Zac Grant is a 19-year-old high school graduate from Albany, NY. His Uncle Shawn Keene, owner of Keystone Lock Company outside Philadelphia (www.keystonelockcompany.com, has been mentoring him for several months now. I was curious about how Zac was enjoying and progressing in his apprenticeship. Following are the Ledger’s questions and Zac’s answers.
I understand you work for your Uncle Shawn who owns Keystone Lock Company. How did he get started?
He’s been on his own for about three years and he’s been working as a locksmith for about five years all together.
Does the family all know Shawn’s a locksmith? What do they think of someone who’s a locksmith?
They’re proud of him. You don’t know much about locksmithing until you’re involved in it. It’s sort of a mystery.
That’s a good point. When you knew your uncle was working as a locksmith, what did you think that meant?
I thought it had a lot to do with residential work but we’re 90 percent automotive. I thought he was doing a lot of lockouts, getting people into their homes and cars. I came down here and was amazed at how much you have to know to do this.
When did you start?
I came to Philadelphia from Albany, NY. I was fresh out of high school. I didn’t want to do school any more so I moved down here to learn and work with him.
How long have you been working as an apprentice locksmith? Did you work with your hands at all before this?
I came down here about in June of 2012. I was a dishwasher, that’s all I did with my hands as far as work goes. He took me like a piece of clay and began sculpting me into a locksmith.
What’s the process like? How does he go about teaching you?
At first I would just tag along as he went about his business, watching over his shoulder. I would just watch what he was doing like rekeying at first. He told me not to focus much on picking locks since we don’t do it much -- mostly rekeying, programming keys, duplicating keys.
So you’re doing lots of rekeys and automotive work? Why is that the focus?
He used to work in a car shop so he had that background and it was a natural for him to work on them in this industry.
What do you think of locksmithing so far?
I think that once you get good at something and think you’re getting good at it, you run into something you don’t know. Shawn still learns something new every day. We’re always running into things we’ve never seen before. It’s just a matter of figuring out how it works and how to fix it.
What kind of work do you do on your own?
I do a lot of automotive. That’s where I started. Someone’s missing their keys and I run it through the system we have, get the cuts and program it. We program remotes too. We use the Advanced Diagnostics MVP and also Hot Wire.
Can you make keys for pretty much any car out there?
A lot of them: Mercedes, Volkswagen; the older VW’s. We don’t touch a lot of German ones like BMW because our systems don’t do them.
Are you out there doing some work on your own?
Out of six days a week, I go out maybe twice a week by myself depending on how much work we have. When we go out together, the work gets done quicker. One of us could be getting the machine ready while the other is working on the car or the door lock, for example. If you’re alone, it takes longer.
Do you see yourself making a good living working in this industry?
Absolutely, I am now. I got my first car already.
How do you like working with the public?
It’s good. It’s like anything else; they don’t know how it works. I’m not an expert yet. Take plumbing or electricity; if I need that work done I’ll go to them. It’s good when people trust you and feel like you’re not going to mistreat them.
Are you familiar at all with the scammer issue in our industry? Does that figure into how you guys go about your business?
We’re honest about everything we do. If we mess up, we’ll wait and make sure we do it right even if it means scheduling another appointment to come back. One time we were doing a rekey job and discovered that the previous locksmith left some pins out so we couldn’t work on the cylinders until we took them apart and repinned them. We’re always honest and we’d rather have the customer call us for more work than make quick money one time.
Do you have a lot of regular repeat customers?
Yes we do. Most of them are car dealerships and we get referrals from people a lot.
What else have you seen out there that you’d like to learn more about?
Two days ago I rekeyed my first ignition and then did another one this morning. That was new to me. I keep watching Shawn and I learn; it’s all about having a good mentor.
Do you see yourself having your own lock business one day?
I don’t know about that any time soon. I see what Shawn goes through and how stressful it could get. When you’re the owner, you’re always busy which is good but I’m still young and don’t really want all that responsibility yet.
What do your friends think of you working as a locksmith now?
All my friends knew I was coming here to work as a locksmith. They would say, “What are you going to do, pick locks?” Everybody thinks that’s all we do, pick locks. People always think that. People don’t know what we do. It’s like a hidden skill.
Are you learning more about your own abilities during this time? Are you enjoying working with your hands?
I never had a problem working with my hands but the work is very involved. When I began, it was just cut keys and program; very basic and you really couldn’t mess it up unless there’s a problem with the car and then you can’t program it. When there’s a problem to figure out, you just have to trust yourself and figure it out.
What do you look forward to learning more about? (I point to our front door and ask about the door closer, Adams Rite lock, etc.)
Right now that stuff is all Shawn. I’d like to get more into installing residential stuff. Access Control sounds kind of cool but I don’t yet know anything about it.
What do you think Access Control is? Is it meant to replace the use of keys?
Technology, I think of advanced technology; how does it work? Technology fails sometimes and when that happens, you can always go back to using keys. I prefer the old key and cylinder myself.
Are you thinking that keys will always be around?
I do, yes. They’ll always be around; like the Chrysler Fobix; they have the emergency key in the back in case technology fails. I’m intrigued by Access Control but still think keys will be around for a long time. There are so many keys out there that I just don’t see them all vanishing.
What would you say to people your age; would you recommend it as a way to earn a living?
Absolutely, I’m digging what I’m doing. I wasn’t one for school I guess so going right from high school to this has been great. You get to travel around and meet new people every day instead of being in an office all day.