Navigating the SMB, SME access control market

June 1, 2017
Industry experts discuss what locksmiths need to know to be successful and the pitfalls to avoid

As advancements in mobile communications continue to shape the way we use and interact with all other forms of technology, security installers and locksmiths  find themselves at a crossroad. On one side, there is a large existing install base of legacy equipment that still needs to be supported, but on the other is a wave of new technology innovations that promise to change the industry moving forward.

Even the dynamics of the market itself is changing as end-users today are looking to get more functionality out of the security devices they install – locks included.  Perhaps there is no place where this trend is more evident than in the one- to four-door electronic access control (EAC) market.

The types of businesses clamoring for EAC in this segment run the gamut from small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), such as small retails shops, medical and real estate offices, to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), such as quick-service restaurant chains and cellphone stores, which have multiple branch locations and are networked together in some way.

According to Peter Boriskin, vice president of commercial product management for ASSA ABLOY, the capabilities and requirements these two sectors have when it comes to access control are quite different.

“The small business customer is really looking at the requirements of traditional security. They want to protect their store and they’ve got all the requirements of  an enterprise just on a smaller scale, such as protecting against fire, intrusion and they’re looking at access control because it’s a hassle to manage and disperse keys ,” Boriskin explains. “As you look at branch locations; however, there it seems to be less about security and more about operational efficiencies.”

For example, a pizza parlor chain may want to monitor if their employees at a particular location are arriving on time to fire up the ovens because if they’re not heated to the right temperature by a certain hour, they run the risk of missing the lunch crowd which may be the most profitable time of day for them.

“If you have single person responsible  for managing a half dozen or more stores, that person can’t be everywhere all the time, so if he or she is at one location they can look in on the other stores (via the EAC system) and see what’s going on and maybe make some phone calls or get over there. It gives them a level of situational awareness that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” Boriskin adds.

Technology Evolves

Historically, the access control products used for this segment were predominantly made up of standalone keypads or perhaps a standard 125 KHz proximity card. Increasingly, like their counterparts in the enterprise market, SMBs and SMEs are opting to deploy more advanced solutions, such as wireless locks, software-managed and hosted offerings, and even smart cards.

Mike Mahon, senior vice president of commercial sales for Salto Systems, says that small business owners, like every other consumer, has been heavily influenced by the influx of internet-connected products that have been released in recent years. As a result, they expect to have the same type of functionality in the security devices they install in their business that they do in their home.

“The consumer is becoming more educated every day,” Mahon says. “They can walk into a Lowe’s, Home Depot, Sam’s Club or Costco or they can go to an AT&T or Verizon store and these electronic locks are available to them and they’re embracing it.” 

In addition, Boriskin says many companies in the home automation market have started to see that the same products would be applicable to SMBs and have started to tailor solutions to fit the needs of the market, potentially undercutting opportunities for locksmiths in the space.

“By leveraging things like Z-Wave and ZigBee, which have historically only been in the home automation space, they’re now integrating the alarm panel with door locks, lighting, temperature controls, and video surveillance to provide a full package solution for that small business customer but using the same underpinning technologies that would go into the residential space and doing it in a way and at a price point that can support that small business customer,” Boriskin adds.

Mobile Credentials

Although the types of products used will always vary from customer to customer, nearly everyone agrees that mobile will be involved in almost all EAC projects in the future, whether they use near field communications (NFC) or, increasingly, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to interact with readers.     

“We have products that are Bluetooth-enabled so that folks – especially Millennials because they like to carry a phone and that’s it – can have all of their credentials stored on their phone to get into their office, house, apartment, townhome, etc.,” Bob Swoope, vice president of AlarmLock, says. “You’re going to see more and more of that as well as wireless (technology) so that somebody doesn’t have to be onsite and can manage the system from afar anywhere in the country or world.”

Mahon says those retail business owners who may have several small, boutique-type shops especially like the convenience afforded by locks that can controlled remotely via a mobile device. “They really like the remote capability of using your smartphone or tablet that they can use to remotely open the doors if somebody forgot their key. They can also track the openings and the closings and things of that nature, so we’re seeing it more and more in that type of environment,” he says.  

Boriskin believes that mobility will be crucial moving forward for both end-users as well as installers from a configuration perspective.

“I don’t want to have to walk around with a laptop and configure things. I would rather just walk around with the phone that’s already in my pocket and use that as my configuration tool,” he says. “Likewise, if I’m a manager of a small business, I manage everything from my phone. My vendors are contacting me through that phone; I’m ordering things on my accounts and managing my office – why can I not use that to manage my security management system?”

