State of the Industry 2021 Roundtable: Security Industry Still Evolving

Nov. 2, 2021
The COVID-19 crisis continues to force locksmiths and their business partners to adapt to changing technology and business demands to survive.

As it has with other market segments, the past 20 months has had significant effects on the security and locksmith industries. The tenacity of the COVID-19 virus has altered business patterns, the concept of our workforce, how organizations view technology implementation and what the role of a security pro will be as the landscape continues to evolve.

We recently discussed the changing dynamics of the security business and how locksmiths can navigate their future course with top players in the industry.

Our panel includes Joseph Kingma, general manager of Medeco Security Locks and ASSA, which are part of the Access and Egress Group of ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions Americas; Ben Smith, vice president and general manager of marketing and e-commerce for Banner Solutions; Ron Virden, senior vice president of Entrance Systems and Interior Glass at dormakaba Americas; and John Truempy, ICML, CRL, LSFDI, CMIL, IFDI, CFL, who is employed at the University of Pennsylvania, where he’s been a locksmith since 1992. Truempy also is the first president of the ALOA SPAI division, ALOA Institutional Locksmiths (AIL).

Locksmith Ledger: COVID continues to be a major story in 2021. How has the pandemic affected the security industry, and how much will it continue to affect the industry in the years ahead?

Joseph Kingma: COVID-19 undoubtedly has put a pause on certain aspects of the industry, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic when installing dealers weren’t allowed into their customers’ businesses. Although this was difficult for many businesses, we now are seeing that return to normal and even a little stronger than historical “normal.”

One of the more significant and, hopefully, long-term effects that the pandemic has had on the security industry is that it prompted us to consider our part in ensuring “healthy” interactions with door hardware. Whether that’s a bigger focus on touchless openings or thinking through how we handle credentials, we are more aware than ever of how we contribute to the overall health of a facility and its inhabitants.

Even as the virus levels get back down to a more manageable point and businesses bounce back, that mindset will continue. Being more thoughtful about our role in ensuring the health and well-being of building occupants is a shift that I hope continues well beyond the pandemic.

Ben Smith: Obviously, there was the financial effect of not being able to service the customers because of limited access. But much larger than that, the pandemic has altered the way end users, businesses and building owners think about the safety of the individuals who enter their spaces.

Beyond simply surface treatment and low-touch or no-touch products, the focus has shifted toward controlling environmental risks within a space — managing the flow of visitors and mitigating unnecessary touchpoints to reassure the visitor of their safety. This has long-term implications on the design of buildings and their openings.

Ron Virden: Access control technology, the foundation for security and convenience, offers flexible solutions to enhance hygiene and public safety without sacrificing security or efficiency.

The integration of touch-free and mobile access control solutions has emerged as a key driver to address immediate demands and set the stage for future updates. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, infection mitigation became correlated strongly with minimizing physical touch points as people traveled into and throughout nearly every building type. Adapting openings to touch-free operation became a priority in creating safe building and specialty venue environments.

In some instances, demands have expanded beyond touch-free operation to include methods to evaluate whether someone is potentially unsuitable for entry because of an elevated skin temperature or to limit access based on the current occupancy count of a given space. Touch-free openings will remain an important consideration as we transition through the COVID pandemic and surmount more complexities, particularly as demand grows for systems that execute daily operational requirements without the necessity for physical intervention.

John Truempy: As some say, this is the “new normal,” but nothing is ever normal in a pandemic, disaster or raised security level, and little is actually new. Locksmithing is and always will be necessary — just the jobs will change a bit.

I might have a different view as an institutional locksmith, but I have been disinfecting and wearing a mask and gloves my entire career. Granted, wearing them in office spaces and not just laboratories isn’t huge, but it’s different. The Delta variant might be on the news constantly, but Lambda and Mu are words I’m hearing in keying meetings and not in reference to frats and sororities. Sadly, viruses adapt and evolve to survive. Our industry will do the same, but it might do so kicking and screaming at times.

LL: What does today’s locksmith have to do to put themselves in a good place in this market?

