Saying Goodbye to the Lock Industry

April 24, 2023

I have decided to call it quits in 2023 after working 45 years for SHDA distributor IDN Hardware Sales (formerly Hardware Sales and Supply Co from Detroit, Mich..) Since 2007, I have written many essays for the Locksmith Ledger about locksmiths, SHDA, and the lock industry. In 2012, two years before the death of my father, I wrote, “Time has a funny way of bringing you down to earth. (‘From Generation to Generation,’ April 2012) I turned 55 this year and suddenly realized I have been working full time for the same locksmith distributor for 33 years, and even more if you count when my dad brought me, as a small child, to his work to ‘help him.’ I am one of many in the locksmith industry who worked for their fathers and lived through the turbulent changes of the last few decades.”

That was 11 years ago and now, I enter my 45th year working full time for the same lock and security distributor. Today, I face the recognition and understanding that it’s time for me to retire and give up my home in IDN, SHDA, and the lock industry. For me, this decision is both timely and bittersweet because my company and this industry have been my second home for most of my life.

How did it all start? I can barely remember the details of the story that was told to me, one I repeated years later of my dad (Milt Goldman) driving me when I was three to Hardware Sales and Supply on Cass Avenue in downtown Detroit. What could a little kid even do for a company? I followed directions from his marketing man to walk around the room, handing him a page at a time so it could be stitched together into one binder. I gave him each page so he could hand-collate and glue all of them together into a printed catalog. Marketing in the 60s was not what it is today.

Over the years, I worked a little bit on and off for my dad as he was the general manager of Hardware Sales and bought into the company three years after the owner, Joe Falk, died suddenly of a heart attack in 1974. After I graduated from Detroit’s Wayne State University in the fall of 1979, I started working full time for Hardware Sales. I remember putting up stock of boxes of Dominion, Taylor and Ilco key blanks, picking orders, line by line, that were called in by locksmiths. There were no computers then but we had a busy customer counter and phones with long extension cords.

Hardware Sales and Supply, now IDN-Hardware Sales, a division of IDN Global, has been in existence since 1925. Originally a branch of the Independent Lock Company (later to be known as Ilco Unican, then Kaba Ilco, now owned by dormakaba), Hardware Sales and Supply became an IDN company in 1977 and my father became its president. He remained president of Hardware Sales from 1977-1993 as its headquarters moved from Detroit to Madison Heights to Livonia, Mich., where it currently resides. I took over as president of IDN-Hardware Sales in October of 1994.

I have witnessed so many changes in the industry throughout my career. When I started, SHDA was NLSA, the National Locksmith Supplier Association, and our company stocked and sold mostly door locks, deadbolts, key blanks, safes, and basic locksmith tools and supplies. When I started, we didn’t sell lots of door hardware such as door closers and panic devices. Today, much of our business is in doors, door hardware, and electronic access control.

I am one of many leaving the business this year. Sales representatives and SHDA executives, as well as many locksmiths are calling it quits. One of my favorite customers who recently closed his shop and retired is Jim Mowry, founder of Aaron’s Lock and Key in Madison Heights. Jim began as a mechanic and in 1975, bought a Mac Tool Truck and turned it into a locksmith service truck and took out the name Aaron’s Lock and Key and a phone number. His first big job, according to Jim, was cutting code keys with a used Jensen Lockcraft key machine he bought from my dad. With the money he made, he went to his first ALOA Convention in Washington D.C. in 1977 and one of the first men he met there was Mr. Jensen, inventor of his first key machine.

I asked Jim about the changes he’s seen in the industry. He mentioned the evolution from mechanical to electronic locks, the many mergers of manufacturers and suppliers and the growth of locksmith associations, which virtually stopped with the spread of immediate information on Google. He believes that social media has been bad for the industry, that marketing locksmithing went from the “Yellow Pages Monopoly to the Google Monopoly.” He told me that most locksmiths don’t want storefronts and would rather be mobile, and that it is much harder today to find employees and pay comparable wages to compete with larger companies. Lastly, he equated locksmiths to farmers. “Locksmiths and farmers let others dictate their pricing … Even though I charged more than others, I never thought it was enough.”

Over the years, I wrote a lot about the lock industry and locksmith customers like Jim. In 2007, I wrote, “It’s hard to be a truly small company in a world of ever-changing massive companies buying out other massive companies. And locksmiths don’t have the luxury of being in the cutting-edge economy. They aren’t small, electronic-oriented internet companies who can sell out for millions because they have the newest, most innovative products. Aren’t we the oldest, most traditional, un-Google-like companies in the world?” (“In a World of Merger Madness,” December 2007)

I have written in a number of issues, the first in April 2008, about why locksmiths should buy from SHDA distributors. “It is difficult to survive,” I wrote (‘Why Buy from an SHDA Distributor?’ December 2008) “and thrive for both the locksmith dealer and the locksmith distributor. Yet, for both to survive and grow, they need to work together. They simply need each other.”

