The State of ALOA: An Interview

Oct. 7, 2021
New ALOA President Bill Mandlebaum discusses his plans for the organization.

As ALOA 2021 wrapped up in July, the national locksmith association began to look ahead. Its next convention is scheduled to take place July 24–30, 2022, at the South Point Hotel Casino in Las Vegas.

Presiding over the next convention will be a new president, whose term began at the conclusion of ALOA 2021. ALOA elects a new board president every two years. (The president can serve two two-year terms.)

This year, Bill Mandlebaum of Bowling Green, Ohio, won over Noel Flynn, with 63.9 percent of the vote. Mandlebaum has been a locksmith since 1976 and has operated The Brass Key Shop in Bowling Green since 1981.

Mandlebaum has served as an ALOA director as well as president of the Penn Ohio Locksmith Association for three two-year terms. He received ALOA’s lifetime achievement award in 2016 and its president’s award in 2019.

Locksmith Ledger caught up with Mandlebaum after ALOA 2021 to discuss the show, his plans for the association and his view of locksmithing.

Locksmith Ledger: First of all, congratulations on your victory.

Bill Mandlebaum: I believe the correct English is “condolences.”

LL: You’ve held office in several locksmith associations, including ALOA. What made you want to run for this particular office?

Mandlebaum: After all the years I was a member of ALOA, I figured it was time I started giving back to it, and I’ve gotten my business to the point that I can put the time in now and I can do it.

LL: What part of your message do you believe resonated most with the voters, and how do you plan to act on that?

Mandlebaum: Just getting people involved. I’m not sure exactly how we’re going to do that. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to that. Unfortunately, people don’t get involved in organizations like they used to. When I first got involved in locksmithing back in ’76, I joined the Oklahoma Master Locksmith Association. Back then, it was all networking. At that time, it helped tremendously to have somebody there I could call and say, “OK, I’m stuck. How do I do this?” But the young kids now, a lot of what they want is on YouTube, and they figure they can just find it on the internet.

LL: How can ALOA compete with that?

Mandlebaum: I don’t think ALOA can compete really as far as that goes. Where ALOA would shine would be hands-on classwork, because most locksmiths I’ve met do better with hands-on [instruction], where they actually see and touch something rather than just seeing it on a screen.

LL: One big part of your campaign message was increasing board openness. How do you plan to improve that?

Mandlebaum: In the past, there was the “good old boy” thought to the board that the board hadn’t anything to do with the members. That has changed a lot in the past 10 or 12 years. A big part of it was getting Mary May in as [executive] director. In the past, the executive director just kind of ignored anybody he didn’t like or didn’t fit his standards of what he thought things should be. That was a big problem. A lot [of members] got disconnected at that point. Members would try to ask a question, and they just got thrown into limbo and never got a response to it. It has changed a lot with Mary in there, but we’re still fighting the concept of a “good old boys” club in there still.

LL: Communication has improved, but there’s still an impression that it isn’t good. How do you overcome that?

Mandlebaum: I overcame it mainly in the Northeast [as ALOA director] by attending all the local association trade shows. A member could walk up and ask me a question, and I would answer the question. If I didn’t know the answer, I’d find it and get back to him on it. I did not ignore him. [That strategy] changed a lot in the Northeast, but some of the other sections of the country did not change that much, because the directors really didn’t engage with the members that much.

LL: Before the election, you talked about using ambassadors to help inform membership. Is that still the plan?

Mandlebaum: Oh yes, definitely. We’re working on that right now.

LL: How would that work?

Mandlebaum: The director can’t get around to all of [the local locksmith association meetings] all the time. Usually, we have a former director [in the area], which are what the ambassadors are. They have been a director of ALOA at one time, so they know what’s going on. We’re just trying to keep them in the loop, so if a member comes up at the local association, say GPLA, and says, “hey, what’s going on here?” they can talk about it effectively. Therefore, we’ll have a representative in each of those organizations that [members] can talk to and can get answers for them. It would be much better than trying to get a director out there constantly and the cost of getting a director there.

