Staying Alive in a Company-Eat-Company World

April 2, 2018
Let your customers know that you will give them the support and service they’ll never get from large companies

Gale Johnson, editor of the Locksmith Ledger, wrote: “The days of depending on duplicating keys or unlocking cars for a living are long gone. One big job is worth a million little ones. I constantly see the trucks rolling on our local expressways from hardware manufacturers who are approaching our local customers directly.  It appears to me that locksmith distributors and locksmiths have a common interest and the closer we can work together, the better for all.”

I completely agree with Gale. Depending on duplicating keys, installing deadbolts, or unlocking cars is a prescription for going out of business. Too many changes have happened to keep the traditional old-school locksmith the same as he’s been for the last 50 years. Look at a few of the changes: electronic keyless locks bought from a slew of companies on the Internet, new companies showing and getting funding for fingerprint-reader padlocks and cell-phone-locking deadbolts on Shark Tank, and huge companies selling directly to consumers and companies on the web.

So much of the business world has turned away from small dealers and distributors and is getting products and services from large conglomerates that keep buying, merging, and consolidating: Amazon, Grainger, Home Depot, Honeywell, and UTC, just to name a few. Everything is intertwined: importing and manufacturing, distribution and retail. There are no clear paths to get security products and services anymore.

So how do small locksmith dealers and locksmith distributors stay alive in this company-eat-company world? That is the question.

The answers are complex but include what’s already happening: locksmiths coming together for education and then working closely with lock and security distributors to get products and services. In other words, what is needed is not that different than what it’s been in the past. It is getting harder to survive in this cutthroat world alone. There are just too many large and innovative companies that are rapidly taking over the security world.

Pius Boachie, founder of DigtMatic, advises what small companies can offer: “You’re in business to solve a problem for consumers. Now to strive and beat the anacondas in the room, you need to hold a competitive angle and flaunt it.” (“4 Ways Small Businesses Can Compete Against the Major Competitors,”

He continues, “Winning customers over is all about effective storytelling. Your competitive angle (which will be your story) can be the reason you started your business (origin story), the value attached to your products/service or the difference between your products/service (product story). Your job as the founder is to find the angle and turn it into a story which can be shown to customers in your marketing campaigns and website.”

Just because most locksmiths and security professionals don’t tell their stories well (or at all) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. What made you get started in the lock industry? What is your specialty and what can you help your customer solve? Can you give an established or new customer the confidence that you’re the right fit?

You need to be reliable, helpful, and give your account the peace of mind that you are the right lock and security professional for their business or home. I trust my dentist, handyman, plumber, and my landscaper to do their jobs well so I don’t have to take the time and effort to find someone else. That’s why I still use their services when the need arises. You need to give your customer that same level of satisfaction and comfort.

According to a new study from Microsoft, the average attention span of humans has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds since the year 2000. So now, you have less than 8 seconds to grab a customer’s attention and then make your promise and fulfill it. According to Boachie, a big advantage of being a small business is the “ability to interact with customers directly, removing the bottlenecks and bureaucracy of larger businesses…Your ability to respond to emails, inquiries, send handwritten ‘thank you’ notes and solve complaints results in amazing customer experiences which yield more customers through word of mouth marketing, online reviews and social media channels.”

Locksmith dealers are not alone, even if it sometimes feels like it. The distributor is your lifeblood to thousands of products, services, and knowledge, and your link to manufacturers. You can pick up the phone, text, or email your distributor to help you build your business. You can ask for their salespeople to refer you for installs on large projects that they hear about. Make sure they know you are ready to quote and service, even for large jobs.

Don’t assume your distributor will give you the best services and prices. Ask them when you need their help when requesting bids or quick information. Let them know how to earn your business and ask them to consider you when coming across large jobs that need installation. Be respectful and responsive and most importantly, openly communicate your strengths, experience, needs, and desires.

Many of our best customers are doing more than what they did in the past. They are quoting and getting large jobs for doors, electronics, rekeys, and more. They get as much information as they can before presenting professional quotations to customers. They give their customers the confidence that they can and will do jobs right. They show they’re capable and will do what’s necessary for a job, getting deposits, being on time, acting professional, answering all needed questions, and most importantly, demonstrating that they’re competent professionals and installers.

The best word of mouth comes when you follow up and do what you say you’re going to do. Be competitive and fair in your pricing, support your customer, and cut out extra sources of worry or stress. If there are problems that arise, fix them quickly or explain to your customer what you’re up against.

Staying alive in business is more common sense than anything. What’s most important is letting your customers know you will give them the support and service they’ll never get from large companies. Yes, Amazon and Grainger are very good at what they do but they don’t provide the relationships that you can. Yes, some manufacturers sell directly but most don’t and many actively support their distributors and dealers.

Large companies don’t offer the experiences and knowledge that you have or understand the hurdles that you and your company have faced. Use your years of experience to your advantage and stop worrying about the small stuff: cutting keys, rekeying a lock, unlocking a car, or fixing a broken part. Focus instead on how you can be an asset to regular and new accounts and don’t be shy. The big jobs are there if you are ready for them.

Use your distributor to be your guideline. And don’t be afraid to show what you’re capable of. Be one of the security professionals that distributors, companies, and homeowners can trust to take care of their properties and most importantly, their lives. It’s up to you to create, maintain, and support business. Don’t’ worry about big companies or competitors. Focus on what YOU can do. Focus not on staying alive but instead, how to prosper and flourish.

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