As one of the oldest distributors in the industry, the Lockmasters name should be familiar to just about everyone. But, what a lot of people don’t realize is that there have been a lot of changes at Lockmasters over the last decade.
When I was a Civil Service locksmith working for the Navy in the mid 1980s, I bought a lot of safe and vault locks and parts from Lockmasters. The Lockmasters catalog was a wealth of safe, vault, and safe deposit lock information. Even the Lockmasters logo had a safe dial incorporated into it. At that time, I and probably most locksmiths, considered Lockmasters to be a prime source for safe and vault-related parts and tools, but nothing else.
Today, Lockmasters, Inc. carries not only safe and vault products, but also automotive products, software, key machines, key blanks, replacement locks and specialty tools to handle almost any job that a locksmith needs to do. The changes have happened gradually over the past decade, but the Lockmasters of today is profoundly different from the Lockmasters of just a few years ago.
Q&A: Interview with Mark Miller
The president of Lockmasters, Inc. is Mark C. Miller whom I’ve known for about 20 years. Recently I had the opportunity to ask Mark some questions about his company and his opinion about the future of Lockmasters. Following are my questions and Miller’s answers.
When was Lockmasters founded and by whom?
The original company was founded by my grandfather, Harry C Miller in 1955, as a school for training safe and vault technicians in the art of manipulation.
Is there anything in the early history of the company that you think locksmiths in general either don’t know, or that you would like for them to know?
In 1981, my dad purchased the company from my grandfather. At that time it was a school exclusively for safe and vault technicians. While teaching classes, my father continually heard the students ask, “Where can I find a scope?” or “Where can I get a part for this combination lock?” Questions like that sparked the idea of expanding Lockmasters into a distribution business. We would say, “If you need it, call Lockmasters; if we don’t have it, we’ll find one for you.” As students began to call, they would ask for one of something; we would buy two.
The second leap in distribution came from listening to our students and customers. They would say “yeah that’s OK, but what I really need is something to do this” and that’s where many of our tool ideas began. Today we work with many locksmiths who have their own ideas and help them to bring their tools to market, people like Randy Mize, Tom Gallian, Allan Halverson, Barney Fergeson, Steven Mathina, Tom Lynch, Mike Madden, Skip Eckert, Mike Yarberry, Allen Murphy, James Hillard, Shane Varney and many more. This is one of the best parts of my job, helping talented technicians to see their ideas come to fruition and become products in our catalog. Helping these talented people make more money not only helps them, but it helps Lockmasters, Inc. and locksmiths in general.
What services does Lockmasters offer in addition to its products and classes?
That would be the top notch technical support offered by our experienced and highly trained staff on quality products from all the great manufacturers. Our staff has the capability to assist our customers with purchasing decisions and to also answer technical questions from the field on every product that we sell. If a locksmith needs to know something about a product that our staff doesn’t know, we’ll find the answer for them.
Why did Lockmasters decide to branch out into the automotive and commercial and residential locksmith businesses as well safes and vaults?
Our target customer was the safe and vault technician for years. As we grew, we realized the size limits of this market. When we went to the locksmith shows, our products were only appealing to those who did safe and vault work. It’s obvious that we love tools and gadgets, so why not carry the best tools for all locksmiths? This allowed us to offer something to everyone in our industry. The result was that when locksmiths walked past our booth, they quickly saw that we had lots of things they needed.
How has being in the automotive business affected Lockmasters?
Our timing couldn’t have been better. Emulating what we had done in the past, we teaming up with the folks who knew automotive locksmithing. We introduced the PUREAUTO™ seminar series and began offering quality training around the country at about the same time transponders hit the market. Then, in January of 2003 we acquired Tech-Train® Productions and were fortunate to have you (Steve Young and the Tech-Train staff) join our team. This combination of staff, instructors and new products just took off and hasn’t stopped.
Are there some product lines carried by Lockmasters that you think more locksmiths should know about?
