Pyramid of Security Creates Competitive Advantage

Sept. 4, 2018
Understanding how doors work gives locksmiths a competitive advantage

Although competition seems to squeeze the professional lock shop from several sides, we do have major competitive advantages that actually make this an exciting business.

Big box stores cater to the DIY market while systems integrators skim the top of the electronic markets. The locksmithing business however, has several advantages and business opportunities. These include: the full range of physical security products, mechanical skills, familiarity with local codes and inspectors, and single source responsibility.

The Pyramid of Security describes the broad spectrum of products, technologies and devices now available to the locksmithing trade from the foundation of mechanical devices up through high-tech electronics and biometrics.

Exhibitors at the recent ALOA convention for instance, showed a wide range of mechanical, electromechanical and electronic products. Although CCTV can watch the doors (if somebody’s looking) and systems integrators can hang a reader on the wall, the locksmith actually has access to a much broader range of products and technologies. Even more important, skilled technicians are actually needed to install and maintain the opening.

Mechanical skills and real tools are still valued in the locksmithing industry. Other industries have become plug and play where parts are simply swapped out, and computer skills are the primary requirement. Doors and hardware however, actually require wood and metal-working skills. Bench work in the shop still offers a good niche for people who can visualize how things fit together.

Your skilled craftsmanship adds value to a home or building, whereas many (most) DIY jobs reduce the building’s value.

Single source responsibility is another factor in your benefit. You know how to make the door, hinges, closers, locks and electromechanical hardware fit, and work well. Big box stores don’t survey, specify, install or maintain complex hardware. All they have is boxes on the shelf. Most systems integrators are no better off. Many an electronic access job has been won by savvy lock shops that explained the correct hardware solution for each door. You don’t need to bad-mouth the competition, just point out what the better solutions are. The client will quickly figure out who knows what they’re doing.

We’ve seen case after case where a walk-through with a knowledgeable hardware guy snatched major electronic jobs from systems integrators, alarm companies or CCTV installers. The ability to electrify existing hardware was also a huge advantage. Know this: the IT department has the money!

Your objectives during a survey will be to discover the customer’s real needs and anticipated budget parameters. Ask questions, but don’t start with pre-conceived ideas or try to sell anything. After discussing the big picture, walk the site, asking questions, taking notes and pictures. When you ask questions, the client will discover the problems – and the budget will grow.   Search under “Business Security Checklists” for several useful survey forms.

Build a plan with the client’s best interest in mind. “Do unto others…..” really works ! Present a cost-effective plan and you will build long-term relationships, get positive recommendations and make a whole lot better living for your family.

“Concentric rings of protection”

“Concentric rings of protection” are the gold standard of security since no single layer is ever impenetrable. Although you won’t claim to be the “risk assessment” expert (for larger facilities), good questions allow the client to feel confident that you understand his or her overall risk management picture.

Although you may not provide perimeter defenses, control lines of sight or outside entrance paths, it is often worth mentioning these issues to be sure the client is aware of them. Your real expertise begins at building entrances, and flows through internal corridors to rooms, closets, storage, and special high value areas.

Mechanical locks, latches, hasps, padlocks, strikes, magnets, closers and power operators are your exclusive tools. Others may hang a reader on the wall, but you own the opening. A good example is how Door Systems Inc. in San Diego converted a system integrator’s butcher job into a thriving installation business. (See [1] And, you can install much of the electronics as well. Many shops like to cast as wide a net as possible, but there is considerable value in specialization.

Raritan, NJ based Access Commercial Door built lasting relationships with commercial GCs providing doors, frames and hardware installed. President Dave Hickson advised that this led to a substantial HM and EAC installation business. Repeat business was so robust that they had to just stay focused on managing the growth in these niches. Keys to success were: doing it right, doing the right thing, and serving the customer’s needs. Just prior to this writing, they were acquired by a major national electronic security company.

Questioning Process

The prospect or client probably has an idea of his or her need. Ask just a few leading questions to help them avoid going down some rabbit hole. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but to help you and the customer discover his actual needs.

  • What were the initial concerns that led them to review security?
  • What is the neighborhood environment? What are perceived threats ?
  • What kind of premise are we discussing? Residence, office, commercial building, etc.
  • Ease of viewing – inside to exterior and outside in.
  • Appropriateness of door and frame assemblies. Are they adequate to the situation?
  • Key control. Do they know who has keys and was keying changed as needed?
  • What layers of security exist ? Doors, locks, alarms, CCTV, vaults, safes, data backup etc.
  • What are the security objectives?

