Know Your Distributor Partners

April 3, 2017
Locksmiths want availability of the right product, on-time delivery, sound technical support and easy access from their distributor partners.

A year ago, in April of 2016, upon being assigned a similar topic, I decided to contact some leading distributors on how and why they felt their locksmith customers had selected them. These distributors all agreed that locksmiths wanted to be able to easily get the products they needed and quickly if necessary. They also wanted their distributor to be a source of information on products and installation suggestions. Distributors themselves were proud of their varying unique offerings and also had some suggestions on how locksmiths could get even better service from them. Many readers found this helpful so we decided to try it again to see if we could come up with some new hints.

Joining us on this year's panel are P.J. Slauson, manager of CLK Supplies in Post Falls, Idaho; Max Gannotskiy, sales and purchasing at H.E. Mitchell in Portland, Oregon and Mo Ali, director of business development at American Key Supply with its distribution center in Henderson, Nevada.

Product Availability

As we learned last year, having the right products readily available is the number one reason that a locksmith selects their preferred distributor. This year, we wanted to find out what distributors did to assure that they had the right products and we were surprised that the answer from each of the panel members was somewhat similar. They all had a depth of experience in the locksmith industry.

According to CLK Supplies' Slauson, "I come from a locksmithing background. I had grown up in the locksmithing business working for my father, ultimately becoming the managing member when I took over the operations and leadership of CLK Supplies. My dad could then spend all of his time running his locksmithing company which grew to three locations and 12 employees. Up to that point, CLK Supplies only sales channel was advertising to the local Pacific Northwest market. However, seeing huge potential on the Internet, we created and the company tripled its sales!

"Today, my dad has been a locksmith for over 37 years and has a team of locksmiths that really have their pulse on what's going on and what's needed," Slauson notes. "They serve the entire industry. We keep in close touch with them. As a matter of fact, in listening to them, that's why we headed into electronics when we did. They saw the trend coming and we make sure we had the products."

"We have a database system that lets us know what's selling and what's popular," reports H.E. Mitchell's Gannotskiy. "It also notifies us if we need something else. However, in helping us carry the right products, this technology pales when compared to the knowledge of our people, most of who have 10-plus years of locksmith experience. They know right away what the customer will need, right down to the correct screws."

" A large portion of the people who run the day-to-day operations were professional locksmiths at one point, myself included," emphasizes American Key Supplies' Mo Ali. "We know what it's like to be in the field, what the daily grind consists of, what the scope of even the most complicated jobs look like and which parts and tools are mandatory. We're also extremely progressive and do not fear technology in any capacity so we are always searching for the latest and greatest in locksmith technology to offer our clientele. Because of this, when we see gaps in the public offering for tools or machines, we're not afraid to think outside of the box and, if that means having to manufacture our own keys, tools or machines, then that's exactly what we'll do."

On-Time Delivery

It's one thing to be able to order the product needed. It's another thing to receive that product in a timely matter. An exit device needed on Wednesday sets back the locksmith big time if it doesn't show up until Thursday.

"To make sure our customers get their products on time, we use all the delivery services," affirms Gannotskiy. "We can also have our manufacturers ship directly. Importantly, with any orders in by 4 p.m., we provide same-day shipping. We also provide free shipping on orders over $200."

"As far as expediting orders, we have developed our own software for picking, packing and shipping orders,” says Ali. "We have crafted a proprietary order processing system which has been tailored to meet the needs of our customers. If your order is placed by 3 p.m. Pacific, it will ship out that same day. Our entire staff takes order integrity very seriously."

"Being in Idaho, we primarily use USPS Priority shipping," says Slauson. "That means customers will get their products within a two- to three-day window across the country. We can also drop ship to our locksmiths. We also offer free shipping on orders over $99."

Easy Access

To make a locksmith pun, getting information from your distributor is key. Selecting the right product and its auxiliary components can be the difference between profit and loss on a job. Both this year and last year, we found that distributors themselves placed a high priority on providing solid information to their locksmithing customers.

"There is no shortage of methods in which to contact us," states Ali. "We can be reached by phone, by e-mail and online chat. You could even drop by our distribution warehouse if you’re in the area. We have six full-time customer service reps who are all equally capable of guiding our customers through the most complicated of ordering and shipping scenarios.  Beyond that, the former locksmiths we have on staff, the owner included, are always available for in-depth technical support. I've personally done everything from guiding rookies on extracting Kwikset cylinders to helping our most seasoned clientele reflash ECU's in the field."

