State of the Industry 2020: A Manufacturers’ Perspective

Nov. 2, 2020
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, interest in security remains strong, and locksmiths will have to adapt to keep up with the changes.

This year has proven to be unlike any in recent memory. New terms, such as “social distancing,” “shelter in place” and “essential business,” came into common use, as did old technology seemingly previously used only by specialists — face masks.

So it was in the security industry. New products, with a particular emphasis on Bluetooth-based smart credentials, continued to roll off the assembly line, but older technology, particularly touchless actuators, gained new emphasis.

As the year wound down, we invited three security manufacturers to provide some perspective and take a look at the road ahead. Participating in this roundtable on the State of the Industry are Alex Housten, COO of dormakaba Americas; Mark Duato, executive vice president of Aftermarket at ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions Americas; Bill Sporre, senior vice president of sales for Alarm Lock and Marks USA; and Rick Hill, director of sales, Central Region, for Alarm Lock and Marks USA.

Locksmith Ledger (LL): What’s the state of the security industry in 2020?

Alex Housten: The security industry is very strong, and we continue to play a vital role in ensuring people feel safe to go about their business and personal pursuits. With the global pandemic, the nature of security and what that means in general has changed, and our role to facilitate security and safety from a health perspective has been elevated. We’ve met that challenge with product innovation, whether it be antimicrobial surfaces, touchless solutions or more-sophisticated technology to integrate health screening and PPE [personal protective equipment] compliance before electronic access control permits entry to a facility, such as an office or a sporting venue. Unfortunately, the risks for safety, security and health probably aren’t receding any time soon, which means our industry’s role and ability to meet the challenge has to remain strong.

Mark Duato: To say that 2020 has been challenging would be a vast understatement. However, despite the health, economic and social crises we’re experiencing, the security industry remains strong. These types of events drive awareness for the need for security and innovation, and it’s time for the industry to double down on investments that will satisfy the increased demand we expect as the economy recovers.

Bill Sporre: The security business with regard to the locksmith was strong. Then COVID hit, and it certainly affected the industry. One of the main reasons is that we saw schools, naturally, close down, and so did the hospitals, as far as maintenance and security. Commercial properties have slowed down tremendously. Residential has slowed down, because people don’t want to take the chance of having [locksmiths] come into their houses now.

Rick Hill: But then we saw people moving to a little bit more simplified security. They wanted to get keys out of circulation, so, in some cases, we saw increases in push-button access control and stand-alone access control. It was kind of a mixed bag. We’re seeing a recovery, depending on where you live.

LL: COVID-19 obviously was the major story in 2020. How much of an effect has it had on the industry, and how much will it continue to affect the industry in the years ahead?

Housten: The impact was colossal, and it’s lasting. There were many facets to this challenge, the first being simple business continuity, because what the security industry does and provides to customers is truly essential. It quickly became a matter of sorting out the capacity of our industry to support immediate needs in health-care facilities, government facilities and critical infrastructure.

The concern most companies had was, “how do I safely deploy employees to complete necessary work in a way that doesn’t put anyone at risk?” Operating procedures, plans, infrastructure and practices all had to be adapted quickly, and there’s a compliance nature behind it, because, as a security industry, we have an obligation to follow rules. We had to ensure that as we resumed operations, whether it be field operations or our own factories and development centers, that we did so in the right way.

The second was to adapt our offerings to meet the new challenge of health screenings. We’ve seen an incredible degree of innovation and speed behind doing so, and our products have played a vital role in health screenings, metering pedestrian flow, ensuring social distancing in high-traffic spaces, reducing touch points and cutting off pedestrian flow where elevators were at risk of being over occupied. 

For any future, unanticipated challenge, whether it be from COVID-19, other infections or civil risks of yet another nature, I think people will look at security infrastructure and access solutions differently. They’ll expect them to be more versatile, adaptable, flexible and robust to meet the risk profile of that day and time.

