Getting The Phone To Ring

Sept. 1, 2016
Selling Locksmithing: How To Not Be The Loneliest Guy In Town

Editor’s Note: Locksmith Ledger asked longtime contributor Tim O’Leary to share his philosophy on successful sales and marketing. Information contained in this article is his opinion, based on many years in the industry.

Selling locksmithing service is not typically conducted door-to-door. Most times customers will call you on the phone, or maybe come into your lock shop.

Locksmithing is unique in that the traditional business model for the locksmith was a walk-in showroom where keys could be purchased, locksets and other items carried in for repair, and vehicles could be brought for work to be performed.

But much of what was once traditional locksmithing has gone away, and most locksmiths have learned to augment their basic locksmithing services with other profitable activities.

Although a lock shop is a great place to display products and generate business, your phone is still your most powerful device for conducting business.

I had a boss once who used to ask rhetorically: “Do you know how much it costs to make that phone ring?” It’s something which can be calculated. His rants usually came about the time he had just paid the annual renewal fee for the Yellow Page ads he ran throughout his service area.

And that was only the tip of the iceberg, because generating business is not easy if you are looking to grow and are in a competitive market. It costs money to make money.

There used to be an ad on TV about ‘the loneliest guy in town’, an appliance repair man who sold machines that were so reliable that they never needed repairing.

We know things break, and the locksmith’s business is not limited to selling locks that never wear out. But many locksmiths are becoming the loneliest guy in town.

In recent years the competition has formed a mushroom cloud over our industry, with keyless automobiles, low priced locks and rekeying available at home improvement centers, and the move towards electronics. Unfortunately the prevalent value system has changed to where the common attitude that it is cheaper to replace than it is to repair.

There are two sides to this problem. First, we’ve made it very expensive and unrewarding to get things repaired. Second, there is a flood of inexpensive, poor quality being imported into our country. Even if a client buys higher quality products, then that client is subjected to pressure to have the latest and newest technology which winds up resulting in the replacement rather than the repair of a defective item more for vanity than for necessity.

Sometimes I feel guilty, embarrassed or that I’m missing out because my smart phone is actually two years old.

It is a fine line to tread. Making the critical decision of which better serves the better good; using a highly developed skill set to repair something which may break in a month anyway, angering and frustrating the client, or recognizing when a item has reached the point of diminishing returns, and it is wiser to simply start over with something new, better looking and maybe even better technology.

A repair takes longer than a replacement, and callbacks are like working for nothing while you’re looking like a loser to the customer.

So when that phone rings, it is a good idea to be prepared to make the best of it each and every time. And then once you’ve begun speaking with the client, the meter is still running.

You are using up productive time speaking on the phone or going to the site to do a survey. So being able to identify which callers warrant your efforts is a valuable and essential skill.

Our world has grown into a largely impersonal environment, but really, the essence of successful marketing is developing personal relationships with your customers. Not getting to know their whole family history and go over for dinner, but making it clear to them that they are in good hands if you are their security provider, and you have the ability and willingness to provide a wide range of products and services.

In a small locksmith operation, it may not be possible for you or your best techs to take every phone call; but at least be sure whoever answers is efficient and courteous working the phones, and be sure to follow up quickly.

You can electronically screen calls and have the ones requiring locksmith knowledge and sales skills automatically forwarded to your cell phone.

You may be thinking that interrupting your day with calls may break some golden rule about time management. But in this situation may I suggest that the golden rule is: “Whoever has the gold makes the rules.” It’s your primary role to keep the big wheel turning.


Every client has the potential of becoming a recurring source of revenue and an asset to your business as a source of referrals. Referrals are the hidden dividends of good customer service.

So make sure that anyone who answers your phone – be they the owner, a technician or clerk – is polite and knowledgeable about your business. If the customer needs to speak with a technician, make sure that he or she is called back promptly.

Now that the Internet is gaining big ground on brick and mortar based commerce, and virtually everyone has a cell phone, how you reach your clients has definitely changed. I do not remember the last time I actually opened a phone book.

One of my former employers had been in business for over 50 years. I would go to clients’ premises and consciously ask them questions to try to determine how they heard of us and what we did.

Many folks had called based on a referral from a relative or were repeat customers who had used the company when they bought the house, or after they fired the babysitter. Some knew us from their workplace. Some went to school with or belonged to the same congregation as one of the owners. Some had seen our trucks rolling around town. Some saw the ad in the phone book. Some had seen ads in the free community paper they got in the mail or at the market.

Few knew we did video systems, burglar alarms or access control, even though the ads all listed these services.. People are not always sure about what locksmiths do besides cut keys.

At one lockshop, untold sales and clients were lost for a number of years where when the phone was answered, messages were ‘taken’ but few calls were returned. They rolled on the jobs that they could do at the time the call came in, and deposited the rest into the circular file.

Locksmithing is a uniquely capitalistic type of business, where the buying habits of a market create a sort of self-regenerating momentum, even if some mishandling and mistakes occur along the way.

Maintaining or growing revenues is a different matter, and that’s what the Locksmith Ledger is all about.

So while you are setting up your website, you should of course be mindful of the online resources which available for you to use. You can direct clients to videos and brochures readily available for most products, or you can download them, print them, and offer them with your presentations.

Creating a website and making sure that website comes up when potential customers search the internet is a whole different subject. For detailed information on this topic, please read our March 2016 article, “Getting Found on the Internet,”

Examples of online resources abound, and the industry offers opportunities for training all over the country.

Alarm Lock’s “Profit Center” program teaches the security professional how to sell and market the profitable business of standalone access control. They have many brochures that the locksmith can personalize and post online, along with sales presentation videos that can be sent to prospective clients via email to help illustrate how the products work and what solutions they provide.  Visit for a selection of downloadable marketing material. (You will have to create an account first.)

Distributors are also a great source of support. Many offer training programs, counter days with manufacturer’s reps and extensive training classes as part of regional trade shows where factory training and certification classes are available.

About the Author

Tim O'Leary

Tim O'Leary is a security consultant, trainer and technician who has also been writing articles on all areas of locksmithing & physical security for many years.