Opportunities Abound in the Commercial Space for Today’s Locksmith

Feb. 3, 2020
The key for many locksmiths is moving from their comfort zone and embracing emerging technologies

The opportunities open to today’s locksmith professional in the commercial buildings sector are many and they are varied. Traditional locksmiths can maintain their comfort zone by handling basic door and rekeying opportunities, but as technology advances, so do opportunities to push the envelope. The fact that many locksmiths have already expanded into electronic access control as part of their service offerings puts a locksmith ahead of the curve in a potential commercial security bid where they might find themselves in possible competition with area security dealers.

The reality is that many security dealers neither have the staff, nor do they have the expertise to deal with most mechanical and traditional door hardware technology. They often sub out projects to other locksmiths in those types of job. Understanding the broader scope of door hardware can be an advantage for a locksmith in a commercial job.

For longtime security veteran and consultant Ray Coulombe, the future of today’s locksmith and the commercial market is unlimited. But he insists they must be willing to change with evolving market and the technology.

“You've got traditional locks and handsets that are mechanical, which has been in my view, the traditional forte of locksmiths and lock installers. But over time, door hardware has gotten more complex. There's a class of hardware that has intelligence. It has the ability to communicate via various wireless means. And more and more, it is integrated into a larger system. It is not usual for an access control system to be part of an overall unified intelligent system in a commercial building. You can make the argument that as we go forward, that a class of locks will be considered IoT devices. It will be as controllable as a residential set up where you can control with your Ring doorbell and buy a lock that will communicate with or be controlled remotely through the intelligence in the doorbell,” says Coulombe, who is the founder and managing director of SecuritySpecifiers.com. “I think that the mechanical skills will always be needed because the lock still has to lock. But what happens as we continue to go forward? You have more and more of these door devices being integrated, that are intelligent, and enabled to communicate. That's where I think the locksmith’s skill set, the traditional skill sets are going to need to be supplemented. I'm not sure that locksmiths are suddenly going to become security dealers or electronic technicians, but some of those skills will be needed so that the lock integrates properly.”

Coulombe says the flip side is that many security integrators don't have the mechanical and the locksmith skills to do the total door project. He suspects most project managers would not want a security technician cutting into the door and the jamb and making sure that device works mechanically.

“It stands to reason that there is a great need for partnerships. I've talked to security integrators who have said they can't find good lock people. But I suspect there's going to be some supplementing of skills that will be required however they choose to approach a commercial door application project,” adds Coulombe.

He continues that he has seen several cases where larger door hardware companies have acquired a security company and have skills in both areas, with this dichotomy being spread over into the CSI MasterFormat because traditionally, door hardware was in Division 8 or Division 08 as is now written. As we began to see creep in that door space with keypads and devices that are associated with access control systems, there was an effort in 2014 to put electrified door hardware and intelligent hardware into Division 28, which is electronic safety and security, wherein Division 08, which is openings, electrified door hardware was pulled out.

“That created some controversy and eventually, CSI created two classes of products. In Division 08; they had non-integrated hardware, and Division 28, they had integrated door hardware. And when that first came out, those terms, integrated and non-integrated were not defined,” Coulombe explains. “In MasterFormat 2020 they will be defined and effectively the integrated hardware is hardware that communicates with an access control system or a higher-level system that is not standalone. It's a component in a unified intelligent system. That may address the MasterFormat dilemma, but the dilemma in the field still stands. Many architects and consultants specify door hardware, whatever it is, in Division 08, which means it typically falls into the province of the door hardware guy, ultimately the locksmith.”

Proper Door Applications

So, when you're looking at door hardware in a commercial space and you're looking to integrate that with access control, what are the options and what does the locksmith need to be cognizant of?

“Since the function of the door is critical, our default, if you want to call it that, is we use mostly storeroom function locks so that they remain locked on the outside and locked on the inside. There are times when you have special conditions where you might need two people to exit from a high protection room, those kinds of things; then you might have doors that are locked on both sides,” says Lorna Chandler the CEO of Security By Design. “There is some door hardware where you can have different functions for each side of the lock. You know, like a split spindle situation, so we've used some of those for specialty situations. If you don't want a door to be able to be manually left unlocked, then you would not want to use something like a classroom function door. If you do want to leave it manually unlocked, then you might want to select a classroom style. So, understanding the function of the door and its application is very critical.”

Chandler explains that when she does her initial security assessment of a commercial facility, the first step is to assess the exit paths that the architect has designed to make sure that there is mechanical egress from all the spaces. She also wants to ensure that one space does not exit into a higher security space. They look at any stairwells that are involved and at security-related applications relative to the high-rise code, although in most jurisdictions it's usually the same regardless of the height of the building.

“We make sure that the definitions for cross floor pathing is addressed and we look at the issues of things other than fire alarms, say, active shooter, those issues relative to how the door hardware is handled, especially on the stairwell doors,” Chandler says, adding that active shooter issues are absolutely a prime concern for almost any commercial facility even though there are no standardized codes.

When it comes to dealing with delayed egress versus controlled egress in a commercial space, Chandler stresses that her firm doesn’t recommend either for most of their projects.

“Obviously when you're providing delayed egress it is because you want to be able to control the flow of people exiting and maybe check them. In most cases, we're trying to get people out of the building as quickly as possible, but we do spend a lot of time making sure that we're monitoring and controlling the ingress to buildings. As an example, on exit-only doors we often have no hardware on the outside and then panic on the inside. It depends upon how the end-user is going to use the building. If they have a need for people to come in those doors, say for maintenance or those kinds of things, then we would put a keyway on those,” says Chandler. “But we try to make sure that the doors, for instance, can't be chained shut. That's been one of the problems on certain facilities where there's an active shooter. They've chained the doors shut and people couldn't access it. If this space has a retail element, we'll look at the exiting situation and try to help the architect decide whether they want the customer doors to be ones that lock at the bottom, doors that are manually unlocked when people come in, or if do they want the doors to have electrified hardware on them and electrically unlocked during the hours of operation. All of that is certainly impacted by fire code issues, because if the door has to be latched, then you have to have the right hardware for that to happen.”

Moving into the Future

Both Chandler and Coulombe encourage locksmith who aren’t already venturing into the commercial space to move their comfort zone and acquire the necessary skills to expand the own business opportunities and potential profits.

“We really haven't seen a lot of locksmiths go into the commercial world because a lot of locksmiths that we deal with are not comfortable in the electronic world. Those companies that embrace the commercial world and maintain the listing and control of the keyways and things like that seem to always be extremely busy. But there are many more locksmiths who avoid these jobs because they don't want to deal with electrified hardware,” laments Chandler. “If they want to get involved in the commercial side, they really need to hire employees who understand networks and electronics.”

Coulombe adds that it is important to stay current with technology and not be afraid to partner.

“As technology moves forward, the curve shifts to the right. In terms of sophistication, traditional installers or traditional systems are going to be confronting new technical challenges they have to find a way to deal with through either beefing up their skills, defining their market to stay only at the low end or through intelligent partnering,” he says. “There are some great models out there like Aronson Security (in Seattle), which was recently acquired by ADT. They morphed the lock shop up to a full-blown systems integrator with skills. They consciously evolved their business. Not every locksmith is going to do that, but I think this is the right time to think strategically about how your business is going to develop over time, and will there be enough of a business in the traditional stuff to make it worthwhile.”