Duato: COVID had a significant effect on the industry in 2020 and will continue to do so in 2021. There is a certain amount of unpredictability about the long-term effect, because it will take time for the industry to evaluate emerging needs and provide guidance, but I believe that the long-term changes will be similar to what we experienced with accessibility when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted. Frictionless access and touchless door openings will become the standard for certain doors in public facilities.

Another major change we anticipate is that many businesses will have more of a hybrid approach to their workforce, with fewer employees in the office at one time. This will necessitate a change in workforce management, and solutions for hoteling or coworking spaces will continue to grow. There also likely will be an increased demand for solutions that support a multistep process to gain entry to an area as enterprises implement pre-entry health checks that require validation and auditing capabilities. Location services will be used to support contact tracing and enforce social distancing.

Hill: We’re starting to see more requests for locks that work with cards or work with push-button remotes, so we’re seeing more emphasis on touchless locks, if you will. We’re also seeing a lot of requests for antimicrobial coatings on the locks, in K-12, higher education and hospitals. Another market that seems to be emerging more is [homeowner associations] and vacation rentals by owner. That seems to be a growth market for locksmiths. They want touchless security on gates, pool gates and other common areas.

Sporre: I think the public has a great fear of the spread of [COVID-19], so I see it continuing until someone comes up with a vaccine to really put everybody’s mind at ease. Eventually, schools are going to have to reopen; hospitals are going to have to upgrade their security, so those markets will come back faster. But on the residential side, I don’t think that market’s coming back anytime soon, just for the basic fear of having someone come into the house, whether they wear a mask or not. It’s almost the way we’re looking at restaurants and those types of markets: Until we get a steady flow of people being secure and going out and being with other people, I don’t see where those areas of the market are going to grow.

LL: What does the locksmith have to do to put themself in a good place in this market?

Housten: Locksmiths are on the front lines of deploying security and access solutions in the marketplace, and I would encourage every locksmith to continue the journey to smart, connected electronic products while maintaining all of the good practices and norms around mechanical key solutions. We have some exciting innovation in the form of Switch Tech, and this really means any small-format interchangeable core can be exchanged for an electronic access control point. I believe locksmiths are going to play a larger role than ever in converting mechanical keys to electronic access control. Electronic access control is necessary to ensure that appropriate records of attendance, compliance and security are maintained, and therefore, I see this as an accelerating and evolving trend. We’re excited to revamp our online training, in-person facilities, overall digital infrastructure and curriculum to support locksmiths in the journey to maintain state-of-the-art status in electronic security solutions.

Duato: The most important thing locksmiths can do to position themselves for success is education. By keeping up with the ever-evolving solutions that are available, you’ll become a more valuable partner and resource to your customers. It also is critical to create a business plan around the things that your business does well and focus on developing those skills. Trying to be all things to all people can dilute your ability to deliver outstanding solutions in a profitable way. Instead, determine where you can be exceptional and use that to your advantage to set yourself apart from the competition.

Sporre: Locksmiths have to start adjusting to how the market trends are going, whereas, before, they were satisfied with doing [one thing]. Where is the industry going: networked systems, app-driven, using your phone to open the door, touchless openings, so the locksmith is going to have to get more involved in that type of system integration and, certainly, electronics. Keys will always be there, but it’s going to move towards the phone apps, the cards, things like that, and the locksmiths who get involved in that type of business are going to be the ones who succeed in the future. 

Hill: Customers want to see more app-driven security, and that will affect the locksmith who can adapt from being, say, more of a mechanical locksmith where it’s key in core to somebody who can work with electronic locks. We offer certification training through an online process or, preferably, in person, and it will get better as COVID becomes less of a thing. We offer certification classes, and we partner through our major distribution partners, through ALOA. We want our locksmith partners to become certified and as trained as much as they want.

LL: What product segment or segments had the biggest effect on the industry in 2020, and will those continue to affect the industry? Why?

