Legends of the Lock Industry

When SHDA past presidents, Al Hoffman and Virl Mullins, spoke at the 40th anniversary annual conference of SHDA in April of 2010, few of us would have imagined that less than ten months later, Al Hoffman would be gone. When Virl and Al prepared a walk down memory lane and regaled the members with stories of SHDA and the locksmith industry’s history, it is now hard for me to comprehend that 40-year-old Andy Hildebrand, sitting two seats away from me, would also be dead within a few months.

Less than six weeks after the annual SHDA conference in which Al and Virl celebrated the history of locksmith distributors, Doug Maston died on June 8th.This was only two weeks after Doug retired from his Chief Executive Officer position at Killeen Security Products (KSP). Doug worked at KSP for almost 25 years, helping to lead the company in manufacturing a complete line of interchangeable cores and housings. Before coming to KSP, Doug worked for the Independent Lock Company and ESP.

Doug was one of my favorite people in the industry, a man who told it the way he saw it, one of the truly “good guys” in the lock business. His son, Ken, wrote a letter to his father for Father’s Day, which was never given and became Doug’s eulogy. “Thank you, dad,” Ken wrote, “for teaching me that it’s sometimes just the small things we do together or the little jokes we play, that are most important.” Like his son, I enjoyed the small things with Doug, talking and laughing and telling stories about our business. Meeting with Doug was rarely about doing business but instead about keeping alive wonderful personal relationships that never die.

Another father, friend, and legend in the industry died only six weeks after Doug. Larry Kern worked in the security access business since 1985 with Master Lock, Fort Lock, Kaba, and Securitron and most recently in the position of Director of Wholesale Sales for Assa Abloy. Larry was funny, energetic, friendly, and a great joy to be around and do business with. Only a year before he died, I recommended Larry be added to the SHDA Industry Advocacy Committee because he was one of the brightest and best in the industry. Less than a year later, he died unexpectedly. He was only 59.

Only six weeks later, Ernie Pugatch passed away after a bout with cancer. Ernie had been president of Arrow Lock of Brooklyn, NY, throughout the 70s, 80s, and early 90s, leading the company in the locksmith supply business with an excellent line of cylindrical knob locks, deadbolts, interchangeable core products, mortise locks, and door hardware. After he retired and Arrow was purchased by Assa Abloy, Ernie continued to call on many of Arrow’s distributors. Honorable, honest, and intelligent, he was treasured by many of the best distributors as a real friend. He called me monthly along with many others in the industry, including Al Hoffman, just to ask how we were doing and to talk about the industry. I will never forget his phone calls and his friendship.

Ed Mayer, the owner of Commonwealth Lock of Massachusetts, died on October 4th. In a Locksmith Ledger issue from May 1993, (“Commonwealth Lock: Customers are like family,” Bob Psolka), Eddie said, “My philosophy in business is personal contact. The locksmith is my business and I treat him as family. I take care of his needs.” Jerry Roraback, VP of Lab, told me, “Ed Mayer was ‘one on a kind’ like your dad. He built that business with his own hands and was so very knowledgeable and so very liked. Every one loved Big Ed.”

One week later, Andy Hildebrand, Operations Manager of Blaydes Lock and Security, died at the tragically young age of 40, leaving his wife and two children without a husband and father. Andy joined the family business as so many others have in this industry, including me, after graduating college (for him, the University of South Carolina.). He was a musician as well and passionate about his family, music, and water and snow sports.

Conley Wilds wrote about Andy, “I will always remember his positive attitude. I can’t ever remember him being in a bad mood. Mike Groves from FedLock wrote, “Although Andy was Team Blaydes, it always felt like he was on our team, too, because he was a good soul.”

And fellow Blaydes employee, Mary Davisson, wrote, “His presence, temperament, smile, ‘what’s up’ — as he used to say — and kind words of encouragement always illuminated the atmosphere at Blaydes Lock and Security….he was a true friend to each of us.”

Thanksgiving for the Schwartz family will never be the same. Last year on this sacred American holiday, Sid Schwartz, the legendary founder of Security Lock Distributors, passed away. “For the last 12-plus years, he has been my boss,” David Danberg wrote, “and a fine boss he was. He started a hugely successful business from the ground up and in the process, never changed, always remaining humble and down-to-earth.” “Here is a true inspiration for the word ‘Life,’ ” wrote Steve and Charlotte Murray. “He was active all the time, showing every day the true meaning of family and passion in the industry.”

Treating employees and customers like family is a theme that could be mentioned for all those we’ve lost in the security hardware industry in the last year. Jerry Hoffman, the founder and long-time President of HPC, died in December. Jerry was devoted to locksmiths all over the world and a staple of the industry for more than 50 years. He prided himself on never missing an ALOA show and being a member of SHDA from its beginning as NLSA.

