Silent Partners

Decades ago our lock shop did things a little different than today. My father had a large metal container which was filled with tumblers discarded from old cylinders. He changed combinations by selecting pins from the container which were slightly longer than needed. The pins were then filed down until they were flush with the plug surface. 1 1/4” holes for rim locks were drilled with a bit and brace. The most advanced tool in the shop was a Yankee screwdriver. For the uninitiated, the Yankee was spring-loaded and as you pushed in, the screw driver turned and drove screws inward.

Automotive locksmithing was just as simple. Every car had code numbers stamped somewhere on the locks. Some European vehicles even had the code stamped on the outside face of the lock plug. My father made blank discs for the Ilco disc code machine and drilled holes as needed for every different car model. He made car keys by code in a matter of minutes and no car job was ever turned down. He could do them all with no help from the car manufacturer.

The end result was that a few decades ago a locksmith could go in business with very little cash outlay except for one or two key machines and some key blanks. My father personally made every other specialty tool he needed. His idea was to be able to accomplish every locksmith task and during his era it could be easily and profitably done.

Thoughts of the old days came back to me during a recent class I attended on drilling raceways in fire doors. Cost for attending the class was $400. In order to make a certified installation, a special drilling tool must be used which is leased in three-year cycles for a total of $2000-plus. Each sticker which is mounted on the door for re-certifying after drilling is $40 and must be purchased in minimum packs of 10.

Locksmiths are also required to have special programming tools in order to participate in the auto lock field today. Programming tools used by the original manufacturer might cost $10,000-$15,000. Aftermarket programming tools will cost much less, but with the cost of stocking the large variety of transponder key blanks in use today, tools and inventory represents a considerable investment. The new California auto key code law will reportedly require a fee to be paid in order to use their service.

Locksmiths are basically taking on silent partners today in order to do business. Licensing laws, access control and automotive work all seem to have added costs which must be relayed on to the final customer.

Locksmithing is not a special case. Every business must deal with emerging technologies. Consumers generally understand how and why the cost of goods and services is going up. The result should be a bigger paycheck for both you and me.

At the same time, each one of us must decide which sectors of locksmithing will be profitable, and which sectors to avoid. It is not practical to have expensive tools in your shop which can only be used as giant paperweights.