Outfitting A New Service Van, Part 1

Being a mobile locksmith service tech, in my humble opinion, has to be one of the best jobs one could have. We are out in the open air and on the go. Sure, we have those wretched days when it's 25 degrees, raining, windy, and we need to install a panic device. But all in all, what else would you rather be doing to earn a living?

One of the things that makes this trade so enjoyable is our office. Our office of course, is wherever we tend to be at any given moment in time. Over the years, the mobile office has evolved from horses drawing carts to modern service trucks with almost every possible convenience.

The mobile office is more than just a place where we spend time each day. It is our personal workshop on wheels, a place where we can craft solutions to normal and infrequent problems alike. In some cases, it is an extension of the driver.

Many are of the opinion that how the office looks is how well the work will be performed. Thus, a professional looking service van makes the locksmith appear more professional to many of his or her customers. How does your office look to your customer?

VEHICLE TYPES

There are many types of vehicles one can use to be a mobile locksmith. Cars, station wagons, pick-up trucks with caps, old ambulances, or even the occasional hearse may be seen on the road. Most often, vans are the mobile locksmith shop of choice. These vehicles appear to be the most universal all-around best platform for our service work. That's not to say that the other types will not work for your given application, but simply that vans appear to be the most preferred.

In my service area, a full-sized van fits the bill quite nicely. Others in the area have cube vans that perform well. However for the type of work that I do, a full sized, normal length, regular height van is the best compromise. For instance: with this vehicle, I can go just about anywhere. If I can't get to the customer's location, how will I make any money?

An example would be a tiered parking garage. If the customer has lost all keys to a vehicle while parked in the garage, I can simply drive right up and begin working. If I were in a hightop or a cube van, I would be doing a lot of walking. As we all know, time is money.

Another example would be navigating on side streets while in town, especially in the wintertime. Parking is tough enough let alone with an extended van or box truck.

Now, this does not imply that larger vehicles are inappropriate for locksmith work -- quite the contrary. Larger vehicles can carry larger amounts and also more diverse product lines. This will save time (money) running for supplies. It also helps with impulse sales. If the customer is wavering and you say you have everything right there to do the job, he is more likely to commit than if he has to reschedule.

While not necessarily the best all around, smaller vehicles such as cars or station wagons can function depending on your needs. I have found that they can not carry what I use on a daily basis. If I needed a person to do primarily vehicle lockouts, a small car or station wagon would be perfect. Running a full-sized van would then be wasteful.

Choosing the correct vehicle to suit the type of work that you do is very important. Over the course of time, it can make, or lose, a significant amount of money for your company. Knowing your market before purchasing a vehicle is vital to your bottom line.

During the course of this two-part article, I will not show a work of art, but a work truck. This truck was done on a budget and designed to be worked out of. It is not in any way a showpiece. Its sole purpose is to make me money.

FULL-SIZED VAN WITH SLIDING DOOR

I chose a full sized, medium length, ¾-ton van with a sliding door. This will allow me to carry almost everything I need during the course of a day without having to return to the shop for more supplies. I have always tried to plan for add-ons and emergencies.

Carrying enough stock with you is important if you wish to land an impulse sale, or do not want to waste time in traffic going back to the shop. It's a balancing act. Too much stock, and your capital is tied up being wasted. Too little and you run short, which costs you. It is my personal goal to never have to return to the shop for something I don't have. I usually succeed, but not always.

To me, the sliding door is the only option. We don't always get to choose where we get to park. Climbing snow mounds to access the side of your truck while maneuvering barn doors is no fun. Neither is having to work out of two doors hanging open on a busy one way street!

LETTERING OPTIONS

The outside of my service truck has applied lettering. It is also possible to have your artwork painted on. I chose this type as it is more cost-effective when it comes time to repair those dings and dents we seem to accrue over time. Also, adding or deleting items may be done easily. For instance: if I wanted to add a picture of a vehicle remote or a VATS key on three sides of the truck, I can easily make room by removing something. The lettering is also reflective. With this type of lettering, you will stand out in a dimly lit parking lot or at twilight.

Some locksmiths have yellow utility lights on top of their trucks. This is a great idea if you are alongside the road next to traffic. It will also garner you even more attention in parking lots. People's heads turn when they see a flashing light.