We distribute most major lines in our industry niche, but what is probably not known is the amount of products and lines that are produced exclusively for Lockmasters, like the Magnum® drill rigs, Tech-Train® products, Hardplate for government security containers, STC doors for classified areas, Yale safe deposit locks, LockOne® high security locks and a long list of other automotive and safe tools.
Not too long ago, Lockmasters, Inc. split into two separate companies, Lockmasters, Inc. and Lockmasters Security Institute. How did that come about?
I think in our industry it is common to have families working together. My grandfather worked for his father, my dad worked for his father and I too worked for my father; it is a family business.
Another thing that also follows tradition is that the elder never stopped working! My dad, Clay, decided, with a little coercion, that it was time to let me venture out on my own in 2005. But of course, he wasn’t ready to retire yet, so we took Lockmasters Inc. and formed two separate independent companies, Lockmasters Security Institute, which dad owns and Lockmasters Inc., the distribution company that I purchased from my father. We both have our own businesses and daily challenges, and we are only 3 miles apart and still have many opportunities to work together. I have been at Lockmasters for just over 20 years and I am definitely looking forward to the next 20 years!
Speaking of the future, what kind of expansion plans do you have?
Well, this past summer, we purchased a 15-acre track in the same industrial park as S&G, LSI and LockNet. This will allow us to combine three of our current locations under one roof. Our plans are to move into this new facility near the end of 2008. It will be 30,000 square feet for office, warehouse and training class rooms, with plans for an additional 30,000 square feet for warehouse and manufacturing as needed.
What do you see in the future for Lockmasters, Inc.?
I know that our growth will continue, but just as in the past, we plan to stay with what we know, and to stay within our market niche. To our customers, this means that we will be a source for more of the products they use every day, and we will also offer them a stream of great new tools and security products.
Lockmasters, Inc. Today
Most of Lockmasters, Inc. is located in Nicholasville Ky., a suburb of Lexington with a population of about 20,000. Horses are a big business in that area as well as the security industry. As Mark mentioned in his interview, Sargent & Greenleaf and LockNet are both located nearby as well. The main offices of Lockmasters, Inc. are located in what was at one time a large home on several acres of land. This building is known to the employees as the “White House.”
The warehouse, which includes the shipping and receiving departments as well as some of the manufacturing and assembly activities, is located in an industrial park directly behind Lockmasters Security Institute (LSI) about three miles from the White House. This is a relatively new facility that only began operation a few years ago.
In addition to the Nicholasville locations, Lockmasters also has an office located in Pensacola, Fla., that houses the Tech-Train operations. That is where Steve Young and Debbie Bush work. The facility houses a warehouse, video studio and the video editing facilities. All of the Tech-Train® tool sets are assembled here and then shipped to the Nicholasville warehouse. The Tech-Train® DVDs are shot and edited in this facility as well.
In most cases when you call Lockmasters, Inc. to place an order, you will be speaking to a customer service representative who is located in the White House. However, Debbie Bush does double duty at the Tech-Train offices by answering the phones when she’s not assembling tool sets or helping to shoot video.
Eric Rhynard is the customer service manager, and it is his job to see to it that your orders are taken properly and processed correctly. Eric, like most of the people at Lockmasters, has an extensive background in locksmithing that includes nine years as a locksmith and nine years working for Clark Security Products before he came to Lockmasters.
The safe and vault division of Lockmasters, Inc. is headed by Brain Lamb and still accounts for around 50 percent of Lockmasters business. Brian is a CPS, and has over 21 years of experience in the security business. In addition to handling the safe and vault portion of the business, Brian also takes care of the international sales of Lockmasters, Inc. Lockmasters, Inc. has distributors in 14 countries, in addition to all of the business that the Government sales division does with overseas military bases. If you need information on safe, vault or safe deposit locks, it would be hard to find a more knowledgeable group of people to ask than Brian’s staff. In fact, the Safe & Vault Technicians Association, which is now a part of ALOA, was originally started by the safe and vault division of Lockmasters, Inc. and Brian is a member of the SAVTA Hall of Fame.