Nuts, bolts and volts are options available to the locksmithing trade. The big box store stocks low priced best-sellers for the user who “has to have it today.” You have a complete range of appropriate options. Plus, your professional installation adds value to their home or building. Although home automation is now sold everywhere and is a must-have for the techie, users often find little or no security improvement and have actually lowered home or building value.

It is important to have a few samples in the shop, but a good excel spreadsheet with links of manufacturer and distributor websites allows you and your client to quickly explore many options. Make sure the client can see the screen so they feel part of the process. As you explore options, the client will begin to understand the pyramid of security products and visualize how they solve his problem. The client will draw his or her own concentric rings of security. You will likely suggest decent (but not impregnable) exterior doors with solid deadbolts and electronic access with cost matching risk.

Larger organizations probably use IC cores, allowing quick changes to accommodate turnover. Interior doors are likely to use standard locks while higher levels of security, tamper resistance and/or electronic access are likely on high-value rooms or labs.

An interesting phenomenon is occurring in the Cannabis industry. Many government agencies are demanding serious vaults or safes with the door closed and dead bolted immediately on entrance or exit. As a practical matter, these shops have become crime targets of their own customers. Heavy duty doors, frames, hardware and alarms are required. Seems like there was a famous line about “….the company you keep.”

NYC based Securitech has specialized in extreme defeat resistant locking hardware. Their extreme service exterior lever trim has been an industry staple for some time. The latest offering is the new AUTO-BOLT™ Max which automatically relocks triple surface mount deadbolts as the door closes.

Also, some heavy duty ballistic doors with continuous hinges were discussed in the DHI reprint at . These projects provide an excellent opportunity to partner with systems integrators, GCs, and electrical contractors who will often have mechanical and electromechanical components in their projects.

Camden, Alarm Controls, and Securitron all offer Wi-Fi flush or surface mount keypads. These work well on glass doors or frames to release magnetic locks.

Mechanical, battery operated and electronic keypads have been an industry staple for some years. Alarm Lock’s Trilogy has been a standby for the professional lock shop. Output relays, narrow stile products, networks, Wi-Fi, and HID card reader applications have greatly expanded usefulness. Currently, Alarm Lock’s Networx systems can integrate into Lenel, Continental Access, and Software house systems.

Codelocks also offers mechanical and electronic lock solutions as well with keypad, MiFare, and BLE applications in Grade 1 and 2. Increasingly, we see open architecture with Application Programming Interface (API) processes allowing increased connectivity.

Electronic Access Control has become a solid business component at many lock shops with skilled systems designers employed. Tempe, AZ based University Lock and Security, Inc. accelerated their EAC business when experienced systems designer Mike Reber joined the team. “Understanding how doors work, really gives us a competitive advantage,” Reber stated. Another of America’s leading systems integrators began his EAC journey by installing electric strikes and magnetic locks. A good migration path to EAC is now available through most of your existing wholesale suppliers.

Allegion, ASSA ABLOY, Best, and Alarm Lock brands all offer stand-alone and networked systems for the locksmith trade. Detex has also partnered with dormakaba, using their E-Plex line. Several others outside the builder’s hardware business will sell to the locksmithing trade. Of course ASSA’s Cliq, Medeco’s XT, and Cyberlock keys provide EAC functions.

Stand-alone and networked battery operated locks are now available from all the major builder’s hardware suppliers through your wholesale distribution. These locks use cards, keypads, or both, and now increasingly Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to communicate with your mobile phone. Longer range communication for networked systems is handled with one or more of the 802.11 protocols (from 802.11 b,g,n through ax)[1].

An interesting development we’ve discussed previously is where your mobile phone becomes the BLE network, carrying the data back to various collection portals in the building. All of these amazing technological changes are now available through your wholesale distributor.

Even Biometrics are now available at the top of your pyramid of products. Two of the top biometric players we visited with in recent weeks suggested they hope to make their very slick products available through locksmithing channels, and will sell direct if asked. It appears that a number feel today’s locksmith shop is emerging as a serious electronic access control player.

The bottom line is that the lock shop has a significant advantage in the physical security arena. Mechanical and electronic skills, understanding how the door works, what products are required, single source responsibility, and access to the full spectrum of product solutions allow you to do a better job for your client. 

About the Author

Cameron Sharpe

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