Entrance into Electronic Access Control

Jan. 3, 2024
Locksmith Ledger webcast examines how locksmiths can add more electronic work to their business

To close out 2023, Locksmith Ledger held the first in what will be a series of year-long webinars throughout 2024. The second webcast, which was held at the end of January, looked at the State of the Industry, diving deeper into the findings from our recent State of the Industry report. For this first webcast, Strategies to Convert Entryways to Electronic Access Control (EAC), we looked at where locksmiths are on this continuum (see graphic on the page) that has moved from mechanical locks to stand-alone systems with an audit trail, to a fully integrated system that allows users to be granted access into various areas or limited areas, track and provide attendance records, and as a safety feature and for emergency response situations, determine where people are located within a facility. 

The panel featured veteran locksmiths paired with veteran security professionals now working on the manufacturer side, including: Glenn Younger, CML, CPP, owner of San Diego, Calif.-based Grah Safe and Lock, who has worked in the security, access control and life safety field since 1974; Joshua Sands, owner, Key City Locksmith and Security in Kansas City, Mo., who has been a locksmith for more than 12 years now and has served in the security industry for more than 17 years, currently as vice president and director of education for the Missouri-Kansas Locksmith Association; Chris Donohue, director of sales, Alarm Lock, who has more than 25 years in the electronic security industry, starting his career fresh out of the Army as a technician working on Access Control, Fire, CCTV, and Security Systems; and Mauricio Lainez, product development manager, SDC, who brings more than 25 years of experience in the physical security industry, having begun his career in 1998 as a security systems engineer, with a focus on system integration, design, technical support and new product development.

This panel, with nearly a century of security experience combined, went over the best strategies and resources locksmiths can use as they begin to add more electronic access control to their portfolio of offerings.


The Electronic Security Continuum 

To start the discussion, Younger and Sands discussed where they see locksmiths on this continuum discussed above and illustrated in the graphic on this page.

“We started off with key systems all the way back in biblical times – they had tumblers, just a little differently with large wooden objects inside doors – all the way up until today where we use keys,” notes Sands. “And that sort of integrated into electronic access. As the industry saw the need for it, electronic access became more affordable and offered a lot more solutions. Do you want just a keypad that doesn't connect? Do you want a keypad and a key in case the battery dies? Maybe we need key card access because I'd like to know who, when and where they got in and then – all the way up at the top fully integrated system where if this door opens, this light turns on. If this door closes, this server turns off – you know things like that.”

He continues, “And as a locksmith professional, you can go all the way from small revenue, installing a couple locks with keys all the way up to that integrated system we just talked about which brings in recurring monthly revenue for locksmiths because somebody has to manage that. And it probably shouldn't be the client that does that unless they know what they're doing.”

Younger adds, “The idea is you start where you're at and the thing that's not showing in the graph is that every building has some level of that, and oftentimes it's at the very bottom – it's the mechanical lock. As they go forward, every building that we deal with that has purely mechanical locks has approached us about doing something else. Moving into stand-alone, that's a real common entryway into access control. If you're looking to start your journey into access control, if you're dealing with residential or commercial buildings, then you can move into easy standalone systems. And then once you've gotten good at standalone doors, then you can do multiple doors on that standalone system.”

He continues, “I love the fact that we have Chris [Donohue] from NAPCO on the panel because many in the locksmith industry have started their path with a DL 2700 and then going into something networked and then something that is tied to a more integrated system going through a hub, extending out an existing system. We all fit somewhere on that continuum, and we're uniquely positioned as locksmiths in the middle of that continuum. We've got a real advantage over other people who are doing low voltage access control in that it requires installation onto a door.”

As both Sands and Younger astutely point out, the power curve of that continuum is in the middle two or three areas on the graph. 

“Once you've got to install it to a door, then it's just a matter of tying into the network whether it's a wireless or a hard-wired network,” Younger explains. “And those are the areas that other people who are in the access control space really struggle. So, the large system integrators who are working in the far-right hand column struggle in that middle section. Installing something on this door, on this frame – that's not something that they're good at, so another entrance point for a locksmith into that EAC industry is to just focus on things that we're good at. And if that's mechanical locks, great. Take one step up. Do stand alone, and if you're good with that go to the next step, which is multiple standalone with some sort of networking. All of that's going to require skills that you've already got, which is putting hardware on doors and frames, and that's the real secret sauce for locksmiths, I believe is that there's lots of entryways into this. You don't need to move all the way in to flip a switch, and one day I am doing system integration soup to nuts.”

Are Keys Going Away?

When asked if the industry is moving away from keys, Donohue says, “It's not just necessarily moving away from keys, it's just more cost effectiveness. When I was a technician at Home Depot, someone lost a master key to Home Depot and ended up costing them $30,000 to rekey the whole store. So, it’s just more cost effective and if someone loses their key, it only costs them five bucks. You start seeing that for cost effectiveness for the end user and it's a push going into the locksmith world as well with all the electrified locks and products that you see out in the world.”

Lainez agrees, noting that access control systems are becoming much smarter and more user-friendly than they were just 10 years ago. 

“It's allowing a lot of crossover between the locksmith world and say the IT and security world,” he says. “And just to sort of reiterate one of Chris's points about that, it's not just about necessarily moving away from keys. I mean, when you think about keys and locks, really the primary function there was security, protecting assets and protecting people, but really access control has many different applications. There are life safety applications, like crowd control, or infant protection systems, for example, and there's also accessibility applications for ADA compliance or vehicle traffic. The electronic access control world goes beyond just a security application.”