The Automotive division is headed up by Jeff Cooper who also heads up the PUREAUTO™ seminar program. Jeff has extensive experience in the automotive field as an automotive locksmith and ASE Certified Mechanic and as the owner of an automotive parts store. Before joining Lockmasters, Jeff operated Jeff’s Lock & Key in Atlanta, where he specialized in automotive locksmithing. He has more experience with transponder systems than almost anyone I know. Jeff is still a working locksmith, running Jeff’s Lock & Key in the Nicholasville area on an after hours basis to make sure that he stays in touch with the problems in the field. Jeff and his staff handle all of the automotive tech-support calls that come in, as well as handling sales and marketing. The automotive department at Lockmasters provides free technical support for Lockmasters customers on all of the automotive equipment that they sell, including all of the transponder tools such as the TKO, MVP, T-Code Pro, the NGS etc.
The Government Sales department is headed by Deb Baber who came to Lockmasters six years ago after working for Kaba Mas for 10 years. Her staff includes Kevin Moores and Anne Weinberger, who between them have 36 years of experience at Lockmasters. This team not only handles government sales for Lockmasters, but also takes care of technical support for all of the XO locks that Lockmasters sells. This service alone is one of the reasons that Lockmasters sells so many XO locks.
The warehouse has a staff of six people that are headed up by Scott Said who has been with Lockmasters for over ten years. It’s Scott’s job to make sure that your orders are filled quickly and properly. Well over 90 percent of all orders are shipped the same day that they are received. If you want your order to go out today, you really should call it in before 4:30, but Scott is very proud of the fact that they can usually get a rush order out even if it gets to them as late as 5:00! The final pick-up of the day is around 5:15 Eastern Standard time, so you see that Scott runs a pretty tight operation.
The PUREAUTO™ Seminar Program
The PUREAUTO™ seminar program began in 2000 and has been a tremendous success. If you’ve never been to a PUREAUTO™ seminar weekend, allow me to describe one for you.
The classes begin at 8 a.m. and generally run until 5 p.m. with an hour for lunch and breaks in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Each class is limited to about 25 people and most classes have hands-on training as well as lectures. All of the presentations are done with video projectors and each student gets a copy of the complete presentation.
Seven different classes or “tracks” are offered, but not all seven are offered at each event. Attendance is limited to those who have pre-registered, and those who have registered at the door. Pre-registration is highly encouraged due to space and equipment limitations. The costs of the classes vary according to the topic taught and all pricing information is available on the Lockmasters web site.
The topics covered this year include: Domestic Automotive, Motorcycle Key Generation, Introduction to High Security Automotive, Transponders, Automotive Key Generation,
Safe Deposit Box Lock Servicing, and Electronic Safe Lock Servicing. As you can see the PUREAUTO™ seminars are not limited to just automotive topics. Through the years that the program has been in operation it has changed to keep up with the new technology and to satisfy the students needs and desires.
Instructors include Jeff Cooper, Randy Mize, Steve Young, Jeff “Tiny” Trepanier, David Taylor and Ryan Taylor. In addition to the regular instructors, there are usually manufacturer representatives on hand from companies such as Ilco, Framon Manufacturing, Hickok and others.
At the end of each class, each student is given a test and a class evaluation form. The tests are graded later and returned to the students by mail along with any necessary commentary. The evaluation forms are used to evaluate how well the instructors did their jobs and to get feedback from the students regarding the desire for future classes.
The Future of Lockmasters, Inc.
The changes and growth of Lockmasters over the past decade may only be the beginning. Hundreds of new part numbers are being added each year to their inventory and the major focus now is on “consumables” – the items that the average locksmith uses every day. And, with the move to the new facility planned for later this year, things are only looking up.
The Lockmasters web site has been totally revamped. You can now order from Lockmasters 24/7, track your shipments and get technical advice all over the Internet. A wise man once said “Things that don’t change are generally dead,” and Lockmasters is definitely changing!