Kingma: Today’s locksmiths have to realize that customers have a choice. They’re armed with more information from online sources, with varying degrees of accuracy, than at any other point in history. As a result, today’s locksmiths have to provide accurate and objective counsel on the problem that the customer is trying to solve. Help customers to understand what options are available and the trade-offs, and they help them to make the right decision for their business. This doesn’t necessarily mean giving the customer exactly what they asked for.

To provide a high level of service, it’s critical to maintain comprehensive knowledge of the products and services available by staying up to date on training. It also is important to consider what certifications are most important for your market and do the necessary research to be sure that they’re credible and add value — and that your technicians deliver on that value.

Smith: The best locksmiths and security pros rarely encounter a problem they can’t solve. Simply being aware of the product solutions that are out in the market positions the locksmith as a trusted guide to their customers in solving the security and safety challenges presented by this pandemic.

Manufacturers are looking at new ways to address these challenges through products. Some will find new ways to use existing products and, in other cases, design products that uniquely meet the demands brought about by the pandemic. It’s critical that the locksmith knows what solutions are out there or has a partner who can direct their attention to these unique solutions.

Virden: People are likely to frequent facilities where they feel that health is paramount and steps to maintain a healthy environment are evident. Modern access solutions can make the physical structure of buildings more secure, hygienic and versatile.

There’s a tremendous opportunity for the locksmith industry to build deeper relationships with customers by providing professional assistance in determining and employing new ways to make facilities safer and healthier. This can create a new consultative and recurring-service revenue opportunity for the locksmith industry.

A professional assessment conducted by an access solutions expert and building operators will help to identify a comprehensive, scalable upgrade plan. In addition, locksmiths should invest in training provided by manufacturers and trade associations — much of it free or on scholarship — to stay abreast of the latest technologies, best practices and regulations, so they’re well-positioned to fill their new roles.

Truempy: Embrace the change or even the buzzwords. We spent a year and a half changing all kinds of spaces into private offices that never were before so people can take off their masks. Touchless is talked about more now than gender-neutral was in project reviews of the 2010s. I still remember when it was ADA, then bollards and building setbacks for terrorism risk. Then classroom security function locks were the topics. Now, these things are done without talking about it. If I were selling this stuff and not just ordering it, my bottom line would be going up, as it did when changing from knobs to levers in the 1980s. Know the products available and sell or, in my case, spec the heck out of them to solve the newest world problems.

LL: What product segment or segments had the biggest effect on the industry in 2021, and will those continue to affect the industry?

Kingma: The shift to electronics, specifically with touchless, has allowed security pros to intermingle with the demands of healthcare professionals, which I find quite fascinating. I believe these segments will continue to affect the industry, not necessarily because of the pandemic but because they’re foundational to a restriction-free opening. So, although touchless became prominent for one reason, it will persist for another. The less people have to do to interact with an opening before it allows or denies them access, the better.

This is similar to the trends we’ve seen with more-sophisticated smart homes, where technology requires less interaction. For example, when the home-automation system knows the homeowner is nearby, it sets the lighting and temperature accordingly. To the degree that that technology allows, I believe we will see this more in commercial buildings. And although it’s less sophisticated, I believe we will see the same with openings that continue to rely on mechanical or intelligent key systems. The simplification of key management and all of the related functions will further streamline interactions with the opening.

Smith: Hands-free, no-touch or low-touch and antimicrobial products were clearly the most talked about over this past year, and these products certainly have their place in making existing openings safer to interact with. A movement toward controlling a building’s environmental factors will influence the design of buildings and their individual openings. Access management, served by electronic products, will continue to become more prevalent and in increasingly smaller scenarios. That trend, in particular, will continue to affect the industry.

Virden: There’s no question that touch-free and mobile access products will remain top of mind and are poised for continued growth. Their importance to our industry is well-documented. Two additional growth areas that might be lesser known are interior glass systems and optical turnstiles and swing lanes.

Demountable interior glass wall systems give building owners and property managers the ability to move or reconfigure office or conference room space to meet the demands of the occupants. Glass is a hygienic solution for space division without sacrificing collaboration. Finally, glass systems can keep conversation private from surrounding spaces.

