The Importance of Being Local

April 2, 2014
Regional trade shows make sense for the locksmith. They are easier to reach, less expensive to attend, and offer many benefits in a shortened timeframe.

Locksmithing is a very local business. No one has been able to come up with a successful, sustainable franchise concept or national locksmith service network. Almost all locksmiths and most security service companies are small businesses, dependent on their local communities. So is it any surprise that the best lock and security trade shows are local as well?

With the immediacy and ease of obtaining information and products over the Internet, national shows such as ALOA and DHI are struggling to get attendees. National shows require a tremendous commitment of time and resources. Many locksmith businesses cannot afford sending key people across the country for education, to walk a large trade show with its myriad vendors. ALOA has tried to combat this decline by offering locations that are fun and vacation-worthy, including Las Vegas and New Orleans. But not every locksmith shop owner wants to bring their employees and families to these great vacation spots in the heat of the summer.

So what’s the alternative to national shows?

Throughout the years, locksmiths and security professionals in North America often choose to attend distributor and regional association trade shows and security conferences. SHDA distributors Clark (a division of Anixter), H.L. Flake, Southern Lock, Doyle, KDL, Hans Johnson, and IML have various trade shows scheduled in the spring, summer, and fall of 2014. Regional trade shows such as Serlac and Yankee also continue to flourish because locksmiths in the Southeast and New England can conveniently travel, visit the vendors they want, and take a variety of classes without spending a lot of money.

SHDA distributor IDN H. Hoffman had offered smaller trade shows at their local branch locations for two decades, but recently, chose to offer a large trade show in the Chicago area, home of their headquarters. Their show last November was highlighted by an automotive class by ALOA instructor Ed Woods as well as a school security seminar and one on the healthcare industry. As is common with other distributor trades shows, IDN H. Hoffman had over 70 manufacturers, displaying items as diverse as automotive products, locksmith tools, padlocks, access control, CCTV, safes, safe locks, key machines, doors and frames, electronic access control, and both residential and commercial locks.

There was something for every locksmith to see and hundreds of Midwest locksmiths made the trip to Chicago for the show. Since ALOA hasn’t been in Chicago for years, it was important for IDN-H. Hoffman to offer a trade show that allows Midwest locksmiths to meet with many manufacturers, all in one place.

IDN-Hardware Sales, Inc., headquartered in Livonia, Mich., has had an annual trade show every year for the last 25 years. Its 25th Annual Trade Show and Security Conference held in Novi, Michigan in March was its largest yet. Locksmiths from Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, New England, and other areas attended. There were 29 diversified classes, from 2 hours to 7 ½ hours each, including certification and hands-on training. Seminars started on Wednesday afternoon and ended on Sunday morning with a PRP class. The trade show itself began Friday evening and continued through Saturday afternoon. Locksmiths attended for one simple cost (with a few exceptions) per person or per shop. This made it easy for the locksmith to spend a few hours or few days to get information, education, meet manufacturer representatives, see a slew of new and old products, get promotional product pricing, meet other locksmiths, and have some good, old-fashioned fun.

IDN Hardware Sales, Inc. (formerly Hardware Sales and Supply Company) dabbled in trade shows in the 1980s, influenced by the H. Hoffman Trade Show in Chicago. The H. Hoffman locksmith trade show in the 70s and 80s was one of the largest in the industry, bringing hundreds of locksmiths from across the Midwest to take classes, get special product offers, witness new security products, and meet and greet others in the industry. Distributor trade shows were then and are still a way for locksmiths to socialize and learn ways to be successful. Before social media, trade shows and local locksmith association meetings were the best ways to rub shoulders with other security dealers.

Back in the 80s and 90s, ALOA was one of the few places to take locksmith courses and the best venue to view the most products and get exceptional discounts from many distributors. Air travel prices then were reasonable, before luggage and special seats carried higher fees. Information was crucial and worth a premium as was the ability to save on special purchases.

“In the old days,” national and regional shows were very important for locksmiths to visit, to allow them to improve their crafts, skills, knowledge, and business acumen. Today, information and exceptional pricing are much easier to obtain. The Internet has brought almost all information quickly to everyone’s fingertips or cell phones. The locksmith doesn’t need to travel far or spend a lot to save money or get all the information he needs. As costs for small businesses have risen, locksmith dealers have had to evaluate the value of long-distance travel, costs of hotel rooms, and time away from one’s business. That’s why local distributor trade shows make sense. They are easier to reach, less expensive to attend, and offer many benefits in a shortened timeframe.

IDN-Hardware Sales, one of many SHDA distributors offering trade shows, has had a variety of themes and venues throughout its 25 years of shows. Every trade show has offered entertainment and fun activities to entice the locksmith to take a few hours or few days to leave the business and venture out to the trade show. It has offered casino nights, NASCAR themes, and March Madness basketball to incentivize locksmiths from all over the Midwest and Northeast to attend.

The most important element of trade shows is certainly seminars and classes taught by qualified trainers, which allow locksmith professionals to gain knowledge and skills to become better professionals. Because of widespread manufacturer sponsorship, IDN-Hardware Sales has been able to offer a potpourri of classes for every locksmith. Here are just a few of the class topics offered:

  • Codes and common door and hardware errors
  • Low voltage electricity for installers
  • Exit device repair
  • Electronic lock programming
  • Safe installation and sales opportunities
  • Electric strike applications
  • Door installation and service
  • Transponder cloning and programming
  • Sensor technology
  • Marketing your business
  • CCTV and DVR security
  • School security solutions
  • Upgrading mechanical to electronic locks
  • Master automotive class, which focuses on pinning high security auto locks

Educators and trainers from all over the country come to local trade shows to teach master keying, high security key control, marketing, automotive security service, storefront door repair, codes and code cutting software, life safety, fire door codes, and so much more. Finding these types of qualified, well-known trainers and outstanding classes in a hotel near you is a breakthrough advantage for the locksmith who takes full advantage of local shows.

Many locksmiths don’t invest the time to gain extra skills, knowledge, and expertise available so close to them. However, many realize the value of classes and shows and are determined to come every year. They take all the classes they can, visit every manufacturer’s booth, see all the new and top products in the market, and socialize with other successful security professionals.

There are so many challenges for the locksmith professional today. Competition from Internet retailers and from other industries, rising business and health care costs, and challenges from fake locksmiths intercepting emergency phone calls all make it difficult to survive in business.

How does one little locksmith or small locksmith shop thrive in this difficult environment? It helps to become as knowledgeable as possible and turn this into a marketable advantage as a qualified security dealer. So the locksmith should advantage of every opportunity to learn more professional skills, network with others who have succeeded, and lower their product and operating costs.

Ask yourself why you are a security lock professional. If you want to improve your skills and knowledge to become more a more profitable businessman, take advantage of opportunities in your area. So when a local distributor offers a trade show conference with lots of classes, manufacturer displays featuring important security products and special prices, don’t just sit home or stay in your shop. Do something worthwhile for you, your profession, and your future prosperity. As Nike proclaims, “Just do it!”

Arnie Goldman is President of IDN-Hardware Sales, Inc. in Livonia, Michigan and a member of SHDA’s Membership and Advocacy Committee.