Diversification: Pushing on Into the 21st Century

Nov. 1, 2017
While there always will be mechanical locks, more and more customers are requesting electronic access control

The need to diversify into other areas within the physical security arena is something that many locksmiths may not have considered. The sale and service of mechanical locks, like that of studded tires for winter driving, has declined in recent years. Lock manufacturers, driven by consumer demand and legislative requirements at the local and regional level, are pressing toward electronic alternatives to that of mechanical locks. The fact is, electronic access control is trending and it’s time to take a royal leap into the 21st Century.

According to MarketsandMarkets Research Private Ltd. of Hadapsar, Pune, India, the access control market is expected to be worth $10.03 Billion by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 6.48% between 2017 and 2023. The access control market is mainly driven by the growing demand for security solutions globally. The overall access control market is driven by factors such as technological advancements and deployment of wireless technology in security systems, and the adoption of IoT-based security systems. For this study, the base year considered is 2016, and the market forecast is provided for 2017–2023 (http://bit.ly/2hkFjgO).

Like every field of endeavor where technological obsolescence combines with changing governmental mandates, there’s always going to be hold outs that refuse the newest technologies. It’s natural to be reluctant about jumping into something you don’t know a lot about. However, there’s a growing body of locksmiths who have already made the decision to move ahead into electronic access control. Those who have will tell you that it’s not that difficult to learn and the rewards for doing so are assured.

The Consumer Dictates Market Trends

Steve Norch, CEO of Bierly Litman Locksmithing of Canton, Ohio, is one of those long-time locksmiths who have chosen to move his company to the next level. He began this effort long before it became obvious to the industry as a whole that mechanicals would one day lose favor in the consumer marketplace. In the case of Norch, the decision to do so was made more than five years ago when mechanical locks were still in wide demand.

 “In the beginning demand and margins were primarily the driving force behind my decision to explore the access control market. I soon came to see that most of the alarm companies out there install and service mostly card swipe and key pad systems,” says Norch. “I did the math and came to realize that the [profit] margins associated with electronic access control, combined with what they charge for labor, are far in advance of what locksmiths charge. I thought to myself, ‘I can do that and be a lot cheaper than they are and still make a lot more money than what I am now.’”

Norch says that he can foresee the day when the primary means of entry into both residential and commercial facilities will be electronic access control. His opinion is that there always will be mechanical locks, but demand will not be what it is even today.

Dig In and Begin

The key to diversification and revenue boosting is to ‘purchase ONLY networkable electronic locks.’ Here’s why. Convertible units—as they’re usually referred to—will support both network connectivity for in-home and business LANs (Local Area Networks), general Internet access, as well as local control through wireless technologies. Radio technologies in use usually include ZigBee, Z-Wave, BlueTooth, NFC (Near Field Communication), and WiFi (also known as 802.11).

Norch agrees. He says that the best place to start is with electronic locks that combine the best of both worlds. Convertible locks provide the mechanical protection that customers have come to expect from their favorite locksmith while offering an electronic alternate, like a keypad that uses a PIN (Personal Identification Number) for ease of use as a standalone lock--something that consumers really want.

A convertible electronic lock admittedly will cost the client more money than a standalone model. However, it’s possible to sell the networkable version over the standalone model if you take the time to explain the advantages associated with doing so. In this case the advantage is the ability to upgrade the client’s standalone access control system to one that communicates with a central headend host computer—whether on site or in a remote cloud-based data processing center.

Tap Into Existing Customers

For the locksmith who has installed a ton of standalone electronic locks throughout the years, it’s possible to stimulate interest in using their own standalone electronic locks in an integrated access control network. In order to determine whether the client’s electronic locks are capable of an upgrade, you will have to research the issue before offering the service.

For example, the Trilogy electric standalone lock can be upgraded to include Internet connectivity.

 “We came out with our electronic standalone [electric lock] in 1994, called the Trilogy Keyless Access Lock. Since that time we expanded the product line to do standalone wireless, which means you can connect them to an access control system using a gateway (access point), which connects to a client’s 802.11 (WiFi),” says Bob Swoope, vice president of sales with Alarm Lock of Amityville, NY.

The great thing about what Alarm Lock has done is to create an upgrade kit that enables you to upgrade any of  your older standalone Trilogies so they are able to talk with the client‘s network.

 “We have an upgrade kit for mortise and cylindrical locks, which basically allows you to use the mechanical parts of the Trilogy while replacing the individual components. The locks have a 900 MHz radio that enables them to communicate with a gateway which is a radio transmitter that connects to a customer’s network. We have the availability to upgrade current locks, and we have a new network connection kit that contains the lock, gateway, 30 cards, software, and free [online] training,” says Swoope.

Gaining the Necessary Skill-Sets

Once you begin working with access control, it won’t take long until your clients as well as their associates learn of your newfound product offering(s).

 “Many of the people we routinely design and install key systems for often ask us for something more than a simple mechanical solution. They can use our [access control] products to track people as they come and go to and from their building(s),” says Norch.

Of course this requires added skill sets. This includes a firm grasp of basic DC electronics, basic networking, and the same finger dexterity necessary when working with mechanical-only lock sets. If you’re like many locksmiths, you’ve already graduated from simple mechanical locks to that of standalone electronic locks, like Norch and his technicians, have. If you haven’t done so, what’s stopping you?

 “Some [of our] techs were apprehensive at first, but I was there for the whole job to answer questions and deal with troubles. We've done systems as big as 48 doors and 6 floor elevator controls. We're doing a lot of 6- to 18-camera systems right now,” says Norch. “And most of them are IP (Internet Protocol) based.”

It's all about how you present it to your existing lock technicians. You need to teach them to walk before they run. Start them off slow with simple 1- and 2-door systems then move them into larger jobs at a reasonable pace.

 “By my doing this, my [technicians] never felt overwhelmed, they had more confidence. At some point, however, you have to pull the trigger and go over the big job. Just allow plenty of time on the first one you do so there's no added pressure due to time constraints,” says Norch.