Looking Beyond the Vertical Market: Discovering Opportunities to Expand Your Business

We locksmiths go to work each day and do what we do. We interact with our customers and potential customers. For them, we provide peace of mind by cutting keys, rekeying locks, repairing locks, installing locks and door hardware. We unlock doors, we fit new keys when they’ve been lost and we provide service. Generally the duties of a locksmith revolve around locks and keys. That is our vertical market.

Sure, many locksmiths get into safes and safe work. Some are involved in high-security and specialty automotive work while others have discontinued most auto service.

Your vertical market is the basic services you offer that make up most of your work. It may vary from that of your competitors to some degree, but it’s the core of your income. If you are swamped with work and don’t have enough hours in the day to get it all done, you’re probably not looking for more.

On the other hand, if you are the type of locksmith who is always looking for new jobs, new customers and new challenges, consider looking beyond your vertical market. Depending on what services you offer now, some of the following ideas may already be within your vertical market.

If you are like many locksmiths, whenever you travel to a different city you whip open the yellow pages and look at the ads of other locksmiths. Sometimes you even drive by to take a look.

Having spent over three decades in the retail, manufacturing and distribution sides of our industry has given me the opportunity to see hundreds of locksmith shops all over the United States and Canada.

I’ve seen locksmith shops that sharpened saws and knives to supplement their lock business. I’ve seen lock shops combined with tattoo parlors, sign shops, bicycle shops, hardware stores, lawnmower repair and more.

For the purposes of this article we’ll concentrate on other opportunities that parallel the general security industry. Take a look at the following categories to see if they give you any ideas, or put your mind in gear to develop a course of action to expand your business base.

ACCESS CONTROL

One of the simplest ways to expand is to become involved with electronic access control. While most locksmiths start out selling basic electric strikes with a push-button release, the move to keypads and card readers is a simple one. Electro-magnetic locks, electrified exit devices, power supplies and biometric devices will quickly fall into line as your ability increases. The physical mounting of the hardware and power supply components is tied together with wiring run between them to complete the installation.

A number of manufacturers offer stand-alone, battery-operated access control locks and lock systems. Most of these require a minimum installation procedure when replacing a standard door lock. Because they are stand alone, they do not need any wiring runs or separate power supply. Programming is accomplished at the keypad or through a software program on a laptop computer or communicating through a data transfer module.

ALARMS

This one is a little tricky. Although the physical mounting, installation and programming of alarm equipment is something most capable locksmiths could handle without a problem, there are various restrictions. Most cities and states have specific licensing and permit requirements for alarm installers. Some areas will allow you to install a local alarm that activates an onsite siren or strobe light without a permit, some won’t.

Offsite monitoring is the next step. The monitoring of alarms is a business unto itself. If you are allowed to sell, install and service alarm equipment, you probably would still use another company to provide the monitoring service.

Some locksmiths have found a niche market by providing subcontracted labor to install electric strikes and other electrified locks to local alarm companies that prefer to have their installers handle the alarm equipment installation only. In most cases the alarm company runs the wire to the door (the part most locksmiths like least) and the locksmith completes the installation of the locking hardware.

AUTO DEALERS / REPAIR /COLLISION

Depending on how much or how little automotive work you do, this is an often overlooked source of business. If you’ve never been pro-active for auto work, you might be surprised at the result.

Try making up a flier or tri-fold brochure to advertise the fact your company can rekey, repair, replace, duplicate or fit keys to most auto locks. Spend a day or an afternoon visiting local auto dealerships and repair facilities to let them know you offer these services. Don’t leave out the collision, body and paint shops. Consider offering special ‘trade discount’ or ‘dealer pricing’, how much of a discount you actually offer is up to you.

These shops deal with autos all day every day and can be a great source of business for automotive lock and key work. If you can do all of the transponder work, it can be a way to make all of that expensive equipment pay for itself in a shorter time. Remember, a lot of locksmiths have dropped or cut back on their auto service. If you do it all, let the automotive industry in your area know about it. Ask for their business.

CCTV

This is another segment that is relatively simple to get into. Most Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) equipment being sold today is plug-and-play. That means that other than running the wiring to the cameras, monitor and recorder it’s ready to use. Just plug it in.

A whole new selection of wireless CCTV equipment is also starting to hit the market. Wireless video carries a higher price but eliminates the cost of cable and the labor to install it.

While videocassette recorders are still in use, the trend is toward digital video recorders. DVRs allow you to store images on a hard drive and require no tapes.

Color and black & white cameras come in a wide variety styles. Mixing and matching indoor or outdoor housings, dome housings, bullet cameras, box cameras and board cameras with a huge selection of infrared, lowlight and telephoto lenses will be sure to provide the coverage your customer needs. There are a number of CCTV equipment suppliers that are more than willing to help the novice get started.

The permits and licenses needed to install alarms and/or access control usually don’t apply to CCTV for most areas. Check with your local authorities to identify the laws that apply in your area.