CLK Supplies does several things to help customers get information. "On our website, we have a learning center that features the most updated manufacturer manuals," adds Slauson. "We also can provide locksmiths with over 30 YouTube videos. Our technical sales representatives are very knowledgeable and enjoy sharing tips with our customers. We also have field technical representatives for customers in Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho that provide assistance and we plan on expanding this network.

"Many locksmith enjoy receiving our blogs which are then posted on our website and available for reference at any time," says Slauson. "We are also active in our local Columbia Basin Locksmith Association, often bringing top manufacturers in to speak. We have very good relationships with our manufacturers and pride ourselves that our customers will get all the information they need. I spent my first 19 years as a locksmith and learned how and where to find any information that is needed."

"It is very easy to get information from us," replies Gannotskiy. "We assure that people answer the phone, no voicemail and no prompts. Anybody answering the phone is well-versed in all of our products. For very specific questions, we also have specialists in automotive, commercial and home applications. When any staff member can't answer one of these specific questions, that person gets the technical staffer than can. As last resort, we'll put you in touch with the manufacturer."

Unique Services

Almost every successful business will create unique offerings that will give them a competitive edge against others. We've found that to be true with our panel as well.

Continuing on the topic of helping customers get more information, Gannotskiy adds, "We really focus on troubleshooting and technical support. When we hire new employees who have been in the locksmith industry, they consistently tell us how we get into answers and details in much more depth than their previous employers. For instance, we often request our customers to send us photographs of the problems that they are facing," Gannotskiy says. "With that photo, we can figure things out. We also provide a series of unique offerings including classes, monthly and weekly deals and sales, along with specials."

"We are currently developing an app which we feel will become the most valuable tool for every single locksmith currently servicing vehicles," adds Ali. "It will always have the most current information on key cutting and programming with relevant tips and tricks as provided by the locksmithing community. It will assist in everything from key-making methods and chip cloning to code series and specific key machine usage. Best of all, it will be free. We are in the final stages of having a functional beta ready to be released to the public."

"An attribute that our locksmiths appreciate is that we offer kit packages," says Slauson. "For the locksmith who wants to enter into keying a new type of lock to their business, this one package provides everything needed to get started. Something else we provide, not available at most distributors, are unique key machine parts. We have everything from wing nuts to belts that will get them up and operating again. Our automotive locksmiths can also take advantage of our reference material such as AutoSMART and Autotel, which go way beyond the information in the typical automotive literature."

Suggestions for Locksmiths from Their Distributors

Are there things that locksmiths can do to get even better service from their chosen distributors? To find out, we asked our panel.

According to Gannotskiy, "The best way locksmiths can help us help them is to give us all the information that they possibly can. The more information we have on the situation, the better we can help. If we have a clear description - or better yet, a photo - of what you are facing, we can help you much better."

Slauson agrees. "Getting all the information beforehand will let us serve you better. For example, we don't just need the car brand and make, we also need the year."

Ali has another approach. "To get better service from us, familiarize yourself with our catalog. We have made ordering extremely simple by giving each product a unique item number. Instead of looking through our entire site for JMA B91 all-metal mechanical blanks, you could simply search for item number 925. This works great if you're ordering over the phone. It lessens the potential for you to receive the wrong product. Also, check your order confirmation e-mails! If a mistake was made we can usually correct it before it ships."

A Passion for Their Businesses

What is interesting when interviewing locksmith product distributors is the passion that they bring to their businesses. That's something that I can't replicate in an article such as this. You can see the words but you won't hear the tone.

"We are constantly striving to perfect every aspect of our operation in order to provide our customers the very best products and service possible," exclaims Ali. "We take pride in what we do and we do everything with a visceral understanding of what it is like for our locksmith customers out in the field. We were there once. We know what they need and we know what we sell."

Gannotskiy adds, "Most of all, being from Oregon, we act very hometown, very personal. We like to think of ourselves and our customers as a family. We base our service on what is needed, not what the manufacturer wants us to pitch."

Lastly, Slauson summarizes, "Our customers range from key cutters, locksmiths, universities, government and those who are just looking for a certain key blank or part.  We strive for excellence and care about our customers. Whether you need trouble shooting, technical advice or fast shipping times, our goal is to keep you working so you can be successful."