Electronic Access Growth

Lainez points out that the implementation of access control systems has been growing steadily now for more than 20 years, with a particular focus on small to medium sized commercial jobs. “One thing to remember is that 70-80% of these new access control installations are 8 doors or less – not these full blown, enterprise access control systems. There's plenty of opportunity there for everybody to kind of get their feet wet on these systems with these smaller projects and build from there.”

Both Lainez and Donohue are seeing growth in verticals such as healthcare and educational facilities. 

“Those verticals are really big,” adds Younger. “And eight or fewer doors on a typical system is a great place to start, and that's how you get the foot in the door. We recently did a school district that had 37 schools. We did access control on one door in each school … and hopefully that will become more than that.” 

Looking at how locksmiths can balance new electronic access work with mechanical locksmith work, Younger presented a slide (see photo on page ??) to illustrate his point.

“When we look at, are we being reactive or proactive, that's step one in answering the question where is the business coming from?” Younger explains. “To revert to the first question, I think that demand comes from your existing customers first. If you can’t deal with them, then you're going to struggle mightily dealing with somebody who's doesn't know you and doesn’t trust you. The trusted partnership that you have with an existing customer allows you entry to suggest a different solution. If you're already taking care of something, whether it's a standalone lock or whether it's a mechanical lock, then it's much easier to say yes, there is a solution and it may be what we haven't done before, but you've already developed that relationship, so it is much easier to suggest that solution now.”

He continues, “But who are the customers beyond your [current] customers? One of the easy ones for us is working as a subcontractor. A lot of people are maybe afraid of doing that, but many of the best system integrators, many of the best access control or fire and life safety and low voltage contractors are looking for people just like you. The largest access control company in the country has an office in my hometown here in San Diego, and we do all the work for them when it comes to the actual installation. They may own the system, they may be doing the programming, but all the rest of the stuff we're doing, plus we are developing new relationships with possible future customers.”

Younger goes on to explain the illustration in more detail, noting that selling an old solution to an old customer is an easy sell that doesn't require a lot of energy, while selling a new solution to an existing customer may take a little more energy, the yield is going to be much higher. 

“If you're brand new to access control and you're calling on a brand-new customer who doesn't know you or doesn't trust you, it's enormously hard and your success rate is going to be enormously low for the energy you put in,” Younger explains. “I think that's one of the things that we notice with other people who are trying to get into electronic access, they oftentimes try to go in at a high level where they see potentially the highest yield. But the success rate is going to be low. If you've got the stomach for that and the budget for that, go for it, but a new solution or slightly new solution to an old customer is the best thing you can do, and that's real.”

Know Thy Customer

Looking at some of the key questions locksmiths should be asking existing customers, for example, who may have shown interest in or may be a good fit for an EAC solution, Donohue emphasizes the need to find out exactly what your customer is looking for before offering up any solution.

“You need to get an expectation of what the customer is really looking for,” he says. “We see it all the time, where we get calls, and the dealer will undersell a customer just because they didn't ask simple questions. And when you're underselling, you're basically underselling yourself, plus your customer won't be happy. So, it's important when you're asking the customer what they are looking for in a system to ask questions like: Do you want to be able to control your doors from a PC? Do you want to be able to control them remotely? Do you need an audit trail?”

He continues, “So it's always important to try and understand what the customers want, what their needs are and what the facility is. When you're dealing with K through 12 and a classroom, do they need lockdown and how do they want the lockdown to happen? You know, the more complex the system is, the more questions need to be answered. And it's not only about training the technicians to understand how those features work, but it's also training the sales team on how to ask those questions and how to get that information out from the customers because sometimes they don't know what they don't know. So, for example, they may not know that there's a feature out there that would be a perfect solution for their facility.” 

Lainez agrees about the importance of knowing your customer and “understanding their needs for a particular facility or opening. We like to say, comprehend, and know your opening, and know the method of operation for a particular opening … how do they envision it looking and working in terms of the number of people coming and going, any restricted access, etc. As Chris mentioned, when we train our salespeople here, one of the first questions they'll ask is, do you need an audit trail? Meaning, do you need to know who's coming in and out the door, or do you just want to limit people? Because if you do need to know – if you need a history report – that really will lead you one way or another in terms of selecting an access control system. As Glenn notes on that first slide, which is a great slide, there is a full range from the most basic to highly advanced system and options to choose from today.”

Younger adds, “The beautiful part about electronic access control is you can add features and subtract features and impact the cost quite a bit, so it does come down to sort of sales 101, and it's the same kind of questions that you would use if you were doing a master key system. We have six easy questions:

1.     What do you have now?

2.     What do you like about it?

3.     What needs to stay the same and what would you like to change?

4.     Who besides yourself is going to be involved?

5.     What have you looked at so far?

6.     Do you have a schedule or budget that you're working with?

Looking at the technology and product side, Sands emphasizes the need to “know and understand your product before you install,” as your reputation is on the line based on the quality and experience they have with that new lock or system. 

“Don't be afraid of electronic access control,” he says. “But know your product and what the customer actually needs, as opposed to what the customer has seen work in a residential setting or on TV or on Tik Tok, and now they want you to install it in a larger commercial setting where it will not work, for example.”