Finding Your Niche

Feb. 23, 2022

It occurred to me the other day that I’ve spoken with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people in the security industry since I started at Locksmith Ledger a couple years ago. However, because of the pandemic, I literally have not met a single person in the industry face to face, except for the apprentice technician I spoke with at a Chicago locksmith company to prepare for my job interview.

That should change in another month when I finally hit my first scheduled trade show, but one of the people I’ve met virtually is Ed Woods.

Many of you know Woods from his automotive locksmithing classes at ALOA and other trade shows. He has a new role — president of ALOA’s new automotive division, the International Association of Automotive Locksmiths, or IAAL.

I spoke with Woods about that, and during our interview, he noted something peripheral to our primary topic:

“I'm getting paid more for doing a nonchip ’68 Chevy than I am for a 2005 Ford Explorer with a chip in it, by almost double,” he said. “Why? Because the guy knows that I can do that 1968 Chevy and not tear it up. Everybody and their brother can do that 2005 Explorer.”

Lest you believe that Woods eschews the transformative move to electronic security that has occurred in the automotive industry, the rest of the interview should disavow that. (For Woods’ treatise on electronics, along with his goals for the IAAL as well as the future of automotive locksmithing, check out the Automotive Locksmithing supplement, which comes with Locksmith Ledger’s May issue.)

It stands to reason that more 2005 Explorers remain on the road than 1968 Chevrolets, particularly as the average length of automobile ownership continues to increase, so, obviously, there’s money to be made in programming Explorer keys.

And Woods isn’t suggesting — nor am I — that you should look into working on antique automobiles necessarily as a way to make a living, unless you happen to land an automotive museum as a client. The point is, it’s important to try to find a niche that works in your market and helps your business to stand out from the competition. Woods’ niche is antique automobiles, but yours might well be biometric electronic access control or cannabis safes or forensics.

It doesn’t have to be anything exotic. It could be electrified exit device upgrades or SmartKey decoding or repair. Whatever you choose, learn all you can and hone your craft to be the best you can be and get the word out about your skills.

As Woods says, his customer knew he was a professional who could handle the job right. There’s no reason you can’t do the same, and when you do, make sure you charge accordingly. If I may quote Wayne Winton, another well-known locksmith whom I also haven’t met: “Do professional work and charge professional prices.” If you do something that’s unique in the market, you can charge just about whatever you want, and your customers will pay it for the service they can’t get otherwise.

Speaking of which, Locksmith Ledger has a pricing survey open, and we could use your help. We want to know what you charge for regular services, such as lockouts and installation, and then report averages to give locksmiths an idea of what to charge for THEIR professional services. We won’t release any individual data — names, addresses and the like. Find the National Price Survey here. 

Thanks for your help, and maybe we’ll finally meet soon.

—    Will Christensen