Why Locksmiths Might Consider Expanding into Video

April 18, 2022
Creating a one-stop technology shop figures to lure customers from competitors and bring in new business.

Over the past two-plus decades, the physical-security sector has provided dynamic growth and stunning technology advancement across the spectrum. However, there’s little doubt that the most vigorous development has been in the video-surveillance market. With progressive camera technology that delivers crisper resolution, faster transmission speeds and onboard analytics, video is the lead dog in most systems integrators’ toolbox.

Although many locksmiths have been hesitant to embrace the addition of video surveillance products to their line, an expanding universe of their peers have taken the plunge. Those progressive locksmiths now offer video-security options from their shops. The vendors that help them to stock their inventory and train them have a simple message: “Don’t let the technology intimidate you.”

Brave New World

Take the plunge is the advice Ted Wilkinson, director of channel partners and end customers at Axis Communications has for locksmiths.

“Remind yourself that anything new can be a little scary, but it’s not hard if you dedicate the time,” he says. He recommends starting with training and perhaps hiring staff who understand network technology. Another option is partnering with companies that specialize in video. Finally, look to manufacturers and distributors that have resources and content that can help.

Wilkinson adds that locksmiths have great mechanical knowledge, and many already have experience with electric locks and access control systems. Accordingly, they’re well-positioned to parlay their experience into video surveillance, particularly if they have a propensity for learning.

“In order to develop their skills, locksmiths should reach out to manufacturers and distributors and enroll in related training programs,” he says. “As locksmiths move into the network-surveillance and electronic-security space, it’s important for them to educate their customers about how technology is changing and how new solutions can help them to better protect and manage their business.”

John Nolan, owner of Reliant Security, a full-service locksmith company in Grand Junction, Colorado, specializes in locksmith services, cameras and alarms. He contends that locksmiths who don’t expand into video and alarms are leaving money on the table while emboldening their competitors who do.

“If we’re speaking just about video surveillance, it’s lucrative for the locksmith, for one,” he says. “And, two, it broadens them out into that electronic field, even if they don’t know anything about how networks work, then just by installing cameras. A lot of the cameras now are IP cameras, so they’re not dealing with wire or with the camera programming. A lot of that stuff is automated. It would be really easy for them to just dive into cameras.

“But on the whole, I think if the traditional lock-and-key locksmith isn’t expanding his knowledge base on electronic access or other electronic components, then they’re going to be in for a big surprise in the near future,” he adds. “There is no doubt that’s the direction everything’s moving toward.”

Nolan further says the growing plug-and-play nature of video makes it particularly appealing. “It's quite easy to integrate it into other devices, like electronic access control,” he says. “Once you get a job or two down and you get a rhythm going, it becomes very easy to find a wire path or drill holes. It’s still hardware-based, right? We’re still screwing things in. The advantage is that you become more of a one-stop shop. If we have to outsource to another locksmith, then we’re losing that money.”

Outside Your Comfort Zone

Nolan says locksmiths who are willing to move outside of their technology comfort zone will have better opportunities into the future. It’s a matter of branding your shop’s capabilities beyond the traditional sphere of the stereotypical locksmith role, which is particularly appealing when you consider that some locksmith responsibilities are waning or have disappeared.

“You’re showing growth [by adding video],” Nolan says. “If [you’re] an older locksmith and just don’t want to do video, you should look into hiring somebody or partnering with another company to do that. If we show the end user that, ‘My job is to protect your whole house or your whole business, but, sorry, I’m not offering electronic access, or I’m not offering video or offering an alarm system,’ then I think we’re limiting ourselves.”

Don Snowden, senior vice president and general manager of global markets, communications and security solutions for Wesco International, contends that it’s essential for locksmiths to grow their business through video.

“By adding video security to their portfolio of services, locksmiths can capitalize on market trends,” he says. “Video security is an expectation of many consumers. The actual technology has gotten easier — far simpler than complex masterkey systems, for example. I believe that locksmiths have an easier transition into low-voltage security than the typical security integrator has working on door hardware and key systems.”

Wilkinson agrees that locksmiths should view video as a growing business essential and that they approach the field from a position of strength in the security community.

“The biggest advantage that locksmiths have is their specialized skillset,” he says. “Door hardware and locking technology is challenging and foreign to traditional video-surveillance integrators. Video technology is both an art and a science, but it’s easy to learn, which gives locksmiths an advantage in terms of customers who need both door hardware and video — and many do. Furthermore, with regards to customers, locksmiths have an established and loyal customer base whom they can offer new technological solutions to, which is another big advantage.”

How Big Do I Start?

Depending on the size of their business, the most obvious question a locksmith might ask is, what solutions am I capable of providing? Is it a two-to-six-camera system for smaller businesses or retail, or a bigger project, such as a school or healthcare facility?

According to Snowden, the sky’s the limit after you’ve mastered the skills and gained the confidence to move forward.

“Once comfortable with the technology, there’s really no limit to the size of jobs that are out there,” he says. “It becomes a matter of scalability.” His recommendation is to start small: Install a system in your shop, parking lot or even home to get experience and comfort with the products.

“Ideal opportunities for many locksmiths are small-to-medium-size projects,” he says. “The integrator community typically focuses on larger, more-complex projects and new builds, leaving small-to-medium opportunities to the locksmith. Smaller jobs also tend to have better profitability and less risk.”

Wilkinson also asserts that success depends on the investment locksmiths are willing to make in themselves and their staff. And that isn’t limited just to inventory.

“A locksmith’s capacity all depends on their investment in training and the qualifications of their staff,” he says. In any case, it’s important to make sure that you stay connected with your customers and remain their business partner, staying in tune with their needs and the challenges they face.”

Nolan emphasizes the importance of training and creating a technology bench for your shop.

“Get a lot of training,” he says. “Eat up and just get hungry for it. Find people that are doing it in your area, ask them how they started and what worked. It’s like safe work. You have to be trained by someone to do safe work, same with locksmithing. We have apprentices for a reason.”

He notes that in many areas, low-voltage work isn’t regulated, although there are guidelines to follow. Yet, he advises locksmiths to do research, because low-voltage work certainly is regulated in some states.

“So, in that respect, it’s up to you whether you’re going to get into licensing, or like I said, partner with another company,” Nolan says. “I can’t overemphasize training. Online webinars are great. A lot of locksmiths are entrepreneurs. We’re small one- or two-people shops. The bigger shops can hire a person to go train and do stuff for that. But learning is the motivation for the entrepreneur. Finding another guy like that and learning from that person is also a good deal.

“Manufacturers are super-helpful towards training,” he adds. “I know there are access [control companies] and some of the other camera companies who are willing to do some training with you, but the best knowledge comes from just hands-on training, hands-on experience. Going out and doing weird jobs with other low-voltage people can be superhelpful.”

In the end, for Nolan, it’s all about establishing trust with customers. By having an extended technology toolbox, he becomes their go-to service guy.

“For me, it means that when someone calls me for a service and I offer them an array of things by letting them know, ‘Hey, I do cameras, alarms and these other things, too, if you’re interested, Mr. and Mrs. New Homeowner,’ then I become a mixture of the supersecret lock guy,” he says. “A lot of people don’t understand how locks work. They just know they put the key in and turn it. That’s the key to their house. So, I become a little bit more credible, too. It adds to the credibility of the person that’s coming out and servicing you that says, ‘Hey, we can put a camera over here once we finish installing all your locks.’”