The Year of the Locksmith?

“It is the “best of times, it is the worst of times.” But whatever time it is, don’t call 2013 “The Year of the Locksmith.”

Times are tough for the local locksmith dealer. The person who used to call you, the woman locked out of her car, desperate for help, checks her smart phone and calls the first locksmith she sees, an 888 number promising 15 minute service for $15. And the guy who comes is not the skilled professional in business for 15 or 30 years. No, it’s the guy showing up in an unmarked car, charging $289 or $315 or whatever he can get away with, to do a simple five-minute car opening.

Fake locksmiths, listed on the top of the search pages, whose mission is to trick and swindle scared people locked out of their cars and homes, aren’t the only problems for today’s real locksmiths. How about runaway health insurance costs for your employees or expensive vehicle maintenance, including the exorbitant cost of gas? What about getting your company name known in the crowded clutter of the public eye?

You, the lock security dealer, are supposed to be the expert on security and you think you should reach out to a larger and younger clientele. You hear you must advertise on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and Linked In, yet who has time to create online advertising, quality websites, or display on social media? Can you truly combat the tech gurus who have gotten the phonies’ phone numbers and e-mail addresses up to the top of the search pages?

Today’s real locksmith wonders how he can compete with Home Depot and Grainger and Costco and the contract hardware dealers getting great deals from manufacturers. How do you get market recognition and fight ADT and AAA and the large companies that seem to be demolishing small business? Is it possible for the small guy to compete against Amazon and other Internet resellers selling many of the popular locks and door hardware directly to consumers at really low prices?

You can go crazy trying to run a small locksmith business in this day and age. And even though people in homes and businesses worry about their own security and need answers, they often seem more concerned about identity and credit card theft. And if they really do need home or commercial security, won’t they just go to their home center or check the Internet rather than going out of their way to find you?

These problems plague the locksmith of today as well as the locksmith distributor, since much of a distributor’s sales come from the locksmith channel. Both locksmiths and distributors face similar problems: how to compete against Internet resellers and large corporations gaining market share in security products while customers avoid the locksmith market altogether. Both locksmiths and their distributors’ marketing in Internet/social media is often weak or non-existent.

Locksmiths and distributors, despite all the modern challenges of business, face an even greater challenge: doing business the way they always have and not wanting to change, because it’s just too hard to change.

It sounds like a Herculean task to survive in business today or to grow your small company. But it doesn’t do you any good to worry about things out of your hands. Does it really help to focus on scammers, competitors, the Internet, and social media? One of the best business consultants, Brian Tracy, says, “The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire, not things we fear.”

Richard Branson, one of the most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders in the world, wrote that throughout his four decades since starting his business from scratch, he has had five rules for good business:

  1. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. You must love what you do.
  2. Be innovative: Create something different that will stand out.
  3. Your employees are your best asset. Happy employees make for happy customers.
  4. Lead by listening: Get feedback from your staff and customers on a regular basis.
  5. Be visible: Market the company and its offers by putting yourself or a senior person in front of the cameras. (Richard Branson, entrepreneur.com, July 30, 2012)

If you don’t like cameras, put yourself in the public marketplace in some way, via radio, television, print, or the Internet.

Here are some other words of advice:

  • Be courteous and respectful to your customers, employees, and co-workers.
  • Remember that referrals are the best way to build business, so focus on giving your customer your highest quality service.
  • Dress so your customer will want to let you into his business or home again.
  • Make sure you and your employees clean up after the work performed. Your customers will certainly appreciate this level of professionalism.

The best rule is: Do the opposite of scammers. Focus on getting repeat business by putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and see things from his perspective. Plug the holes that your competitors missed with new offerings, unique solutions, or readapt existing products or services to customers’ needs. Show him that you possess the knowledge and insights to be the logical choice for his security requirements.

Ask your customer to write you a good review on the Internet. Be like Jim Mowry of Aaron’s Lock and Key, whom, after decades in business, keeps learning more about products and solutions. He decided during the economic downturn to become an expert on automotive security, an area he shunned for many years. Today, he works to control his costs while striving to get good referrals from his customers. He dramatically lowered his traditional advertising budget and became knowledgeable about getting his shop’s phone number and web address listed high on the Internet search pages. He concentrates on new methods of advertising, such as Angie’s List (www.angieslist.com), the market leader in rating and promoting service-based companies. Aaron’s is A rated on Angie’s List, having the most A referrals in the Metro Detroit area.

The company rated the worst is the same one that answers an 888 number and quotes 15 minutes and $15. Its Angie’s List average rating is F and every review is stunningly bad…the daughter charged $289 for a metal Hyundai key, who had to climb through her trunk to open her car door…the fiancé who paid $315 for two rekeyed locks, the tech who came with a dead electrical drill, or the one who left the back door lock “spinning like a top.”

Here is a typical member’s comments: “Just awful. If you’re looking to get scammed, this is the company to hire. Technician was rude, botched the job, lied about coming back at a certain hour, and then had the audacity to imply that he was doing me a favor to fix his garbage work. Should have looked on Angie’s List before. Stay away!!!”

Phony locksmiths are giving the locksmith industry a bad reputation. So today, it is even more critical for the lock and security professional to completely change any negative perception by giving the ultimate in courteous, knowledgeable service.

2013 might not be the “Year of the Locksmith” but it’s a pretty good year for Vogel’s Lock and Safe in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 2013 happens to be the 100th year anniversary of this fourth generation business, a mainstay in downtown Ann Arbor near the University of Michigan, which is only a few decades older. Vogel’s, like Aaron’s, Fred’s Key Shop in Detroit, and McElheney Locksmiths in Toledo, Ohio, are trusted advisors in their local communities. All of these lock companies have been in business for many decades because they continue to provide good service and maintain strong reputations.

So you don’t have to be hip or on Facebook or the lowest priced or even the most skilled locksmith in town. What you need to do is focus on excelling for your customer. Always give your best service, treat your employees and co-workers well, and let them help you grow your business. Build a reputation that you can be proud of. Be trusted to do good work around your community, and ask your customers for good recommendations and referrals.

It’s tough to be a small business in 2013 but the rules of business have not changed that much over the years. This year might not be the best of times for the average locksmith but as the once-popular song says, “Don’t worry. Be happy.” Focus on making your customers, co-workers, and employees happy by exceeding their expectations. This might help keep your business in business for many years to come.

 

Arnie Goldman is president of IDN-Hardware Sales, one of the IDN network of companies and a member of SHDA, the Security Hardware Distributors Association.

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