For the second article in our series on locksmiths who are successfully transitioning to electronics, Locksmith Ledger interviewed Tony Demino, president of Allegheny Safe & Lock, Pittsburgh, PA, web site www.aslock.com.
Since 1979, Allegheny Safe & Lock has been providing security for the tri-state area. The company has grown from a locksmith service company to a system integrator specializing in the educational sector.
Following are Locksmith Ledger’s questions and Demino’s answers.
We wanted to speak with a locksmith who made the successful transition to electronic security. Did you begin as a locksmith?
My grandfather had a lock company called Allen & Co and I started working there when I was a kid, rebuilding door closers. I did service work and wound up pushing a truck around the street for years. The company was sold eventually and I decided to go off on my own.
Did you perform all aspects of lock work there?
At Allen & Co we did strictly commercial business in the city of Pittsburgh. I was used to doing work for real estate companies and banks; I got pretty good at safe work. When I got into my own business, there weren’t many locksmiths in the city and at the beginning I depended on the overflow of others to keep me going. I was like many other locksmiths at the start, underfunded and didn’t know anything about running a business.
What was your favorite part of locksmithing back then?
Safe work, I really loved doing it. I won’t say I was good but I really enjoyed it. It was a great challenge. I was 23 years old and fearless; I didn’t really care if I failed. Every year I did a little better and eventually brought my brother on board. We were chugging along with incremental increases every year.
Were you doing any electronics?
When I was still with Allen & Co, Westinghouse was one of our customers and they were big in Pennsylvania. Schlage electronics came out with a proximity device that had a neoprene reader, a disc, connected to a controller using RG59 coax. There was no real control but you could use a card instead of a key! This was back in 1976. There was no real respect for electronics back then. You used a simple series circuit and you pushed a button and that was it. They wanted to control a door with readers from both sides. I built a box out of potted relays.
How did you learn to do that?
I just figured it out. I understood what was going on when you presented a card to the neoprene reader. It closed a circuit. Once it closed the circuit, there had to be subsequent relays I could tie this thing to in order to do what we wanted it to. That was very much the beginning and very primitive. We worked with mag locks in the beginning on computer rooms.
Were you coming up with electronic solutions often at the beginning?
Electronics was very much in its infancy then. You have to realize that the big players then were the alarm companies. We did a lot of strike installations as subcontractors to them, but they didn’t really understand that part of it either because they were burg people. If you wanted to get into a door, they could hang a reader onto a panel and configure it and that would get you in but they really couldn’t go any further than that. In the 80s, that’s a lot of what we did for them.
What made you guys unique? Why would someone choose you for that kind of work?
We knew doors and frames and hardware - that’s what made us unique! They would come to us and say they have this rim device or cylindrical lock or concealed vertical rod device and ask how to electrically operate it and we would come up with the solution at the time.
Back then, were you purchasing hardware already electrified?
No, we were providing either conventional, mechanical hardware or we were coming up with a simple solution like a mag lock, strike, etc.
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