Changing Your Ways

Dec. 1, 2006
Some jobs must be approached with a total system solution.

Some jobs must be approached with a total system solution. By breaking it down into separate parts, the client would have a shopping list to compare on price alone. By keeping our proposal as a system solution, the client would have less a chance to shop it among the community of lockshops, electricians, retailers and contractors.

Hardly a day goes by when you do not have the opportunity to learn something new. And you had better be comfortable with learning as part of your profession, if you have any plans to continue to be a locksmith, or grow your locksmith business. While some locksmiths can tread water by just doing what they’ve always done, the majority of us need to adapt to surviving in a changing world.

The companion article in this month’s issue reflected the issues faced by the security trade in general and the locksmith profession in particular.

For example, consider the security dealer who called us in to consult. It’s good to partner with others in order to service your customers. Don’t be afraid to call in others when you are faced with such obstacles, but also learn from the experiences so you can be better equipped to face a similar situation in the future.

The dealer is in a high growth area, and is staying pretty busy as a franchise for a national alarm company doing 95 percent residential. Perhaps residential alarm systems are a potential growth area for your own business.

One of our major commercial accounts called and asked for a quote for a replacement CCTV camera. They knew the brand and model they wanted and were prepared to do the labor themselves. They were just looking for the best price and prompt delivery. We were already doing a lot of access control for these folks, and had submitted some proposals for future projects which involved video, so we were eager to accommodate the customer, with profit not being the issue.

We obtain the majority of our electronic security from a single distributor. They consistently offer the best price, and fast delivery, even if they do not ‘stock’ the item and it has to be drop-shipped from the manufacturer. I called the distributor, gave the representative the part number and got a price and delivery. We added 20 percent to our cost, and I cheerfully submitted my “great deal” to the client. He shook his head and said we weren’t even close. We were quoted $1,600 for the camera in question, and added the 20 percent. My client had gotten a price of $1500 from an on-line retailer.

The camera manufacturer has several marketing channels, and it is more important to this manufacturer to move equipment than to help the small dealers. This is nothing new to the locksmith. It is not unusual for people to request that you rekey or install hardware that they’ve purchased elsewhere. The fact that the locksmith is selling specialized skills partially protects him from turning his profession into a price war with his own suppliers.

In defense of the manufacturers, they are facing increased competition from other sources and need to maintain their biggest customers. We were disturbed by this experience, hoping that the client would not take the attitude that we were similarly overpriced with all of our products and services.

But then we had the preschool project to quote. I suggested that we approach this job with a total system solution, rather than break it down into sections. This was because I knew that by breaking it down into separate parts, the client would have a shopping list. By keeping our proposal as a system solution, the client would have less of a chance to shop it among the community of lockshops, electricians and contractors in the area.

It’s a question of sales engineering rather than taking an order or installing a piece of hardware. The process involves carefully evaluating the site and determining what the client needs, then convincing the client. If the client has not already specified a system, you are not just there to make a sale, but also you are acting as a consultant. You could very likely not get reimbursed for your efforts. The client will design the system looking at the right hand column, then go shopping for lower price.

The alarm dealer ignored my suggestions and submitted separate quotes for the video and then for the intercom. Just those numbers were enough to scare the committee.

Their initial motivation was a warning from the fire marshal regarding the stairwell doors. The fact that they had 40 little kids in their care, and there had been some disturbing reports of domestic disputes in some of the families, also became important to the committee.

The dealer never got a chance to establish a budget figure from the client, offer a total system solution, or even offer some creative financing options with them. Instead the end-user went out shopping for a few panic bars.

But in the process of researching this project, I went to alternate sources for the camera system and the panic bars and other items. Instead of a name brand for the video and access, I instead chose products from a smaller company, who by virtue of its technology and customer service, is making a name for itself, only in a lower price range, thereby making it possible for the small dealer to compete.

Although there is a lot of buzz regarding IP cameras and digital technology, you need to be selective, since IP is not always the best solution.

IP refers to Internet Protocol. Internet protocol is the encoding used for network communications. Networks are used in homes and businesses. Networks communicate with remote locations and other resources over the Internet. Virtually ever camera on the market today utilize digital electronics to capture the image, and either analog (coax); IP (Cat5), or UTP (untwisted pair) to transmit the image to the monitor, recorder or elsewhere.

In many cases, such as where there is no existing network, or over short runs, using IP offers no advantage over the other technologies. Digital signal processing, that is the transmission and recording of the video, does offer significant advantages over analog in many cases, but not all.

In some situations, you will encounter major resistance from in house IT if you attempt to connect cameras to their network. Most IT folks spend their waking hours trying to keep the network working and defending it against attacks. They have enough problems patching and plugging and keeping up with technologies without you.

However, if the client wishes to view camera and be able to retrieve video remotely, they might not have a choice. Additionally, because of the fact that IP and DSP (Digital Signal Processing) enable the customer to use his existing computer hardware and resources, it may be preferred. Once again, be aware that your clients might be very knowledgeable about digital technologies, but only need you to install the cameras and pull wire.

With respect the exit devices for the project, I at first thought of using some high-end electrically actuated devices, but then I took a deep breath and a step back. Although a budget number was never declared, I realized that the price differences between the best, and something more economical, and controlling them with rim mount electric strikes was substantial. I selected my door hardware with this in mind.

Of course the project never happened because the client felt they couldn’t afford it. In my opinion, they couldn’t afford NOT to protect the children. There had been threats made. The news is full of horror stories about school attacks and enhanced security is an excellent marketing tool if they are soliciting children to attend their preschool.

A little creative financing would perhaps have enabled the committee to do the right thing. Let’s say the whole system would cost $10,000. They already had 40 children attending. Over the course of five years, it would have cost them a dollar a child per week to substantially improve the safety of their kids.