Roundtable: The Future Is Bright & Electronic

Nov. 3, 2022
Supply-chain issues have pushed locksmiths to diversify and become more adaptable.

It’s been nearly three years since the word “COVID” became a regular part of our lexicon.

In 2022, even though the pandemic itself for the most part plays out in the shadows of the general public’s attention, its effects continue to be felt and remain squarely in the spotlight through supply-chain problems that have forced up prices everywhere.

It’s in this backdrop that Locksmith Ledger recently discussed where the security industry stands as we wind up 2022 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 ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions Americas; Alex Housten, president of dormakaba Americas; Beau Edelen, vice president of locking solutions for Wesco International; 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).

Q: With COVID still present but fading from public concern, it seems supply issues became the big story in the security market in 2022. How much has the breakdown of the supply chain affected the industry, and when do believe that the situation will be resolved?

Joseph Kingma: No industry has been immune to the pressures of the post-COVID supply-chain challenges, although many organizations have been able to navigate around them to varying degrees. The security industry is no exception, with challenges that range from slow availability of raw materials, components, shipping delays and ongoing cost challenges. These have resulted in larger-than-normal backlogs at every step of the manufacturing, distribution and installation process. This has resulted in extended project timing and, in some cases, product trade-offs where timing has been critical.

Although many electronic components remain in short supply, many of the other issues are less extreme than last year. However, the supply chain remains fragile at best, with unanticipated “flare-ups” occurring throughout. Many manufacturers are being forced to redesign products or identify alternate components to be more responsive to these supply-chain issues.

I believe we will continue to see these throughout the coming years based on ongoing and emerging political, economic and social uncertainty globally. Manufacturers will continue to refine their products and supply-chain skills to offset these challenges, which might provide some relief.

Alex Housten: The external headwinds affecting the global economy are evident. Simply pick up a newspaper or turn on the news. There’s no shortage of information about the macroeconomic trends and conditions that affect the industrial base of the world. The security industry is part of that. The operating environment is challenging, with supply-chain and labor shortages, freight delays and scarcity of critical electronic components, just to name a few.

At dormakaba, we’re fortunate to have an incredible team, not only here in the Americas but across the globe, who have come together to help us to navigate this difficult environment. So far, we have been successful. We invested in additional finished-goods inventories and raw-materials stocks to protect our customers from experiencing extreme delays in deliveries.

And we’re focused on continuous improvement in the management of our supply chain. Our customers put their trust in us to deliver, but they also understand that sometimes we must make recommitments, and when we do, they know that our team works diligently to pull orders back in. We don’t have a crystal ball, but we continue to monitor for potential risks and carefully manage mitigation plans to adapt to changes in real time.

John Truempy: Supply-chain problems have been odd but a real problem. I think it hit the electronics end much harder than the nonelectronic side. I waited more than nine months for some electronic products, but for products such as cores, keys and locks, I also had more options. You just can use a different finish to get a job done and then go back and change it later after the right product arrives.

I hope this will be a learning moment for the industry. On-demand manufacturing might save money, but it also might lose you a job to a competitor.

Q: What does today’s locksmith have to do to put themselves in a good place in this market, today and in the future?

Kingma: At the macro level, locksmiths must offer even more-comprehensive security advice and products than ever to meet increasing security demands. I believe we will see new collaboration between companies just to expand geographic and intellectual reach. This increased scope will require more focus on product training and required certifications, which will become more difficult in the current labor market, where many struggle to maintain adequate staffing. More-creative HR policies and compensation plans likely will be required to offset this labor challenge, which might strain the status quo of historic business practices.

Although this sounds daunting, locksmiths might consider outside management or human resources consulting firms for new perspective and fresh ideas to assist, because the human resource already is emerging as the greatest constraint to growth.

At a micro level, I maintain what I have offered for many years: Our customers have a choice and now are 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.

They have to work hard to understand the problem, help customers to understand what options are available and the trade-offs and help them to make the right decision for their business. This doesn’t necessarily mean giving the customer exactly what they’ve asked for.

Then, service must be exceptional. Professional appearance, interactions and installation results are a must. In this hypercompetitive market, even the smallest details matter.

Housten: There’s a tremendous opportunity for today’s locksmith to position themselves as a valued partner by providing professional assistance to help customers to determine and employ new ways to make facilities safer and healthier. This can create a consultative and recurring service revenue opportunity for the locksmith industry. We can summarize that in three areas:

  • Provide professional assessments. Conduct a professional assessment with access solutions supplier experts and building operators to identify a comprehensive, scalable upgrade plan that includes low-hanging fruit and investment-level options.
  • Choose the right solutions. Choose suppliers who provide true turnkey firmware, hardware, software and training, including how the locksmith can work with customers to make sure the system performs as expected. These providers should be consultative partners who work directly with locksmiths on each project from start to finish.
  • Invest in training. It’s easy to fall back on existing solutions, but today’s competitive marketplace demands that security pros stay up to date on the latest advances to be the best they can be. Much of this training is free or offered on scholarship. Manufacturers provide a variety of in-person and digital training programs. In addition, tech updates from manufacturers, trade media, trade events and trade memberships can help locksmiths to become security service providers of choice today and tomorrow. 

