While computerized ease, speed, efficiency and accuracy makes locksmiths happy, that can’t happen unless they’re customers in the first place. Word-of-mouth provided a launch pad. “Our low price plus next day plus free freight program convinced buyers who kept coming back, and they told their friends about us,” Dan notes.
It takes more than that, however, to grow business. H.L. Flake has enlisted various methods to methodically expand awareness of and interest in their offerings.
“We started advertising in the mid-1990s,” Dan reveals. “Our initial focus was to build business in the Southeast. Not long after, we began advertising beyond our normal area. We started going to more trade shows 10 or so years ago which generated a lot of requests and business with new accounts. We quickly learned that locksmiths in California and elsewhere around the country were interested in what we had to sell. We were fully national by 2005 and as sales expanded in each region and volume grew, we were able to reduce costs.”
Continued growth nationwide is due in no small part to H.L. Flake’s internet presence. “Locksmith-friendly” would aptly describe the H.L. Flake Web site (www.hlflake.com), particularly its fully illustrated, comprehensive product catalog. “We were one of the first in the industry to put a full catalog shopping cart on-line, about 12 years ago. We update our catalog sometimes twice a day, so customers can find the latest product offerings,” Dan notes. “Our new Web site will be ready later this year. It will have a greatly improved search engine function and products will have more detailed information.”
“From a locksmith’s perspective, we make hard-to-find products easy to get,” asserts Jeff. “Few if any distributors come close to matching our inventory with over 25,000 items in stock. While the branch of a large organization may be able to find a product at another location, it nevertheless calls for extra time and effort and delays delivery. There may be added charges, too.”
As new security products are introduced and added to Flake inventories, even “obsolete” products remain in play. “It’s rare when we do not have an item in stock,” adds Jeff. “Our new facility has 44 percent more space allocated for locksmith supplies and service than what we previously had.”
New Product Training
“One of the greatest challenges for locksmiths today is keeping up with new locks and new systems,” says Jeff about new security products, noting that the level of knowledge required today is far higher than 10 years ago. “Automotive, for instance, didn’t involve the electronics, chip keys and transponders you see now. In commercial security, today’s access control electronics require much more product knowledge.”
Dan notes that for years, they’ve provided a classroom and related assistance for local area locksmith groups and those in more distant venues. They do the actual training, too. Dan is one of three instructors, helping in sessions at trade shows and elsewhere. The firm also supports association training via its presence at a dozen or so shows where training is conducted, from California to Massachusetts and points in between.
“There’s a show for automotive locksmiths - Just Cars – that’s held every spring.” notes Jeff. “This year it’s in Orlando on May 4-5, and we plan to have several people there.”
“The fact is, all of us benefit from this training,” Dan observes. “The better an association’s membership is trained, the more likely it is the products they buy from us will be the right ones and they’ll know how to make them work properly. Otherwise, as happens on occasion, we get a ‘defect’ sent back that isn’t actually ‘defective.’ So we really want to help locksmiths understand the products that are available to them.
“From a locksmith’s perspective, today’s security technology can be old hat tomorrow. If he isn’t up-to-speed on whatever’s replacing it, a big piece of his business could disappear in short order. That’s why we’re always on the lookout for new ways to more directly help locksmith associations across the country provide the training members need to gain and retain their security clients.”