I often wrote of ways that locksmiths could improve their businesses. “Forget the economy when you’re working,” I wrote when the economy was very weak (‘”A Locksmith Survival Guide,” April 2009). “Focus instead on the little things that you can do to improve your customer service and lower your costs.” In 2013, I wrote, “Focus on getting repeat business by putting yourself in your customer’s shows and see things from his perspective. (‘The Year of the Locksmith?’ April 2013). Plug the holes that your competitors missed with new offerings, unique solutions, or readapt existing products or services to customers’ needs. Show him that you possess the knowledge and insights to be the logical choice for his security requirements.”

I have written for years about the struggles of being a locksmith, a small businessman competing against large conglomerates, against scammers, against the daily grind and more. “Today’s locksmiths face an uphill battle against shady competitors (‘How to stop a Fraudulent Scam,’ April 2009) with deep pockets and internet search engines.” I wrote about competing on the internet (“Can Your Business Compete on the Web?” April 2020). The next year, I featured locksmiths who were able to survive during Covid-19 (“How Covid-19 Changed the Locksmith,” April 2021). “Think about your business as if you are a brand-new customer,” I mentioned. “Do you walk into your storefront or look at your locksmith van the way a new customer might?”

My father was a big believer that for locksmiths to be successful, they had to dress professionally and have a professional truck or storefront. In “A Simple Message,” April 2008, I wrote what my dad taught me that “the professional locksmith has to believe in what he sells. The locksmith has to show his customer why the professional’s products and services are better than the products sold at the hardware store, lumber yard, or any general merchant.” My father and I often disagreed with each other but we believed in many of the same focused efforts for locksmiths to become and stay successful.

I owe my professional career in wholesale distribution to my father. He hired me and let me work full time after I graduated from Wayne State University. I don’t know if he actually believed that I, as a young 22-year-old with an LSA major, would be successful or take over for him but he gave me the chance and I lasted. My youngest brother, Kenny, was more gregarious than me and had a keen eye for business, already selling and buying sports cards when he was 11 years old. I believed then and now that Kenny was inherently a better businessman than me.

None of the speculation about my brother’s future mattered when, only a few months after my father and I attended the 1982 NLSA convention, he drove his youngest son, Kenny, to a Detroit Tigers-Chicago White Sox game. On the way home from the game, another car slammed into my father’s car, a half mile from home. My dad was badly injured but survived. My little 13-year-old brother tragically died after midnight on July 21, 1982, and I had to tell my dad in his hospital bed the terrible news.

Burying a child puts all business and career issues into full perspective. After the horrific accident, the worst night in our family’s history, my dad and I managed to survive as well as we could together and understand that family always comes before work. Over all of the years working together at IDN Hardware Sales, we realized that the extended community of our company, locksmiths, IDN, distributors, and manufacturers were like a second family to both of us.

There have been many mentors and leaders in the industry that I learned from, respected, and admired. In April 2011, I wrote “Legends of the Lock Industry,” about “eight important, visionary people, men who exemplified what it means to be humble, friendly, and smart. Those eight legends were good bosses, loving fathers, and tremendous friends” and all had passed away within the previous year. Among those legends of SHDA, I admired Jerry Hoffman, founder and owner of HPC, which in its heyday was one of the finest manufacturers of locksmith tools. But I learned the most from Jerry’s older brother, Al Hoffman, who took over for his dad in running the H. Hoffman Company and later, founded IDN along with Virl Mullins. My father became partners with Al in 1977 and eventually Al and his family took over majority ownership of IDN.

I owe what I have learned in my 45 years of business to my dad and to Al, who were so different and yet were both good partners and mentors. I will never forget the business and life lessons of Al, who believed that you could be profitable in business while maintaining honesty and integrity. Yet, in my opinion, Al’s greatest asset was how well he worked with others, always with respect, humor, and decency. I owe so much to Al, my father, and all the others at IDN Hardware Sales, IDN, and SHDA.

I want to thank the entire lock and security community that I worked with over the years, including locksmiths, distributors, and suppliers. It’s only now that I realize that I was given a gift to have such a long career with one company in the lock industry. My work life, rewarding and meaningful, has been a great ride but like all rides, they eventually have to end.

Now it’s time to focus on giving the rest of my life to my wife, three children (our youngest the last to get married this October, 2023) and five grandchildren, including a newborn grandson. I also hope to write a lot more in my “spare time” and travel much more than I have.

Too many people in our industry are retiring, closing their businesses, or dying, a worrisome sign for the future of the lock and door hardware industry. Yet, I remain hopeful that the next chapter of locksmiths, the lock industry, SHDA, and IDN will continue to remain prosperous and profitable and long-lasting, many years after I’m gone.

Arnie Goldman is president of IDN-Hardware Sales, a division of IDN Global, and an SHDA member.