Low-Voltage Security Equipment Creates New Opportunities For Locksmiths

April 2, 2018
Give your commercial customers greatercontrol of their building entries with video and audio intercom systems

The locksmith business is rapidly changing. Metal keys are being replaced by tech devices. Smartphones are unlocking doors. Key fobs mean fewer “I locked my keys in the car” calls. DIY stores sell smart locks directly to homeowners. And it seems there’s always more competition.

Visionary locksmiths are creating or expanding their commercial operations in order to meet these challenges. Among the new products they’re offering are low-voltage electronic security equipment. It makes sense for locksmiths to install and service products such as video and audio intercoms. These units control building entry at the door – a locksmith specialty for generations.

Scott Werner, a sales executive for The Flying Locksmiths, a 70-year-old, Boston-based, franchise locksmith firm, described his view of a new generation of locksmiths and security professionals.

If it’s on the door, we handle it,” he said. “The public opinion when it comes to locksmiths is they open cars or take care of lock-outs – that’s maybe 1 percent of our business. We’re commercial locksmiths and moving into intercoms, access control and video components so we can provide our customers with the latest cutting-edge technology to make them feel safe and secure.”

Werner’s been in the business for 38 years. He currently helps The Flying Locksmith’s new franchise owners get their businesses up and running, encouraging them to embrace new commercial opportunities and products. Installing video intercoms is one of his priorities.

The factory training helps us complete the installations in a very efficient manner,” Werner said. “Intercoms are convenient and easy to use. An employee can sit at a desk to see and talk with a visitor before remotely opening the door. Employees have more confidence in their overall security, knowing they control who enters their buildings.”

He said he hasn’t run into problems with security dealers and integrators who have traditionally installed these units. In fact, The Flying Locksmiths has entered into partnerships with many dealers and integrators creating win-win situations. But, Werner said, each partner should have a clear understanding of its responsibilities.

For his firm, that means locksmiths will install equipment on one to 10 doors. Dealers or integrators still handle larger projects, he said

“Integrators leverage us as a resource,” Werner said. “They need someone from a craftsman’s standpoint to install these systems while also securing doors with electric strikes or mag locks. This has turned out to be a mutually beneficial partnership.”

An executive at a security installation firm – providing everything from locksmith services to low-voltage systems and more – agreed there’s no reason locksmiths shouldn’t be installing video intercoms with other electronic security products. Mike Tabory, the chief operating officer at Brooklyn, Ohio-based National Security Services Inc., said his company handles whatever jobs its customers need.

“Many locksmiths count on foot traffic or phone calls to handle the day-to-day jobs,” he said. “That’s not enough for us, so we have a low-voltage segment of our business to handle a wider range of products.”

He said he likes working with IP-based intercoms capable of taking advantage of a building’s network. That allows a single receptionist to control doors in multiple facilities.

Greg Righetti, owner of Divisadero Lock and Hardware and Marin Lock and Safe, both in the San Francisco Bay Area, agreed that he prefers the newer technology. Digital solutions offer more features and offer installation and service benefits. The 30-year industry veteran said he’s also interested in the extra money low-voltage solutions bring his business.

“These jobs are high dollar for us,” Righetti said. “Instead of making $100 to $200 on a re-keying job, we can make $2,000 or more. Plus, we get to park in one spot for the day. That saves travel costs.”

But he said he won’t take a job unless he is completely confident in his ability to do it right. He has security dealers he calls on when customers need surveillance cameras or have very large projects. Those dealers often return the favor by sending business his way.

“There’s a lot of work in an older, built-out city like San Francisco, so there’s no need for anyone to feel territorial about a project,” Righetti said. “All of us handle what we have the time for and feel comfortable doing.”

The vast majority of locksmiths still aren’t installing low-voltage security solutions – despite the potential financial benefits. The Flying Locksmiths’ Werner estimates about 90 percent of the roughly 10,000 U.S. locksmiths are one- to two-person firms focused on rekeying locks and installing door closures.

Jimmy Goh, the owner of San Francisco’s Metro Locksmiths Inc., set up a commercial security side of his business over 28 years ago. He said he encourages other locksmiths to do the same but it’s a lack of knowledge and experience that stops them.

“When you’re out in the field, you have to troubleshoot what’s causing a problem,” he said. “What’s causing the short? What kind of wire is needed? Where’s the power supply? Those are basics you have to know.”

All the locksmiths agree training is the answer. Regional and national security equipment distributors and many manufacturers have offered classes on low-voltage equipment for years. That’s where Goh and the other locksmiths got their starts.

But Werner said it’s not a lack of classes – but rather time – that’s the problem. “The challenge for most locksmiths is taking time away from their businesses to attend classes. It’s difficult for most small firms. And that’s too bad, as intercoms and some of the other low-voltage systems are very easy to install. Sometimes you need to put money and time back into your company. Spend it on educating and training staff so you can take advantage of a growing market.”

The other barriers to entering the low-voltage market are manageable. Very little capital is required for equipment beyond what most locksmiths already own. States and cities are mixed on requiring licenses with any fees ranging from less than $100 to about $1,000 annually. But added costs can be quickly recovered through new jobs and service agreements providing a source of recurring revenue.

Werner said one way to get into the security business is to hire a technician with experience installing intercoms and other low-voltage equipment – then slowly train more of the firm’s staff to handle these jobs. Goh agreed starting small is best.

NSSI’s Tabory said he appreciates dealing with manufacturers offering online documentation and installation videos that can be accessed anytime – even at the job site.

“Some manufacturers are more geared to helping locksmiths get into the business,” he said.

Even though he actively seeks security jobs, Righetti, of Divisadero Lock, said he won’t accept any projects that might last for two to three weeks. That would make it difficult for him to continue servicing his core locksmith customers.

“We’re never going to move completely off the key,” he said. “When the electronics fail – and they will – people still need to get inside.”

But these four veteran locksmiths agree low-voltage security equipment is part of the profession’s future. Customers want more control of their building entries. Product installation – with a little training – is relatively simple. And these solutions can be a great source of income.

“I’m glad I took that first step almost 30 years ago,” Goh said.

Bruce Czerwinski serves as U.S. general sales manager for Aiphone Corp. He is a 13-year veteran of the company, a leading manufacturer of security video intercoms. For more information about Aiphone, please visit the website at www.aiphone.com/home.