Access Control Opening Doors for Locksmiths

May 7, 2024
Industry experts look at both barriers and opportunities for physical security pros

For the savvy physical security professional with a background in IT, electronic access, and/or dealing with wires – yes wires – the opportunities have far outweighed the barriers to entry when it comes to taking on jobs that go beyond mechanical locks and venture into working with more electronic access control products and systems.

“I've seen a huge spike in people wanting more access control on their buildings,” says John Nolan, owner of Reliant Security, based in Grand Junction, Colo. “In just this this week alone, I've bid out for probably five access control jobs, and that's a pretty big spike this year. On the consumer side, they're becoming more concerned about building security and key management-type stuff.”

As Nolan points out, traditional keys are becoming less popular with “so many devices that we have in our hands and just the amount of technology that's out there,” he says. “I think that the key systems are just becoming less desirable because it's like I can fiddle with a bunch of keys in my hand, or I could just pull out my phone and open up this door.”

Many commercial projects, he notes, require, or ask for an audit system and management system, as well as a way to allow access to certain people at certain times, as is the case in multifamily, hospital and school settings, for example.

“People are seeing electronic access as just a way to get rid of the physical keys,” Nolan explains, noting that there will always be a backup key system if all else fails, and for emergency purposes, of course. “So, you can have a credential that only opens the janitor closet and the front door, and they just carry around that one piece of hardware. For example, I want to allow Brenda to go in through this door over here and have access to her office, but I don't want to give her access to all doors. For the most part, they're looking for something easy to install, and, more importantly, easy to manage.”

Top Technologies and Verticals

In speaking with manufacturers about access control trends, mobile-friendly solutions, cloud-based systems and AI-driven analytic platforms top the list, with many end users asking for seamless, convenient solutions that can be tracked and often analyzed for important information.

“We are seeing growth in data centers due to the increased demand driven by growth in cloud services, artificial intelligence (AI), and other technologies that require tremendous data capacity,” says Angelo Faenza, Jr., head of Digital Access Solutions, ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions Americas. “We’re also seeing growth in K-12 schools due to the ongoing need to protect students and classrooms, colleges and universities who seek to enhance the student experience with the latest mobile access technologies, as well as in off-campus student housing, multi-family housing, and healthcare.”

At the ASSA ABLOY 18th annual breakfast at ISC West in April, the company presented a session titled, “Navigating Megatrends for Sustainable Growth,” which focused on three key megatrends – AI, cybersecurity, and sustainability – that the company says are “not only driving growth but transforming the security industry.”

Camden Door Controls Project Manager David Ito also identifies artificial intelligence and analytics as areas where there is tremendous growth and interest going on within security, especially from customers who are seeing the benefits and uses in other areas of their lives.

“AI-powered analytics are being used to analyze access control data and detect anomalies or suspicious behavior in real-time,” Ito points out. “These systems can identify potential security threats more quickly and accurately than traditional methods. However, it's essential to note that the landscape of access control is continually evolving, driven by technological innovations and emerging security challenges. The advent of AI will require new solutions on both hardware and software that will bring many new challenges for both the end user and the integrator.”

He continues, “With the increase in remote work arrangements, access control systems are being adapted to accommodate remote access and manage access permissions for off-site employees securely. One technology that is easier to transport electronically is mobile credentials. Remote uses can be sent virtual credentials on their smartphone app to get access to entrances using a Bluetooth or NFC RF authentication method.”

Camden is seeing a large increase with retail chains and convenience stores. “Owners are asking for solutions to control access to refrigerators for alcohol or parcel purchase pick up, for example,” notes Ito. “Camden’s CX-EPD-0009 cabinet lock with 440 pounds holding force using only 60mA of current and water resistant makes it ideal for these applications.”

Barriers and Opportunities 

The electronic access control conversation with locksmiths can be a tricky one because many times those who are excelling in this area already have experience or have successfully added those skills through hands-on training.  

“There are numerous opportunities where their existing client base are looking for versatility or keyless systems to manage the changing workforce and social behavior,” notes Ito. “The challenge for locksmiths is getting familiar with the new technologies to be comfortable with recommending them to their clients.”

