The Locksmith in the Time of Trump

April 1, 2017
Hoping the next four years will be positive for business is a waste of time. Go to work, put your efforts into maintaining a good smart business, and the rest will take care of itself.

Running a small locksmith business comes with its own challenges, especially in the midst of the kinds of changes that businesses have had to face since the dawn of Year 2000. The United States has faced two wars, two stock market crashes, a housing bubble and then a crash, September 11th, an election that was a virtual tie followed by the first black president (both presidents liked by their bases and widely disliked by the other half of the country) and then to top it off, the election of a non-politician, real estate tycoon, who ran the most divisive, controversial, jarring presidential campaign in modern history and won against most media predictions.

So what’s new? Everything! Half of the country was excited to finally have a pro-business leader from the business community. Yet, the first few weeks of the Trump Presidency were filled with a whirlwind of events, almost daily tweets, revelations and resignations because of connections to Russia during Trump’s campaign, protests from all over the country and controversial executive signings, including the building of a wall on the Mexican border and an immigration ban from seven Muslim countries in the Middle East, which caused legal challenges and more protests. The two months preceding the Trump presidency were filled with optimism from the business community, with hopes that lower taxes and less regulations would help American business boom. But the results since then have been much shakier, even though the stock market reached record highs.

Everything seems to be up-ended and topsy-turvy, which creates a lot of uncertainty for the small business. As Peter Coy wrote in Business Week (“Trump’s Uncertainty Principle,” Bloomberg Business Week, January 30, 2017), “The open question is whether Trump will, on net, be good or bad for business. The first billionaire president could help companies by cutting their taxes, reducing regulation, and generally understanding their needs in a way the community organizer who preceded him never could. But Trump could also make a mess of things if erratic policies create fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Trade wars could break out. Interest rates could soar to punishing levels if Trump manages to persuade Republicans in Congress to pass the giant tax cuts he’s seeking without corresponding spending reductions.”

Not that anything was easy before Trump. The Internet and market changes have radically altered business, not just in malls but stores, storefronts, everything. Who needed to worry about Amazon or Google a decade ago? Even in our small lock industry, the times, they are a-changing. Consolidation continues: Dormakaba (the merger of Dorma and Kaba) announces the purchase of Stanley Mechanical and Best Lock, Home Depot owns Interline (who bought U.S. Lock a few years ago,) IDN buys Wilco, Flake is bought by a private equity company and then purchases McDonald Dash, Top Notch takes over Boyle and Chase, Allegion buys Republic Doors, and Midwest Wholesale Hardware is taken over by a private equity company. Who can keep up with the constant consolidations? If approved, AT&T, which bought DirecTV, will own Time Warner, which once bought AOL and CNN and owns so much of the modern media.

So what’s the small locksmith shop or mobile locksmith to do in the midst of this craziness? Will Trump’s policies focusing on building American businesses and American jobs help the small businessman struggling to make a living? Will Trump and the new Congress actually help the locksmith? That is the question.

I know some locksmiths who were thrilled that Trump won. Jim Mowry from Aaron’s Lock and Key in Madison Heights, Mich., told me that he was incensed when Hillary Clinton called many of Trump’s supporters “deplorables.” He felt that business owners like himself were disrespected by Obama and would have been even more alienated and shut out by a Clinton-led Democratic administration. Even though he has some reservations about Trump, he feels pretty positive that Trump should have a much better effect on business than Clinton if she were elected.

It is certainly reasonable to believe that Trump and a Republican Congress may be better for business but the economic climate may become much more volatile, inconsistent, filled with turmoil. Instability in the economy and in politics can cause problems and anxiety for companies. Many businessmen are excited because we now have a pro-American-business president and Congress but that doesn’t mean that we won’t have tough times ahead…possibly more conflicts with other countries, tariffs, trade wars, more inflation, and a lot more government spending.

Of course, the good news is that we are in the business of security. If the economy gets worse and people get more desperate, the need for security will probably become greater. Cyber theft and other crime can lead to extreme anxiety which may actually cause lock and security businesses to strengthen. If the economy is strong, most all businesses benefit and if the economy gets worse, the need to protect one’s privacy and property may rise even more.

It is good to be optimistic that the anti-business government of the last few years will become a more pro-business, less restrictive environment for all of us. But if anyone thinks we are in for four years of “easy street,” be careful. The past has shown that when everyone is exuberant and business is great (e.g., the crazy growth of the stock market in 2000, the housing boom and then bust in 2007,) there is a higher probability of major economic crashes and widespread turmoil.

The true answer to whether Trump will be good for small business is this: outside forces such as government and politics do affect businesses in ways large and small but even if taxes are lowered, regulations reduced, and the stock market continues to rise (unlikely after an eight-year bull market), the security business is dependent mostly on small stuff, the nuts and bolts of any business:

1. Do you focus on being customer-centric, listening and helping each and every customer who calls you, checks your website, or walks up to your counter?

2. Are you becoming more and more of a security expert, so you can give your customer something they may not get from others?

3. Are you differentiating your business and improving it?

4. Are you strengthening your social media and online presence and your overall Internet capabilities?

4. Are you carefully watching your expenses but still focusing on driving sales growth?

In other words, don’t worry about Trump’s tweets or what’s coming from Congress. Don’t focus on what you can’t control and focus instead on what you can. Hoping that these four years will be positive for business is a waste of time. Go to work, put your efforts into maintaining a good smart business, and the rest will take care of itself. 

Arnie Goldman is President of IDN-Hardware Sales, Inc. and Distributor Member of SHDA