Housten: In 2020, we’ve seen a permanent change in our entrance systems and electronic access control product lines. For entrance systems, the notion of preventing touch, managing flow and screening for health will forever change those solutions offerings, along with the corresponding marketing, deployment and advancement of the product. For electronic access control, maintaining records that can be used to facilitate health programs, such as contact tracing, will be essential. Adaptable, flexible electronic access control will be a new norm.

Duato: Several product segments continued to gain traction in 2020, for a number of reasons. Cloud-based solutions allow end users to manage the infrastructure costs for access control as an operating expense rather than a capital expense as it traditionally has been, making access management easier and more affordable to many businesses. This is becoming increasingly important in this economic climate and for businesses that have multiple locations. The use of mobile phones also continues to increase in importance as end-user expectations reflect their experience at home. Secure mobile identities and mobile applications for access management are equally important to the end user seeking flexible and convenient security. Perhaps most important, frictionless access and contactless or touchless technology emerged as critical solutions that allow us to improve the health and safety of a facility without compromising security.

Hill: Customers want some type of accountability, so if you have a lock that has an audit trail built into it, or the ability to work with software that has an audit trail, a built-in calendar — open at 8, close at 5, who has access, who was denied access — that’s something that’s becoming more popular. I understand that camera sales are up tremendously, but surveillance cameras aren’t a preventative measure. That’s where the locks and electronic access control comes in. The ability to control who has access to my building, who has access to my home — it’s going to increase.

Sporre: It’s going to grow on the residential side. The pricing of that system is coming down to where the parents can see that their child got home at a certain time with a lock that integrates into a camera that they could watch on their phone and see “my child’s safe inside, the door’s locked.” Everybody’s happy. So, that’s going to start growing into the residential market.

LL: What’s your view of the industry five years from now? How does the locksmith fit into that vision?

Housten: The industry will continue to evolve to ensure higher security and adaptable access policy. Locksmiths will evolve their own skill sets and deployment capabilities to be on the front lines of that industry change. Products will be innovated to ensure that expectations aren’t missed and that trends in connected devices, accessible data and meaningful analysis of data will be present. Locksmiths have embraced technology and changed their trade and the overall industry in significant ways in recent years, and I would anticipate that will continue at an accelerated pace.

Duato: The industry is constantly adapting to the changing landscape, and that will continue over the next five years. We’ll continue to see crossover between traditional channels through mergers and acquisitions and an increasing need for expertise around the door opening. We have reached a critical mass that will force all segments of the industry to embrace technology to be successful. Commercial locksmiths who have well-organized business and marketing plans will be able to separate themselves from their competition. The industry will continue to challenge locksmiths to elevate their skills around the opening, so they can compete with the best solution and not on price.

Sporre: Locksmiths will have to continue to educate themselves on whatever trends are coming out. I think, down the road, the locksmiths that take that education and run with it will be the ones who succeed.

Hill: Somebody said 10 years ago, “keys and cores are going to be gone by 2015.” Well, key-and-core business never will go away. It might change. It’s kind of like when we went to email: “We’ll never have the need for paper anymore.” Well, no. People print emails and stuff, and sales of paper have gone up exponentially.

If the locksmith has the ability to understand the key in the core and the mechanical market and then educate themselves on the electronics, that puts them in a position where if more people are adding access control to their home, to their building, to their business, there’s going to be a higher need for people who have expertise in installing the lock at the door. With an electronic lock, it has to be a locksmith who’s able to work with phone-based apps or cloud-based software. We’re seeing less of a desire to have software you actually load on to a computer or a server. More customers want cloud-based services, because it’s easier: Somebody else maintains it, and I just need to have access to it. You have to have a certain level of smarts and understanding of how to reset something or program something or be able to troubleshoot something over the phone. I think a locksmith who is able to evolve is going to see a big trend in those areas in the next five years and beyond.