Go to the Head of the Class

June 17, 2020

A local suburban newspaper prints a column each week that describes police activity. Typically, each paragraph explains mundane happenings, such as stopping someone for speeding or the theft of a bicycle. One paragraph caught my attention recently. It related how a resident had hired a locksmith to change the combinations of their exterior door locks. After changing the locks, this locksmith presented the resident with a bill for $1,000. Surprisingly, the resident paid the hefty bill but called the police later to complain about the high charge. This locksmith had been contacted through a website advertisement, and the resident couldn't remember whom he called. The bill tendered by the locksmith had a bogus name and phone number. This customer apparently had just been overcharged with no recourse in sight.

Competition can take many forms these days. Car dealers, big-box stores, scammers, auto parts stores, YouTube and DIY products all provide some kind of parts or technical assistance that can bypass procedures that were locksmith staples just a few short years ago.

In some ways, it's our own fault. During my teenage years, foreign cars first came ashore. Our locksmith business became known for the ability to service locks on VW, Toyota, MG and every other oddball foreign car. Lancia used a dimple key at that time. We built a special machine from a drill press and made duplicates for several Lancia dealers throughout the Midwest. Repo yards from miles around called us to fit keys to groups of different foreign cars.

Another one of our vertical markets was repairing aluminum doors. A large glass company learned of our expertise and called us to repair doors in a three-state area. We carried a full stock of pivots, continuous hinges and door closers in our vans and did quite well. Gas stations and convenience food marts were big business at that time.

So what happened to our vertical businesses? Our fault was in not nurturing that business. We expected the phone to simply keep ringing, and for a while it did. The locksmith in the first paragraph learned a lesson that our locksmith business learned too late. A recent webinar even discussed hiring salespeople for locksmith businesses who have no technical locksmith experience but who could concentrate on contacting commercial businesses and generating jobs.

The company that has a good informational website and is displayed near the head of the listings gets a higher percentage of business. Customers rarely take the time to dig deep. They hit the first listing found and call it a day. Like many other businesses, locksmithing slowly is being taken over by large individual businesses and by franchised entities that can afford to devote manpower to customer service and to the development of sales.