Good Records Drive Small-Market Growth

Jan. 2, 2018
Showing up with the right equipment, getting it done quickly, and good clean-up make for happy customers and a profitable business

When Garron Petrick started his business in the old lumber seaport of Port Hadlock, Washington, the entire market area contained only 22,000 people, some cattle, a few coyotes, deer, black bear, and mountain lions.  And, there were already  five locksmiths.  Compare those business prospects with the 55,000 people per square mile in dense metro areas, and you can imagine that happy customers are critical to survival. 

Small markets, of course, often have compensations, like the spectacular Olympic Peninsula scenery.  Since Petrick’s family couldn’t eat the scenery, growing the business was critical.  This is a story about how four strategies paid off, allowing consistent growth in a small market with very little industry. 

The strategies were:

  1. Good documentation
  2. Keeping overhead low
  3. Treat customers right
  4. Finding creative revenue opportunities.

Garron began studying archeology in college, but while working in his cousin’s Victoria, B.C. lock shop in1974, discovered that he really enjoyed locksmithing work. Today, he and his family are still interested in archeology, and enjoy visiting famous discovery sites. 


While most of us prefer to get home in time for Monday Night Football, this entrepreneur found that completing structured documentation was critical to customer satisfaction, profitability, and long-term success.

One important process was creating a form for all critical customer information.  By completing the form on the jobsite, Garron was quickly able to confirm missing or incomplete details.  Each service call is documented by date with detailed descriptions, including  hardware brand, model, finish, cylinders, keying, backset, and notes. When needed, door thickness, swing, hinges, closers, and exit device details are documented.  The next time the customer calls, there is no question what hardware is on the door, what keying is currently in use, and what parts to bring to the jobsite.

In the early years, all records were hand-written and filed in customer folders. Today, customer records, door schedules, quotes, and billing are now done with electronic records (secured and backed up, of course).  He uses WH Soft, MK Express, HPC Soft, and his own custom programs. Mathematical code models, pinning charts and key cuts are provided. 

Customer and keying information are kept separately behind layers of electronic, physical, and St. Bernard canine protection. Store helper Misty is shown with Charley, the intimidating first layer of security. The bottom line is that quality documentation drove efficiency and lowered costs.   This in turn, improved customer satisfaction and profits. 

Holding Costs Down

In the small rural market, drive time to a customer site can be 30 to 45 minutes.  “Any missing part or misinformation can turn a good job into a loss,” Petrick confided.    “We really need to know exactly what’s on the door before we go out,” he stated.  Good records allow him to arrive at the jobsite with the right product, finish, backset, and keying so critical to each job’s success.

On a church job at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, Petrick drove more than 50 miles each way, plus two ferry boat rides.  “You just can’t go back to the shop for something you forgot on a project like that,” he asserted. 

Scheduling is another important way to keep overhead low.  “I’ll always go out of my way to help a customer with a lock-out or real emergency, but most jobs can wait till the next day or so,” Petrick observed.  By linking two or three jobs in a single trip, he has been able to keep travel time and mileage charges low.  Customers appreciate that - and tell their friends.

Having the right tool for the job is also important to any skilled trade.  The little Dewalt Flip-Drive (or similar Twist-Lok tool) really made pre-drilling holes and driving screws a snap.

As the business matured, the entrepreneur learned to avoid specialty work such as difficult vehicle lockouts, GSA and bid work.  “There’s just not enough work in these specialty niches to justify the equipment or learning curve,” Petrick related.  Although challenges were intriguing, they would keep him from more profitable work. The shop owner realized that his market area just wasn’t large enough to justify costly equipment and a lot of specialized tools.

Although Washington State has about a quarter million boats and sheltered waters, the market was not productive. With two boat building schools, four marinas and considerable commercial fishing close by, one would think boat hardware might be a good market.

However, the businessman found that every boat is different.  They contain almost no lock hardware, and seldom need a locksmith. In fact, the famous Western Flyer, featured in John Steinbeck’s book; Sea Of Cortez, is being reconstructed close by, and is simply secured with padlocks with hasps. 

Including the family in the business provided more efficiencies. Petrick’s wife Lisa shares his retail space for her own jewelry repair business.  His daughter Anya Jean began working in the store at age 8 or 9, learning about both businesses.  When Anya Jean needed work while away at college, a nearby lockshop was thrilled to hire the experienced employee. Nephew Eli Petrick pins client cylinders.

“Taking advantage of manufacturer’s classes and certifications has helped avoid costly field learning problems,” Petrick said.  Early in his career, Garron took keying classes from the late Best Lock distributor, Connie Aronson in Seattle.  This stressed the value of documentation, and also prepared Petrick to service the Port Ludlow Resort project with 1,800 residences, hotel, restaurants, and large marina. 

Customer satisfaction and trust have been additional benefits of good documentation.  When a customer has a malfunctioning closer, Petrick knows what is installed, how it’s mounted, swing, finish, and what kind of traffic that door sees. 

Showing up with the right equipment, getting it done quickly, and good clean-up make happy customers.  Job estimates and order information also help reconstruct details of earlier projects.  This often saves time when creating new proposals or updating old quotes.

Keeping customers happy also drives profits.  They are willing to pay more for a recommended supplier than one picked out of the phone book. This clearly illustrates the difference between a large market where one can cast a wide net, versus the small market where reputation is everything.

Creative Revenue Strategies

Finding hidden revenue streams became critical in the small Olympic Peninsula market. The few office buildings or manufacturing plants tended to be small.  Local school districts, the single hospital, and a resort community are the obvious commercial opportunities.  Since most of these already have internal maintenance staff, Petrick needed to become a trusted partner who could help them with major projects; and that, he did.

Another revenue stream came from residential building contractors.  They soon realized that Petrick could supply and install their hardware at lower total cost and with less hassle than they could.  As his reputation grew, small commercial buildings became the main source of revenue, with residential work filling in the gaps. One surprising revenue stream came over the transom (or counter) from his wife’s jewelry business.  Watch battery replacement has turned out to be a modest but steady source of income. 

Since new and used cars frequently need replacement keys, the creative businessman has converted this erratic niche into an asset.  He advises dealers what day he will be in their area so travel time can be shared by multiple customers.  This saves them a trip to his shop, and allows him to do on-site keying for several cars at one time. Dealers appreciate his efforts to help them keep their own costs low. And, they recommend him to their own customers.

Getting Started

After working in the industry for several years, Petrick applied for an SBA microloan in 1996 to start up the Port Hadlock operation.  Establishing commercial credit was difficult at first.  An early large project required purchasing material in small batches with progress payments releasing the next shipment.  It took a lot of negotiation and hard work, but he made it happen.

After a couple of years, his credit track record began to pay dividends.  “Treating people the way you’d want to be treated, has been critical to our success,” Petrick stressed.

Learning what to stock and the best suppliers were also important to keeping inventory costs low.  It took Garron about five years to learn what products were in common use in his area, and the best supply-chain resources.

Gradually, the new business was established.  As all business owners learn, you “bet the farm” every day, but it’s always satisfying to make a decent living while solving problems.  Would Petrick do it again. In a heartbeat.     

About the Author

Cameron Sharpe

Cameron Sharpe, CPP, worked 30 years in the commercial lock and electronic access industry. Contact him at [email protected].