DOORS & FRAMES

Most locksmiths will do basic repairs on doors and frames. This is usually limited to installing wrap-around or repair cover plates on the door to strengthen the damaged area or installing a large oversized strike plate to strengthen the frame.

Installing hinges and pivots isn’t that much different than installing a lock. Some enterprising locksmiths have discovered the expanded market of installing complete replacement doors and repairing or replacing frames. Wood doors are readily available in standard sizes, some with the hinge area already mortised out. Wood frames damaged in a kick-in attack can be partially disassembled and repaired with new wood segments.

Metal doors and frames can be purchased as a set and installed in an existing opening. Some jobs will require two people. By asking a few questions of your local suppliers you can buy doors and frames wholesale like you buy your lock hardware.

IMPULSE ITEMS

This is one of the least expensive ways to gain added sales. Utilize your existing showroom or front room areas to display a wide variety of small, inexpensive items. Key rings, key covers, key clips, etc. will usually sell themselves if they are in sight. If you keep all of these items in the back room, get them out front.

While your customers are waiting for you to cut their keys, give them something to look at and play with. Display racks are available for many of these items including the huge selection of painted keys. From cartoon characters to sports teams and from happy faces to religious symbols, these keys will only sell if your customers know you have them.

Small flashlights, pocket screwdrivers, hand tools, rulers and other non key-related items may also do well for you. It’s amazing what people will buy on impulse if you put it in front of them. Look at the supermarket checkout aisle. They do this because it works!

The use of product display boards will boost sales of those items. A bright colorful display board with decorative hardware, adaptor plates or padlocks may capture the attention of your customer who’ll say, “I didn’t know you had those!”

SAFES

The majority of locksmiths service and repair safes but not everyone sells safes. By utilizing a small footprint of your store’s showroom, you can offer your customers a variety of safe choices.

Small personal safes can be stacked up to show three sizes or styles and a larger safe next to them can serve as the base for a cash box display. Although safes aren’t usually considered impulse items, it’s a sure bet that if they are on display they can start a conversation between you and your customer that may result in a safe sale.

SECURITY DOORS

Similar to the doors and frames segment above, this may or may not be in your range of services. Security storm doors will contain glass or screens to serve as the outer barrier to heat and cold in some regions. Other security doors provide a steel bar barrier (with no weather protection) with a knob/lever and a deadbolt to provide increased security to front, side and rear doors. These security doors come in a variety of styles and designs to give protection in a decorative package.

SECURITY SURVEYS

Do you offer security surveys? In addition to surveying for a specific job quote or bid, you as the ‘security expert’ are in a perfect position to consult with your customers on their security needs.

Free security surveys allow you to walk through a property and discover all of the weak links. In a residential setting perimeter doors and windows may create the opportunity to sell window locks, sliding door locks, deadbolts and more. Rekeying locks, keying locks alike, padlocks set to the house key and other opportunities to increase a home’s security are usually yours for the asking.

Commercial properties create expanded opportunities to address key control, restricted keys, high security locks and keys and access control. A survey might identify the need for repair, replacement or adjustment of door closers, exit devices, hinges or pivots.

By designing two simple checklists (one each for residential and commercial), you can do a walk-through and identify any areas that need work in a short time. Leave a copy with your customer along with your business card or company brochure. A simple quote can be included or a more formal quote can be submitted on request.

SERVICE CONTRACTS

When you are dealing with commercial and institutional accounts consider offering a service contract. By establishing a preventive maintenance schedule you can generate extra revenue and keep your customers satisfied.

Depending on the type of business, the contract will vary. For a large property management company you might schedule a monthly or quarterly visit to lubricate locks, adjust hinges and door closers and check the proper operation of all perimeter doors on the property. These visits might include rekeying up to three locks at no additional cost.

Other contracts don’t include a scheduled visit but allow for ‘up to’ a certain number of service calls, repairs or site visits. Emergency and after-hours calls could be excluded. The monthly or quarterly service contract charge must be reasonable to make the contract seem like a good deal to the customer, but must still leave room for profit.

More information on designing service contracts can be easily found on the Internet. Google ‘service contracts’ and you’ll find over 300,000 sites including some that allow you to design your own service contracts.

WINDOW BARS

Window barrier bars are an extension of security doors. Basement and first floor windows in medium and high crime areas can be fortified with adjustable window bars.

If you are thinking of selling these devices, be sure your customer is aware of the potential danger. Most window bars feature an inside release mechanism to allow egress from the inside. In the event of a fire, people must be able to get out. Tragedies have occurred when window bars or screens have been installed improperly. Welding or padlocking them in place won’t allow quick exit in an emergency. Never sell security over safety. Before selling window barrier bars, contact the Local Authority Having Jurisdiction and discuss local ordinances, rules and regulations.

CONCLUSION

Although some of the above categories may already be a part of your regular service offering, some are not. If you want to expand your business you can either do a greater quantity of the things you already do, or you can expand into new areas.

Some of these categories take a minimal dollar investment; others require a larger investment into specialized tools or equipment. Still other ventures may require the locksmith to acquire specialized licensing or permits.

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