30 Under 30: Automotive Specialist Demetrius Heggs

For my second interview with a locksmith under 30 years old, I wanted to speak with Demetrius Heggs, owner of All City Locksmith in Philadelphia. He was 29 years old when I first approached him about the interview but I didn’t get to it until...

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Any other crazy situations you encounter regularly?
Many people are just lazy. Someone calls for lock service on a door at home and I always ask them what type of lock it is and if they could see a name on the face or the edge of the door. People will respond by saying “I don’t know” and I have to ask them to go look at it. There are people who have said no when I ask them to look. They want service as fast as possible but won’t take 30 seconds to look at it and give me the information I ask for.

Do you enjoy the basic, everyday interaction with customers compared with working as a policeman?
It’s a vacation compared to police work. It’s amazing how people appreciate the help you give them as a locksmith and how little appreciation you see from someone who was maybe being robbed when you arrested the guy who did it. I love this business and it was a no brainer when I decided to do this and quit the police force. I planned it for a year and a half before I finally made the switch.

Why has auto work and selling remote control units become your focus?
I like doing the automotive work. Residential and commercial work tends to be more time consuming. For me, automotive locksmithing has become my niche and it’s been profitable. I’m able to provide the same service as a dealer for a fraction of the price and customers love that. I’ve built up quite a business just from referrals. When a customer comes in for a quote, I’ll call the dealer and put them on speakerphone so they can compare my price to the dealer’s right there. I prepared a sheet that shows what each job will cost with me and with the dealer and I explain that they could sit and wait a long time there or they could get it done quickly and more reasonable here.

Automotive locksmithing has evolved to the point where you need to be very knowledgeable as well as make a substantial investment. What do you say to the locksmiths who are ignoring this end of the business in favor of the residential and commercial segments?
I see it as a double-edged sword. It could be a ton of money to do it right. I do very little commercial work and I didn’t put much time into learning what I need to know because I wasn’t interested in it. I refer lots of it out to others.

If your focus is so much on auto work, why have a retail location? Many locksmiths who lean toward auto work the way you do tend to work mobile.
I like having a place people can come to. As you can see, I have safes on display and there are many people who like to bring the car lock in to save the money it would cost for me to come out.

Much of the auto work now involves electronics. Are you interested in learning and doing some of the electronic access control jobs?
I was interested at one point and my biggest fear is running wires. I’d like to take a class that teaches me how to install an access control system from scratch. I haven’t seen anything yet that would maybe have a mock set up with a finished ceiling and a door where you’d run all the wires from scratch. If I’m not familiar enough, I’m not going to do something that might result in me damaging something and paying for it.

Where do you see the automotive segment of locksmithing going in the future?
All electronic; the mechanical key will be nothing more than a backup to get in your car and that’s it. It’s not just the high-end cars; a 2007 Nissan Maxima or Altima and Toyotas are already there. The key is slowly fading away. It’s going to take a very long time until the cars on the street today are all replaced with cars with newer technology.

One thing that won’t change is the locksmith having to deal with customers. It sounds like what you do is to educate your customers, true?
I try to but there are some people out there who won’t get it no matter what. I generated one customer a key to his Lexus in about 45 minutes. It’s a high security car with a transponder and you have to remove the computer from the car, reflash information back to it and then reinstall it and reprogram the keys. After taking the time to explain everything and why it costs what it costs, the conversation always came back to me justifying the cost. When I deal with something like a Lexus, I always ask the customer to call the dealer and get a price from them. Although this particular gentleman was quoted five times my price by the dealer, he still asked me why it was costing him so much!

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