Mark Dawson, owner of Dawson Security Group, agrees, noting, “The newer cloud-based and mobile credential systems are gaining ground, but they are not what most locksmiths get involved with. In all honesty there should be a conversation about the locksmith community being left behind and the projects that they could have had are being gobbled up by large and small integrators. I think the near future will show that by laying back and saying, ‘I don’t like to do those wired jobs’ was the mentality or cancer that set in-motion the death of the physical security professional as we have known them.”

He continues, “There have been many great specialty services that disciplined service techs have been able to do well at. Automotive locksmiths are abundant. Safe service only locksmiths are rare but still exist and thrive due to so many others not working on them. I hate to be as pessimistic as this sounds but the days of a well-educated (book knowledge) locksmith with a full offering of all security services are the rarest of all when we should be the most abundant of all.”

Teaching Electronic Access 

Toward that end, Nolan and many others within locksmithing are doing their part to help bring locksmiths who are interested up to speed on the basics, so they can begin adding electronic access control jobs to their portfolio. For example, Nolan offers quarterly training classes on just this topic – teaching locksmiths and other physical security professionals to become more familiar with installing these types of electronic access control systems, which many times means dealing with wires. The last class in April was held in Kansas City and was sponsored by Allegion, who also provided hardware for the hands-on training, which is so essential for those first starting out, Nolan points out.

“I'm going through and showing people how I got started on just basic diagram kind of stuff, and then we're going to go into how to work on an electronic access control system,” Nolan explains. “For this one, Allegion is sponsoring and they're providing a lot of hardware which is really nice to see that manufacturer’s support.”

Topics covered in the class include selecting the proper hardware, bidding out the job to make money, hands-on wiring, CAT5 & 6 terminations, programming, and basic troubleshooting covering multiple systems.

“There's a lot of wiring because a lot of guys don't know much about wiring,” says Nolan. “When wires come out, a lot of people get real, real timid, which they should – all the wires are live, so until you verify and make sure that they're turned off, then you could easily short something out. There are just some precautions you must take around electricity, so we're going to go over that and then, proper wiring of a mag lock, for example.”

In addition, Nolan covers the financial side of electronic access control, looking at how much a locksmith should be charging for a job, as well as tips for bidding on jobs.

“Bidding out jobs right so they can make money on those jobs is so important when you are first starting out,” Nolan explains. “Because a lot of guys will say, oh, well, I can get the parts for $500, so I'm going to charge $1,000 for the whole job. Well, that's not a good idea because there's a lot of other things that go into it – you have your wiring cost, you have time on site and then what happens if something goes wrong?”

He continues, “I have some bidding strategies that are pretty helpful in bidding those jobs and then the CAT5 and CAT6 termination, so we go over the Internet or Ethernet communication that everyone gets really concerned about with electronic access – how do you tie into the switch or what's the right cable to be using in in these applications that kind of thing.”

Moving forward, Nolan is looking forward to offering other training courses in different parts of the country as well, to make it more accessible to more folks.

Access Control in Demand

As Nolan points out, electronic access control continues to grow and is in high demand. “I know from my own personal experience from just the beginning of this year that I’ve accepted probably I'm close to $100,000 in accepted bids now since January [to March], so some of this stuff is left over from bids we started in quarter four of 2023,” he says. “I think that's the important part with the election year, is everyone is really trying to push out as much as they can before they can't.”

Many times, Nolan says a small job turns into something bigger, or leads to more business and bigger jobs down the road. “One of the projects we were called out to last month to take a bid or peek at, they said, ‘Oh yeah, we just want a couple doors.’ Well, it turned into 20 doors, which is a pretty big project for a small company to work on, but we figured out a way to get it done. It's important when those calls do come in, don't be scared to take them because you can always bring in a partner, which is something that I do, especially if it is a big project. I'm a one-man shop and I make it work by partnering with other locksmiths and partnering with other cable installers and that kind of stuff.”

Business continues an upward trend in 2024, as it has for the past few years for Nolan, much of which he attributes to the electronic access control jobs he is getting.


“We had about a 30% increase from 2022 to 2023 and I've actually seen that trend since probably 2019-2020 – people are just buying more electronic access control systems,” he says. “I'm a one-man shop so I started out small and I've just been steadily increasing. Sales in electronic access over the past three-to-four years have been a pretty steady increase. I know that one of the years we had a 50% increase in demand for electronic access, while the other years have been hovering right around 30%, so it's a great time to grow in this area.”