“In my years in the trade,” Allen Murphy wrote, “Jerry was a pioneer in the locksmithing industry, yet always had time for talk and a kind word, inspiring all who knew him to strive to excel, to be more to more people. Through his actions and words, he reminded us all in the trade that we were ambassadors of our occupation, and myself and many others strove to maintain that level of professionalism in our dealings.” Jerry meant so much to the locksmith industry, always striving to give locksmiths better tools for their businesses and working closely with distributors to service those locksmiths.

Jerry and his brother, Al, were as close as brothers could possibly be. I guess it wasn’t surprising as Jerry’s wife, Maida, told me they did everything together, that older brother, Al Hoffman, died only six few weeks after Jerry. Another legend in the locksmith industry, Al had always been devoted to the family business, the H. Hoffman Company, as he was to his friends and family.

Frank Belflower, COO of Kaba Key Systems Americas; Access + Data Systems Americas, wrote, “Al was the most revered person I have ever had the pleasure to have known. A true gentleman, intuitive businessman, and a presence beyond compare.” Longtime friend and business partner, Virl Mullins, who founded IDN with Al, told those present at Al’s funeral that he never had a fight with Al and Al was much like another legend from long ago (Joe Falk, founder of Hardware Sales.) Al, like Joe, was truly a “gentleman and a gentle man.”

Al was a giant in many ways, a “great man,” according to his son-in-law, David Kahl. So many people wrote in his legacy.com guest book how Al urged them and their families to “consider a career in security and locks.” Al was respected and loved by many in the industry, including competitors. Marshall Merrifield of Clark Security wrote, “Al was one of those wonderful people who lived his life reflecting noble values every day. At work, at home, and in the community, he stood for all the right things. He led our industry on a national level with competence, wit, and charm, and with a word of encouragement never far away.” Tom Glavin, locksmith, businessman, and customer, wrote that “Al helped others become better by raising their confidence and expectations. He was a teacher and mentor to me and I will always be grateful that he was part of my life. Goodbye friend.”

Al truly loved the industry and loved the people in it. I still remember how Al convinced me when I was young and uncertain about my future that the locksmith industry was a good one for me and that it was noble to become a manager at a locksmith distributor, that it was as good a job as could be found anywhere. Still, what I think made Al truly special was that Al listened to me as if I mattered, no matter how little I knew. He listened to everyone that way, respectfully, truly interested and inquisitive about what others thought and what they accomplished. There are few people in any walk of life who are gifted enough to listen well and really teach, who also loved to be taught. Al was such a believer in education that one of his last wishes was for anyone who wanted to honor his memory to contribute to the Ben Silver Education Fund at SHDA, 105 Eastern Avenue, Suite 104, Annapolis, MD 21403 (www.shda.org).

How can you measure what these legends have given us? Try to imagine what this industry would have been without them. Imagine the locksmith industry without HPC or H. Hoffman or IDN or Security Lock Distributors or Arrow or Commonwealth or KSP. Their contributions to SHDA and the locksmith industry are incalculable. Consider also the families they raised, the jobs they created, the good will they cherished… the gifts of their lives to us all.

I think of Doug’s smile at SHDA’s one-on-one conferences each year, the new machines and tools that Jerry showed us with so much enthusiasm. I can still hear Ernie’s voice on the phone, asking about my dad and telling me he had the book I wrote on the nightstand next to his bed. I remember Larry talking about new products and promotions with his typical gusto and making it easy for our company to do business with his company, whether it was Fort, Ilco, or Securitron. Look at the incredible growth of Security Lock Distributors and imagine the industry without Sid and his sons. Think of locksmiths in Boston without Commonwealth’s Eddie and his family. Then, mourn for the future of the industry without a young mind and soul like Andy. And if you are able, try to comprehend the industry without the steady hand and guiding voice of Al Hoffman.

Sadly, our extended family of locksmiths, distributors, and manufacturers must go on without them. Yet, we still have our storied memories and our imaginations. I imagine that these eight extra-ordinary gentlemen are having their own mini-SHDA conference in their own section of the universe. Distributor members Al and Eddie and Sid and Andy are lined up on one side of the table and manufacturer members Larry, Doug, Ernie, and Jerry are lined up on the other. The conversations are lively and cordial, their memories vibrant, mixed with laughs and new ideas and questions about us, their families and friends.

Even without dreams of the afterlife, we can share our memories of these eight great souls and use their lives as our guides. We can focus on doing business the right way, humble and honest. Like them, we can be loving, devoted family members, or simply be friends, passionate and encouraging. We can listen to each other, openly, empathically, knowing our lives are short and each day may be our last.

 

Arnie Goldman is the president of IDN-Hardware Sales, Inc. of Michigan and a member of the SHDA Industry Advocacy Committee.

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