Hosted and Managed Solutions

Because they don’t require a heavy IT infrastructure footprint or large upfront costs, cloud-based hosted access solutions are also appealing to many SMBs and SMEs.

According to Boriskin, small businesses are unlikely to have a full-time IT person on staff or a lot of networking equipment inside their facilities; however, they would probably have an internet connection, at least at their point-of-sale terminals to transmit data back to their primary office, which also could be leveraged for a hosted solution. 

“Other than the one internet accessible point for updating credentials, the whole rest of the system can be disconnected and the infrastructure is provided as a service which, for a long time, is a model that has been adopted in the IT world and we’ve seen that come to the security management world,” Boriskin says.

However, Maurico Lainez, product development manager for Security Door Controls (SDC), says that deploying a cloud-based solution may not be the best option for a locksmith in this market. Alternatively, SDC offers a controller with a built-in web server that enables locksmiths to do all of the management and programming for a customer from the controller itself, allowing the installer to take over the management of that system and thus creating recurring revenue opportunities for them.

“From our perspective, we’re still trying to keep it simple for the locksmith or somebody that’s new to access control in terms of implementation and customer use. Basically we’re trying to avoid the installer from having to install software or have a server as you normally would for a client in an enterprise system,” Lainez explains.

Keys to Success

Swoope believes locksmiths can be competitive with other security installers in this market so long as they take the time to understand the products available to them and learn how to work together with IT when the job calls for it. “They can take a mechanical lock off the door, drill a couple of holes and put a brand new access control product in its place in less than an hour. The more progressive locksmiths that have embraced this technology have done very well and are going to continue to do well because they have embraced it and what it is going to bring to the customer experience,” he says.

Boriskin says that locksmiths should also work to broaden their own skillsets as well as those who work for them as it will help them garner more work down the line.

“If they have only focused on the mechanical and they’re still continuing to focus on the mechanical, it might be worth updating some of the skills of their team members to include electromechanical and electronic (access control solutions),” he adds. “If they want to add additional features on top of that, they absolutely can but again it is a completely different skillset to do custom management or custom reporting, managed credentials and things of that nature There is a whole host of new services that they can offer and whole host of new revenue that are available to them but in order to tap into them, they have to work with the technology and fine tune that technology for their customers.”

Mahon agrees and says the skills of locksmiths are still in high demand. “I think the locksmith has to get a little more progressive today,” he says. “The ones that have embraced technology seem to be doing very well; they’re getting more contracts, they’re getting more people calling them but more importantly, they have quite a bit more to offer. Because it is still a lock on the door, locksmiths’ talents with doors, frames, locks and closers are still very much needed, especially in this market.”

Pitfalls to Avoid

Mahon says one the biggest things that locksmiths need to avoid is trying to be an expert on every product out there as well as aligning themselves too closely with manufacturers who may not last in the industry over time.

“I would not try to handle every, single product that is out there. I would say pick one or two and become an expert on those, so you can install it quickly and use the software program quickly,” he says. “Also, pick one of the larger companies in the industry that can provide you the technical support when it’s needed and that have the bodies, the presence, as well as the reputation and warranty in their products. There are a lot of people that understand this market is a viable for them but they could be one of those people that are here today and gone tomorrow. They could go on ‘Shark Tank’ on Friday night, be in business on Saturday and a month from now be out of business.”  

Additionally, Lainez says locksmiths need to understand that not every solution is going to fit every customer.

“You’ve got to understand your customer’s needs,” he says. “There are a lot of systems out there; a lot of single door systems that have a lot of bells and whistles but it is not always about what it can do but how easy it is for the end-user to adopt on a day-to-day basis. If you understand your end-user’s needs and they feel like they are getting a return on their investment, that’s the important thing.”

It’s also important for locksmiths not to underestimate the value they have to end-users

“Locksmiths every day are looking at what solutions make sense, what’s good practice and what is going to provide a reasonable way to mitigate the threats that are out there,” Boriskin says. “There are ton of new players in this space and not all of them are security oriented. A lot of them come out of a more IT-centric environment, which means they’ve got great features and functionality but they, at their core, may not be good security products. It’s incumbent upon the locksmith, dealer or integrator to evaluate those things critically.”  

About the Author

Joel Griffin

Joel Griffin is the Editor of and a veteran security journalist. You can reach him at [email protected].