Modern optical turnstiles and swing lanes are ideal to manage people flow. They can handle lobby security, capacity counts and elevator control in buildings and specialty venues, such as stadiums, amusement parks and entertainment complexes. Turnstiles provide real-time occupancy data. When tied to access control, turnstiles create alerts for safe threshold numbers. They also can be integrated with temperature and mask scanning.

John Truempy: This answer likely hasn’t changed in the past 25 years when I have been asked this question: It’s electronics. It’s been a long time since new electronic lock products have been interesting enough to even visit the website. However, now that a few of the big players are coming out with openers that aren’t much larger than a normal door closer, I’m not only visiting the website, but also calling my factory representatives to get a “try me.”

Over 25 years ago, I was hired because of my electronic training but was told they expected to replace my shop someday, because access control would take over. Instead, my shop has gotten bigger. We now carry batteries, and I put my guys through meter training. I remember the day I was told that batteries were now a line item in the budget. Interestingly, that mainly came about through the plumbers and flushometers, but I knew my shop was using more batteries, too. It was just yesterday I sent an email about RFID locker locks.

LL: What’s your view of the security industry five years from now? How does the locksmith fit into that vision?

Kingma: The locksmith still will have a fundamental role in the security industry five years from now. No matter how sophisticated an opening gets and whether the locksmith chooses to participate in the sophistication of the opening, there still is a demand to install products in a professional way and to gather the demands of customers in a smart way. Locksmiths are well-poised to do this.

My advice is to stay as far on the front edge of the sophistication as you can at whatever scale makes sense for your business. By taking advantage of the right educational opportunities, staying relevant for the times and helping your customers make informed decisions, you will remain integral to the future of the industry. Rather than just giving customers what they think they want, really dig into the problem they’re trying to solve and help them to make an informed and objective decision. Assume that your customers are considering other options, and look for ways to set yourself apart from your competition by providing credible expert advice. 

As manufacturers adjust to the “Amazon-ification” of the world, we’re under more pressure to provide better service than ever, which is good. We’re thrilled to live up to those expectations. As a locksmith, you’re under similar pressures. It’s important to look at your business and see how you can provide the best service in your market. This might include adjusting inventory levels or increasing the caliber of your service professionals and the training they receive. Act with and on purpose to create your own space within the market.

Smith: Even the most ambitious electronic access control companies aren’t fooled into thinking that mechanical security, and by that, I mean traditional locks, keys and key systems, are going to disappear anytime soon. But the shift toward access control will continue to take shape. Locksmiths, particularly the technology-adopting locksmiths, will have the opportunity to guide their customers to the best, right solutions, mechanical or electronic. Knowing when and where electronic access has its place and when and where it doesn’t will be critical, and the locksmith will be in a great position to assist customers in determining the right products to solve the problem.

Virden: Five years from now, the security industry will be even more digitally and mobile dependent, but mechanical locks will remain in use, particularly in legacy installations that might  not have the budget or security impetus to change.

Locksmiths are problem-solvers who rely on detective skills and a vast encyclopedia of personal knowledge. Their job is to keep doors in working order. There always will be a demand for locksmiths, but for the industry to grow and locksmiths to be seen as the security pros they are, they’ll have to adapt to a changing marketplace. This includes going beyond the norms of working with mechanical hardware, electronic access control, alarms and video systems. It now includes low-energy operators, touch-free access devices and the electromechanical door hardware that works in conjunction with these systems. They’ll have to invest in personalized training to maximize expertise and career advancement.

Truempy: Personally, in five years, I hope my view is from home collecting a pension and reading Ledger for pleasure. In reality though, five years is the blink of an eye in our industry. There is one keying system in weekly use in my shop that’s 52 years old. I’m fairly sure that the same keying system still will be in use five years from now. I’m training my replacement, who will have 30 years on the job by the time he’s ready to hand it over to his replacement.

The guy running the shop before me was there for about 30 years, and he replaced a guy who started the shop years before I was born. I still read notes written by that first guy. My replacement still will use the gauge stamped with the initials of that first guy. My point is, yes, the industry will change. People might unlock a door through a technology we haven’t heard of yet, but, at the same time somewhere, there will be someone locked out, or wanting to lock something, or wanting to lock someone out. And five years, 10 years or even longer from now, a locksmith who has a key will show up and save the day.