Bob Mock seems to be some kind of icon around here. What do you say to that? I started out over 30 years ago. My degrees are in landscape design and horticulture. It was getting really long in the tooth. I was working seven days a week managing a multi-million dollar retail outfit and my wife...
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When I started out, I used a hand-crank key machine and you had to have coordination to cut the key. Today you can put the blank in and it doesn’t matter if you have eyesight or not. Put the key in, turn on the machine and not only does it copy the key, but also it makes corrections for accuracy.
In the 15 years you’ve been teaching locksmithing classes, what have you observed in terms of the students and what they want to learn?
The students are getting younger, which has been a concern of ours for a while. In general, this industry was a second interest for many and that’s why we grandfathered in so many people in ALOA. The old folks like me are sitting on association boards and aren’t appealing to the young people to come on over. In order to insure the future of our industry, we need to include the young people.
For a long time locksmiths were looked at as tinkerers that made their money with lawn mowers or bicycles, true?
Absolutely! You can’t just pick up and be a locksmith today like you could 30 years ago. Back then you could buy a key machine and blanks, a few tools and then go make some money. Today you could spend as much on some items that equal the cost of a small car. It’s changed how the businesses will be manned. You used to have many one-man shops. Today you have professional technicians who move from business to business as the money dictates.
How can smaller shops compete against these larger, professional looking security businesses?
They also have to compete against big box stores. They put a big nail in the coffin as far as retail. I see ads for locks that I couldn’t come near if I were getting a 50/25 discount. At that point you have to stop banging your head against the wall and figure out, "What can I do that they can’t do?" They’re going to be one step behind us but some manufacturers are trying to create stores that will supplant the small locksmith shop.
What do you think about such manufacturers?
Most of what I know is hearsay but it would have to be common business practice. You look at where the money is being made and try to control that area of business. Let’s take the automotive industry. It used to be that you’d sell cars and make money doing it. Now a U.S. car manufacturer competes against foreign manufacturers selling a product that looks just like his product for a lot less money. He’s got to do something to make up for his shortfall. He can fire so many people and close so many plants before he doesn’t exist any longer. So now he’s doing maintenance on a regular basis. You used to see a gas station/garage on every street corner and now they’re gone. The same thing is happening with locksmiths when it comes to automotive. When I started, a Curtis #14 clipper was high tech. Today that’s a joke and the automotive companies are taking that segment of the industry back.
What’s another example of this happening in our industry?
Many locks are now made in China. The Koreans are upset because they’re losing market share. It’s so far beyond us as far as the manufacturing goes. U.S. automakers are buying parts from India because they are the cheapest at the moment. So you have think globally and keep your ears and eyes open to what’s going on all over the world because people aren’t going tell you how to compete with them.
What’s ALOA doing to help with this scenario?
We have international contacts and even have an international director on the board of ALOA for this reason. It all comes back to what I was saying earlier about ALOA’s role in our industry. When I retire I want to see our industry intact and thriving. Prior to licensing, locksmiths were on their way out in my opinion.
Where do you think the locksmith industry would be if ALOA suddenly disappeared?
There would be a void. I think potentially, that void will be felt in the future more than in the past. Today, with legislation happening so quickly, we need to be there for everyone that faces this challenge. Oklahoma is currently going through it and we’ve been able to help them. They are riding on the coat tails of the alarm industry and we have to go there because they want to cut a chunk of our business out. If we weren’t there, I don’t know whom else they would go to.
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