Distributor Viewpoint

During a recent conversation with an industry friend, he mentioned that locksmiths were going to Home Depot early in the morning to pick up supplies for jobs. He began to question what the role of the locksmith distributor in the future would be. I...


During a recent conversation with an industry friend, he mentioned that locksmiths were going to Home Depot early in the morning to pick up supplies for jobs. He began to question what the role of the locksmith distributor in the future would be. I can’t imagine the locksmith community surviving without the help of distributors. Can you?

This is important to me since I’m employed as an outside sales person for IDN Hardware Sales. I’ve worked for lock distributors since 1993 and personally have never felt threatened by the possibility that we wouldn’t be needed during my lifetime. Once in a while we hear rumors that certain manufacturers are looking to go direct to the security professional and maybe even to the end user but this doesn’t make sense to me. I say this because locksmiths have very close and personal relationships with their suppliers. We speak with our customers on a regular basis, sometimes as often as five or six times per day! We are dependant on each other and this dependence goes both ways. Without the locksmith, the supplier has no customer base and without the supplier, the locksmith has a tough time getting what he needs.

When you’re the supplier, it’s not as simple as taking an order on the phone or over the counter. Not all callers know what they want; sometimes they do but have no part number. It’s typically our job to translate what’s being asked for into a part number that results in them getting what they need. I’ve had people who call themselves locksmiths ask for a knife when they mean a cutter for a key machine. I don’t want to list every item that has been described inaccurately by customers; my point here is that communication is the key, no pun intended, and we as suppliers are responsible for making sure we understand what’s needed by our customers.

As a salesperson I’d love to have everything on our shelves and of course I realize that’s neither possible nor a good idea. I hate saying, “we don’t have it” to a customer and will always try to get it elsewhere if it’s not in our inventory. But there are times we have to say, “Sorry, we can’t help with this item.”

So why does the locksmith call the supplier he calls? For the most part I believe it’s out of habit. We are creatures of habit and tend to take the path of least resistance whenever possible. Locksmiths are busy people and need to spend as little time as possible explaining what they need along with negotiating the time it will take and the price they will pay to get their supplies. There’s always a list of speed dial numbers visible by one of the phones in a lock shop and the distributor who’s called is the one that will provide that path of least resistance. When that choice doesn’t have what they need, then they move down the list. Some of the suppliers on these lists have been doing business with the locksmith for many years and in some cases, two or three generations. That’s quite a habit to break!

If you’re the sales person trying to do business with a locksmith who hasn’t used you yet, it could be quite an uphill battle. Showing up once in a while and hoping for an order could feel like playing the lottery and it’s not fun. Hopefully you have something to offer that others don’t. Some suppliers handle a niche or proprietary product that can only be gotten from them and that tends to increase the chances of a prospect giving you a call when the need for this product comes up. In this case it’s a solution to a problem that results in them taking a chance with you. That’s what it is, a chance! I say this because until the first order, there’s no trust built up yet. If the first order works out then you have a shot at the next one. If it gets botched somehow, the climb gets steeper as far as any future business happening between you is concerned.

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