LL: During the ALOA presidential debate, you said ALOA was one bad convention away from being back on the brink. How do you plan to shore up the association’s finances?

Mandlebaum: Right now, we’re just watching every expense that we possibly can to try to keep afloat. We did sell [ALOA’s former Dallas headquarters]. That money’s been put in a separate fund, so if we buy another building, which we plan to do in the future, we will have the money to pay for it then. We will not have to go into hock for it. We’re just essentially like any business: We’re watching every penny we spend and trying to get the maximum out of every penny of it.

LL: Speaking of the convention, what were your impressions of ALOA 2021?

Mandlebaum: It went a heck of a lot better than what we expected. We were up in the air about what to expect on it. The kickoff party was one of the most well-attended that I’ve seen in probably the last 10 or 12 years. The classes were fairly full. We actually had two automotive classes that we had to turn people away, because the classes were overfilled. None of the exhibitors said anything bad. It was all very positive, which is a great thing. No matter how well you do something, I don’t care how good you make it, somebody is going to be aggravated about something.

LL: What else do you plan to bring to ALOA as president?

Mandlebaum: There’s a couple things we’re looking at doing that the members have said they want. I really hate to say this, because I don’t see anything really good coming out of COVID, but the one positive that came out of COVID was the fact that we had to go to online classes. The members have wanted them for a number of years, and we’ve tried to do them, but everything didn’t work till COVID came along, and all of a sudden, we had to do it.

LL: Members prefer in-person classes, yet they wanted more online classes. How do you make it so people get something out of an online class, like a hands-on class?

Mandlebaum: Jim [Hancock], the education director, along with the staff, has switched up some of the fundamentals of locksmithing. He’s teaching online, but there’s also a hands-on [part]. I had one kid come in one Saturday, and he had to do the hands-on to show me he could actually do the hands-on, and I could help him if he had trouble with it. [Hancock] is setting up a network of people. If students are in that area, they can actually mentor the student. So, members get the online [training], but if they have trouble with the online, somebody can actually help them to understand what’s going on.

LL: What’s the state of locksmithing today, and where do you see it in the next year or two?

Mandlebaum: We really need to get young people involved in it. Most of us are getting to be older. We’re dying off. A lot of the young kids don’t want to get into locksmithing. They don’t see it as a viable profession. I don’t know how we get around this thing and convince the kids that, yes, this is a viable profession. And, yes, you can make a lot of money if you work at it and work right at it.

LL: Does the big push by the security industry to go electronic bode well for bringing in younger people who are more familiar and comfortable with computers and phones?

Mandlebaum: I would say yes, because a lot of the manufacturers are offering classes in that. ALOA is starting to offer more classes in electronic stuff. Cars also have gotten huge, and the cars are heavy electronics now. It costs so much to get into automotive anymore, it’s almost like safes — it’s a specialty field.

LL: Speaking of automotive, what can you tell me about ALOA’s automotive push?

Mandlebaum: Jim [Hancock] is working right now on making an automotive division in ALOA. We’re supposed to have meetings on that by Zoom to get it off the ground. He was talking at the convention to us, and it looks like a very viable thing to be happening within the next year. It will be another division, just like SAVTA is a division of ALOA.

LL: You have two years as president for now. Where do you want ALOA to be in 2023?

Mandlebaum: In a heck of a lot better financial state than we are now. We’ve had three [convention cancellations]. This one looks pretty good. Hopefully, SAVTA next spring and ALOA in Vegas next year will be good. Vegas is always a good convention for us. People want to go to Vegas. They want to participate. Orlando has always been pretty good. So, it looks like what they’re going to do, at least for the next several years is go Vegas, Orlando, back and forth. That’s what we’ll try to do — try to stay with the good conventions that will actually make us money and get us back on our feet again.

LL: Do you have any final thoughts?

Mandlebaum: We have an extremely good board right now. They want to do the job. I’ve had a few people who got on just for the glory of it while I was on. None of the board members right now are in it for the glory. They’re in it to try to make ALOA better, and they’re working at it. So, I have a good bunch that I can work with. That will help me out.