You can read my entire phone number when the slider is open. Always be sure your number is legible. For safety, I have also applied reflective red and white safety decals on all door edges, including the slider. When these doors are open, car headlights will reflect on them and help me to be seen.

FRONT OF VAN

Now let's take a peek on the inside of my office. Beginning with the front of my van, you will notice the dashboard. This is what is called a Dashmat . In Part 2 of the article I will list websites or phone numbers for the products I have used. The Dashmat is a neat product that is nothing more than a carpeted cover, available in many colors. I have chosen black as it will hide the reflection of the dashboard in the windshield.

Next, parked on top of the dash, is my XM satellite radio. I have utilized a separate source for my XM receiver. The reason for doing this is versatility. With the separate receiver, comes an FM modulator (transmitter). This allows me to work on new construction or an isolated area in a commercial building, and transmit the XM signal to where I am. All I need to do is carry my DeWalt battery charger/radio with me and tune it 88.1 FM. I can range out about 100 yards before I lose signal. I have also replaced the factory radio with an upgraded more powerful aftermarket unit. There are conversion kits available that make this a fairly easy task. This conversion also gave me extra storage for business cards and such.

COMPUTER AND STAND

My laptop and printer are located at my fingertips either from the driver's seat, or from the back. This stand as shown is holding a desktop replacement laptop, and a full size laser printer. There isn't anything I can do on a PC that I can't do here, within reason.

The stand mount is removable. It goes against my grain to drill a series of holes in the floor of my new truck. I have mounted the stand on an old Diebold bank teller safe door. These are used at teller stations to hold extra bills and coin. It's actually nothing more than a ½” thick steel plate. This prevented me from making Swiss cheese out of my floor, and I can also easily remove everything quickly should the need for servicing the engine arise.

Other stands are available that mount under the passenger seat and do not need holes drilled in the floor. However, I had chosen this type so I may still be able to carry another tech if need be. I can swing the printer to the front or remove it to allow for passenger comfort.

TOOL BACKPACK WITHIN EASY REACH

On top of the safe door, is my tool backpack. This contains picks and basic hand tools that I may need on an initial service. I simply sling the pack over a shoulder, and both my hands are free. Ninety-nine percent of the time, everything I need to tear a door down for rekey, or do a repair, is in this bag. I dislike wasted trips back to the truck for tools.

Behind the backpack is a vehicle jump starter. I don't like to jumpstart other vehicles with my service truck, so I use this instead.

POWER SUPPLIES

Behind both seats you will notice my power supplies. If one of the power supplies fails, I will suffer no interruption of service. Behind the driver is old reliable Reddi -Line 600 Watt convertor. I have this fused and wired directly to the main battery. This unit powers all equipment on the driver's side of the truck. Behind the passenger seat, is a 1500 Watt pure-sine inverter. This is also fused and wired directly to the battery. Pure sine is a little more expensive, but the power is cleaner. The inverter powers everything on the passenger side of the truck. It also powers the printer and laptop, if needed.

In the pictures you will notice that 12 gauge wiring is throughout the truck. This allows me to take 110V AC power from anywhere. If I am away from the vehicle and need AC power, I can simply run an extension cord through a cracked window. I can run the truck, lock it up, and walk away. I can also remove the plugs from the power supplies which feed the receptacles in the van, and plug them into house current. If I am parked at a commercial installation and I am running the Ultracode or a duplicator for an extended period, I sometimes run a cord to their electric supply. This saves wear and tear on my service vehicle.

I have seen other locksmiths utilize a second battery for the purpose of running machinery. That is a wise choice. The second battery's sole job is to power the equipment. If it goes dead, the vehicle will still start. This is done by means of a solenoid which keeps the two separate, but charges both at the same time. I have not been able to utilize this method due to space constraints. Everything is a compromise. My workaround solution is: if I have any concern that I may kill my battery, I simply run the engine. When you design your next mobile office, make every attempt to utilize a second battery if at all possible.

EQUIPMENT & INVENTORY

Next time we will finish the layout of this service truck, and review some of the equipment and inventory. Hopefully you will be able to take from my experience and build upon it.

I will show the main work area, as well as ways I organize the contents. This vehicle is not designed to be a work of art. We work out of these trucks. That does not mean however, that they should not be neat, clean, organized, and a showcase of the work your customer can expect from you. When the customer comes over and pokes his head into your truck to be nosy, is he impressed or disappointed? You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

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