Beau Edelen: Diversify or specialize. Locksmiths today offer far more solutions than they did 10 years ago, and that’s a good thing. Most commercial locksmiths offer multiple technologies to their clients, such as EAC, video surveillance, doors and frames, and some have gotten into automation. The days of focusing purely on mechanical hardware and keys might be coming to an end.

Conversely, a lot of locksmiths find great success in specialization. Learn something, get really good at it and provide that service to a wide market. We’re seeing this in safes and particularly automotive locksmithing, where the technology moves quickly.

Another form of specialization could be focusing on a vertical market or customer type. We have customers who focus solely on multifamily housing solutions, government work or national accounts. Find a sweet spot and lean into it.

Truempy: In general, locksmithing is in a great place. When the economy is down, crime goes up. That leads to more demand for security. All we have to do as an industry is to not sell a product but sell security. You can’t watch the local news and not want more security, so the sales pitch is made before the public talks to us.

Q: What product segment or segments had the biggest effect on the industry in 2022, and will those continue to affect the industry?

Kingma: We continue to see a shift toward more use of electronic locking and monitoring products further within a facility as the necessity for accountability increases and the costs to implement come down. This, in many cases, replaces the historical reliance on mechanical key systems for day-to-day access — although care should be given to ensure an adequate key system for override — and enhances a manager’s access to actionable data for better security and accountability.

For end users, this change gives them more control over access rights and increased flexibility to change the same quickly. For channel partners, this accelerates the demand for highly trained or certified employees while adding reputational risk to those who aren’t able to keep up.

Housten: The demand for technology integrations and partnerships to create smart spaces has come to the forefront of our industry and will continue to accelerate. Access solutions are the necessary core of today’s intelligent buildings across all verticals. Efforts to enhance safety, security, efficiency, use and convenience generally rely on the fundamentals of access solutions to determine who goes where, when they enter and exit, and how they move from space to space. The pace of mobile adoption is helping to drive this trend as people demand more control of their everyday living and working environment from their phones.

We’ve seen significant growth in adopting a mobile experience in the hotel industry. Before the pandemic, hotels were much slower to cycle out their locks, and many existing locks weren’t mobile-compatible. Today, it’s pretty much a guest requirement that a hotel will have a mobile solution. As a result, hotels continue to rush to bring a mobile experience to the door.

Edelen: We have seen an uptick in locksmiths embracing low-voltage security solutions, including video surveillance and electronic access control, as well as automatic door operators. With touchless access becoming an expectation of the consumer and building owner, we believe this trend isn’t likely to slow.

Another trend we’ve noticed this year surrounds key management. This might stem from the COVID-19 shutdowns across the country in 2020, but it seems that end customers are becoming more aware of the importance of key management, key storage and mechanical-key replacement with electronic solutions in some cases.

Truempy: The biggest segment is people. There’s a lack of people in general, and quality people are even more difficult to find. You can’t do a job if you can’t staff it. You can’t upsell the security if you can’t handle the job at a lower level. It isn’t just our industry with “Help Wanted” signs all over, but we have to have certain types of people. That makes it even more difficult.

So it isn’t a segment, such as electronics or patented keys, that will be the leader. It will be the people, or lack of, that will have a big effect.

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

Kingma: The integration of security devices will continue to accelerate toward a single user interface for more seamless security coverage. End users no longer will have disparate systems in which to work; rather, they likely will manage an entire security “ecosystem” from a single portal.

I believe system management of electronic and mechanical systems will merge and be seamless, with more focus on the credential-holder as the system nucleus instead of the credential or the opening. This will require more behind-the-scenes complexity in installation and troubleshooting, so it will force locksmiths to keep up.

Housten: 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.

Professional 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 electromechanical door hardware that works in conjunction with these systems. They will have to invest in personalized training to maximize expertise and advance career opportunities.

Edelen: Locksmithing is an industry that has many seasoned professionals in or nearing retirement age, so change is inevitable. Locksmithing won’t go away, and neither will mechanical keys and hardware, but there’s a megatrend toward electronic and automated solutions.

I see the progressive locksmith essentially as a security integrator who can provide more through their mechanical expertise. I also see a real blurring of the lines between locksmiths and integrators. Locksmiths are positioned uniquely to capture that electronic security spend, keep and grow their core mechanical offering and add in new technologies as it makes sense for their markets. This could be a renaissance in the industry, but only if locksmiths are willing to evolve, learn and take chances. We’re here to help!

Truempy: Five years from now, we will be booming. An old name from the Ledger — Bill Reed — once showed me a chart, and it was the economy on one line and industry sales on another. They followed the same pattern, but the sales line was delayed in time.

Because the economy isn’t going to just become great tomorrow, we have good years ahead. That was 20-plus years ago when he showed it to me, and I have witnessed it over and over: 2008 happened, and it’s happening now.

About the Author

Will Christensen | Senior Editor

Will Christensen is senior editor at Locksmith Ledger International. He has been an editor and reporter at magazines and newspapers for more than 30 years.