Best Practices Drive Locksmith Growth and Success

Nov. 2, 2018
Think out of the box and embrace an entrepreneurial approach to business to increase profits

Running a locksmith business is no different from any other small business. There are certain characteristics that define success and sustainable growth. Several years back Dave Lavinsky, an internationally renowned expert in the fields of business planning, capital raising, new venture development, and a guest lecturer at top universities wrote an article outlining the characteristics that drive a small business leader.

For Lavinsky, who has developed over 100 business plans and has written hundreds of articles on entrepreneurship, business planning and capital-raising and also is the co-founder of the consulting firm GrowThink, a firm that works with business executives and entrepreneurs to help them and their businesses reach their full potential, identifies eight traits that he can trace to small business success.

Perhaps the three most important are having a clear vision of the company you are looking to start and how it will be built, creating a written strategic plan that details how this vision will be achieved and then setting short-term goals to hone in on what needs to be accomplished quarterly, monthly and weekly to meet annual goals. He adds that it is crucial that all employees understand your business goals and have a direction on how they figure into the future growth.

Lavinsky’s other suggestions include:

  • Ongoing Education
  • Professional and Ongoing Customer Service
  • Have a Marketing Plan
  • Be Laser-Focused in Your Work
  • Raise Above and Never Give Up

While most locksmiths have probably never read his books or attended a lecture, many in the field have practiced his methods and made their own success. When Bill Neff, founder of Neff's Safe Lock & Security, started his locksmith business working out of the back of 1964 Chevy Impala in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster Country, not even he could have realized how his business would evolve almost 40 years later. Neff, a CPP, PSP, CML, bought a Chevrolet Step Van with a generator in 1977 and became the first locksmith in the area to have a fully equipped mobile lock shop. Now he boasts a business that has the largest mobile fleet in the central state area, while offering a myriad of technology services from basic locksmithing and automotive to advanced access control and video surveillance. If nothing else, Neff understands the tenants of hard work, customer service and business ethics. But it has been his entrepreneurial approach to business that has enhanced his vision and success.

“It is a shame, but the simple truth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics is that about 20 percent of small businesses fail within the first year and another 50 percent within the first five,” says Neff, who states that it’s important for an owner to work within his or her means and take all the good and bad experiences as future reference points to learn what works in your next venture. “I got into this business with a whopping $200 U.S. dollars but had a lot of good mentors in my life that instilled good sound principles that have been with me in my entire locksmith career. I had a math teacher who fought in WWI tell me to ‘say what you mean and mean what you say and be done with it’. At the age of 12 I didn’t get it, but later I did. His advice can be easily applied in a business setting. ‘Say what you mean’ -- be accurate and true explaining what the features of a product or service are and ‘mean what you say’ by realizing that your customers are counting on your expertise and putting their trust in that knowledge.”

Neff explains that the final caveat is the ‘be done with it’, requires you to put into action what product or service the customer contracted with you and make sure you perform the task to the customer’s satisfaction. He says that’s how you establish repeat business and build your brand recognition.

“Of course there are many other skills you will need to help you establish a sustainable business -- like managing your finances, marketing, sales, customers, employees, communications, leadership, education, project management, business planning, crisis management, problem solving, delegating, networking, and time management just to name a few,” he adds.

Innovation and thinking outside the box has also carried Larry Schwalb, RL to the pinnacle of his chosen profession. As the CEO and security engineer at Houdini Lock & Safe Company in Philadelphia for close to 35 years, Schwalb and Houdini handle a large variety of diverse accounts in verticals spanning commercial, government and corporate markets

“I’ve always been driven to overcome challenges. I like opening what is designed not to be opened. Opening safes and locks, securing a client’s assets, getting called on to a project for big companies and government agencies give me great pride,” Schwalb says. “We have a tag line here at Houdini Lock & Safe Company, ‘When All Else Fails’. It implies when you really need help Houdini is there for you.”

Building a successful business in the locksmith field is no different than any other business stresses Schwalb. He says that organization of every business component is key and creating policies, procedures and documentation relevant to the business are crucial as well. He admits that doing the basics will help a business get by, however, to take the big steps he recommends following some of these business basics for locksmith shop owners:

  • Delegation of responsibilities on every level.
  • Time management between the most important business hours of 9am to 5pm weekdays.
  • Learning business writing skills and public speaking skills.
  • Creating SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) for the company, staff and clients.
  • Reading periodicals of the Trade and acting on articles of interest.
  • Investing in continuous education and apprentice programs.
  • Joining and working with Local and National Professional Associations and Organizations (ALOA, SAVTA, GPLA, ASIS)
  • Building Relationships with Colleagues and Factory Contacts.

“Enjoy each day, and find what you like best about your work and tell the world,” urges Schwalb.

Neff couldn’t agree more. “How does the old saying go? If you do what you like you will never work a day in your life. In you can work that into the business model where you have fun doing what you do -- with the upmost passion and commitment to the project at hand – then the completion of the task gives you total self- worth and satisfaction that you’ve done the job with the best quality service. Then and only then will your customers be fully satisfied with your performance”.

Having a working relationship with your vendor partners and staying ahead of the technology curve are important business practices for Schwalb. He says that he and his techs always vet the products they sell and install.

“We find what we feel comfortable with and putting our name with those security products allows Houdini to always be on the cutting edge. We provide solutions our customers need and want that meet the forward movement of technologies,” he says. “Taking the time to look at the whole forest not the tree when we are given a task has brought us the ability to upsell security and more importantly engineer the right solutions. We believe each employee should be very knowledgeable in all facets of physical security.”

One key best practice for Schwalb’s team is monitoring incoming communication. He feels that unnecessary phone chatter can be burdensome to his staff and techs, especially in the day of cell phones.

“Putting defensive screening of calls in place is mandatory to allow our team to focus on getting the job done. We don’t give out our cell phone numbers as we want all calls to go through our main landline numbers. We have live office staff and a live answering service for off-peak hours and voicemail for common phone questions,” he says.

In this age of Big Data, the locksmith operation is not immune. For Houdini, investment in a robust IT system began in the mid-1980s and continues today. Schwalb admits that the intelligence his business derives from his IT investment has help increase revenue and profitability by leveraging the data analytics and saving time in record searches, dispatch and organization.

Both Neff and Schwalb share a progressive approach that has ensured future growth for each of their businesses. Fast-moving technology is something both embrace and make work for their customers.

“In the past 10 years we at Houdini Lock & Safe Company have already metamorphosed into security engineers not just locksmiths. Each day we still perform duties involving locks and safes but additionally we perform so much more work in access control and high security. We have had electrical engineers on our team for over a decade,” says Schwalb. “In 10 years I believe there will still be some need for safe and vault work, while lock-outs will still occur in residential and commercial situations.”

However, he predicts there will be a diminished need for automotive lock technology and an increase in RF solution integration for residential and commercial automation, along with greater opportunities in access control door movement systems for an aging population.

Neff’s prediction for the locksmith’s future is a bit more direct and simply stated: “If you don’t get involved, you will definitely dissolve.”

About the author: Steve Lasky is the editorial director for SecurityInfoWatch,com Security Media Group, publishers of Locksmith Ledger International, Security Dealer & Integrator and Security Technology Executive magazines. He is a 30-year veteran of the security industry.