll be used in residential as well as commercial applications. I won’t be amazed if in ten years, most front doors had something biometric on them. Fingerprints can’t be duplicated like a key so I do see it really taking off.

Larry, do you remember what you thought the future in locksmithing would be like when you started out?
LS: I grew up doing this with my father before Cliff even got involved and cutting keys was a big thing just like it is today. I ended up with the old school way of doing things and securing things and it’s progressed a lot since then. I try to teach Tommy the way I was taught and to avoid shortcuts. He hasn’t been taught electronics yet and I teach him pretty much the same way I learned 30 years ago. There’s good and bad shortcuts. Obviously you want to get things done quickly but you don’t want to wind up compromising someone’s security in any case.
TS: It takes a little longer to do it right but you avoid having a problem later so it’s worth it.

Do you remember the need for security being as important 30 years ago as it is now?
LS: I think it was. There were as many residential break-ins as there is today, maybe even more back then. I don’t think the need has changed; only the way we secure things has evolved. Now you could time people in and out where in the past you had a key and you got in when you wanted. I haven’t seen an increase or decrease in the actual need for security.
Would you recommend this business to young people today?
LS: Honestly? I think there’s easier ways to make a living, no doubt about that. If you’re mechanically inclined and you like problem solving then this is still a pretty good option. Can you make more money doing other things? Yes, without a doubt.

Can anyone who’s good with their hands do this for a living? What else does it take?
TS: There’s a lot to learn and there’s a lot to remember.
LS: I would say 50/50; you need mechanical ability and you need to think out things like master key systems. You need to use your brain a lot; you can’t just be good at turning a screw.

It sounds like locksmiths should be highly compensated when you consider the abilities needed to be good at it.
LS: I agree. It should pay better than it does today.

Do you see locksmithing continuing as the small business, Mom & Pop type business?
No. I see it being less and less family oriented; I see the family business going away. The way things are now, you can call from here in New Jersey and someone is answering the phone in New York at a dispatch center. And then there are the scams we have around here; it’s becoming a big business for some and not all for the better.

Do you enjoy being here and tending to the phone book ads, etc.
LS: No I don’t. I enjoy the hands on work and would rather be on the road doing things than sitting in the shop dictating what needs to be done.

Tommy, do you enjoy being in the shop?
TS: Yes, but that’s the only part of the business I see right now. I don’t have anything else to compare it to.       

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