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Why do you think this is happening?
Customers are requiring and asking for more security now. They're requiring audit trails, for example. They used to be able to get any key made at a hardware store; now people want to know that their key can't be copied somewhere, if they want to use a key at all. Most people look at keys and locksmiths as second class citizens in my opinion. Many people now, whether it's commercial or residential, rely more on alarm systems and access control, and locks are for the interior office doors. It's much easier to delete a key fob or change an alarm code than rekey their locks.
What did you mean when you said the competition in this industry is ridiculous?
I think the locksmith industry is being picked apart by many industries outside of ours. Especially after 9/11, everybody became more security conscious and things like audit trails were becoming a requirement in many businesses. Companies who were installing fire panels and alarm systems realized that and it wasn't that much of a jump for them to run a wire and hang a card reader versus an alarm panel.
Are you saying that it's a bigger jump for the every day locksmith?
Yes, I think it's more of an alarm or CCTV industry kind of thing than it is a locksmith kind of thing. Going back to the competition topic, you've got the Home Depots and hardware stores selling the ‘you key it' type products. The manufacturers themselves are creating things like the electronic pushbutton locks. On the box itself, they tell the homeowner it only requires a one screwdriver installation. They're making everything, for lack of a better word, idiot proof.
The alarm companies are taking much of the access control and they seem to have a little more legitimacy because they're typically larger with name recognition. On the Internet an end user can buy many security products for a few more dollars than I can pay.
Don't you think it should be a natural progression for someone to ask their locksmith about all types of security work while they're already in there being trusted with the lock end of it?
It depends on the locksmith and the perception they have about that locksmith. He's seen as the guy who comes in and rekeys my Schlage lever or Kwikset knob. He's a great guy but I would never think to call him to run a wire and put a card reader on the wall or for something more technical. There's a definite divide between locksmiths; the middle of the road people are going to have to choose a side. They're either going to have to downsize and become the mobile locksmith or become fully involved in the electronic aspect of it.
What do you mean by “middle of the road?”
I'm talking about the ones who haven't pushed to become educated. If they haven't made the effort to change their customers' perception, then their customers aren't going to take them seriously. They won't go to them for something seen as more complex like a maglock or biometrics, for example.
How are you handling this with your company?
The former owner of the company was very mechanically focused and had interest in tinkering with electronic locking devices but really didn't pursue it. At the time he was selling the company, he wasn't in a position to invest the way you'd need to move in that direction so the company was frozen in about 1985. I didn't realize the position we were in until I actually bought the company. At that point I began with the education process for myself and the techs I hired. We started wearing uniforms so we could be perceived more professionally.
How did you begin the education process?
Mostly through GPLA (Greater Philadelphia Locksmith Association). Really the main thing was to change our image and once we did that, things began to change. Within a month we moved to a nicer location with nice furniture. At the beginning we'd be mistaken for janitors just wearing the basic attire of a mechanic. Now we're mistaken for IT professionals or something along those lines. We're no longer being associated with janitors (nothing against janitors) and people are shocked when we say we're locksmiths. They're used to seeing maybe an older gentleman who isn't well kept or, for lack of a better term while trying not to offend anybody, the stereotypical locksmith.