Q&A: Locksmith Chuck Dixon

One reason that I conduct interviews with industry professionals in this column is to hopefully inspire readers to change something about the way they conduct their business, with the result being more profit and a business that runs more...

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How do we help the locksmith get over this hump?

I would suggest taking a class through a local association, and also many manufacturers of these products offer free training. When you do decide to purchase something, bench test it in your shop first and become comfortable with it. We still do this with 50 percent of what we sell and install. Once you've achieved a level of comfort with the product, you'll need to be able to get the wiring from point A to point B and effectively install any hardware you're using to lock and unlock the door.

Get yourself an electronics dictionary or study guide and make sure you understand things like Ohms law and other electrical principles and from there it's fairly simple. The companies who manufacture these products are there to help you as well.

Give me an example of how an understanding of Ohms law will help someone who's working with these products.

If you're supplying power to a series of devices, you'll want to make sure you're using a power supply with ample power. If you were using three magnetic locks and an electric strike on an installation, you'd need a ½ amp per item and then add 25 percent to that and you'd come up with a 2.5 amp power supply.

How much of your business today is electronic oriented?

I would say that about 70 percent of our business has to do with electronics, whether it's card access, CCTV and alarms and monitoring.

Why? Is it a by-product of enjoying it? Do you get a lot of referrals?

After being in the business for four years, I attended electronic/computer repair school to further my education. I could see it coming. In the 80s computers were evolving to the point where everyone had one. I actually started working in the computer industry and didn't enjoy it. I worked for a large company and I was just a number; they didn't care who I was. The way things worked I would just isolate the problem and then send it for repair. The way the locksmith business is you could be opening a car and after that opening a safe and after that maybe you're selling access control to someone. You get to meet different types of people and it gets interesting.

After that I was contacted by Lefebure, a large bank equipment company like Mosler and Diebold, to head up their Philadelphia region lock department. We serviced vault locks and banking systems like drive-ups and night depositories and anything that had to do with locking security in a bank.

Did you learn a lot there?

I already knew a lot from my past locksmithing experience but where I used to drill a safe deposit box once a month, now my department was responsible for hundreds each week. We serviced about 250 banks in New Jersey and Pennsylvania . We basically built banks from the ground up so I was exposed to CCTV, card access and some other electronic security things. I already had some electronics training and got an opportunity to apply it and that was valuable experience. There was too much travel involved and I decided to go into business for myself.

How did you approach this?

I did a little geographical study and saw that Marlton, NJ, was growing by leaps and bounds. I was fortunate because I had quite a number of referrals from my former bank work and sub-contracting work and that helped keep me going until I could advertise my services and network and let people know what we did here.

Did you have a good idea of what kind of work you'd focus on or were you feeling out the market?

This was around 1991 and I knew that locksmithing was going into electronic areas and if you didn't do it, you'd be missing the boat. Home Depots began to open up, selling locks for close to what we were buying them for. Home Depot happened to be a good thing for me because I met some people from their Loss Prevention department and I've been doing camera work for them.

Could you put yourself in the shoes of locksmiths who aren't benefiting from Home Depot's existence? How does it affect the lock part of your business?

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