The one-year-old Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA) International Association of Automotive Locksmiths (IAAL) has big plans for this year. The group will hold its first-ever convention Sept. 14-16 in Kansas City, Mo. Locksmith Ledger spoke with members of this new group to find out more about the organization, its upcoming show and the state of automotive locksmithing in general.
How would you describe the first year?
Ed Woods, chairman of the board, ALOA IAAL: Promising, with great expectations – this September will tell.
The division is growing and news of this new convention in September is helping to create momentum and people are getting excited! We have received great feedback so far from attendees as well as interested vendors for the convention!
What are your goals for the next year?
Woods: Finish the first show and look for next year’s spot. We are looking at a few locations for the future of course, and have some good considerations, but we really want to focus on making the first event a huge success in Kansas City!
As far as the goals of the IAAL Division, I think the goal for ALOA would be to continue to grow the division by providing the members with educational opportunities, such as this convention will do and give our members support and information to help them to continue to expand their knowledge and strengthen their business.
Tell us about your upcoming convention. Will it include both a tradeshow and training?
Dawne Chandler, ALOA: There will be two days of educational automotive locksmithing classes ranging from Fundamentals for Classic Cars, EEPROM, Mechanical Keys/High-Security Locks/Remotes, Chips and Motorcycle Locks too. The expo will be one-and-a-half days of vendors and manufacturers having booths with education, too.
Woods: The Expo is really looking good with many vendors reaching out and interested. Education is the No. 1 priority. There will lots of high-end classes. We’ve had very encouraging input from some of the best instructors in the world.
The event will offer all-day classes on Sept. 14 and 15, then opening up the trade show floor Sept. 15 from 5 to 9 p.m., a trade show and kickoff party all in one. On Sept. 16, classes will run from 8 a.m. to noon and PRP testing will start at 7 a.m. The tradeshow floor will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. With this schedule, locksmiths will be able to take advantage of all the training and still visit the tradeshow floor. Eight classrooms are reserved, adjacent to the convention floor.
Though the educational lineup is still being finalized, Woods will be teaching a class involving servicing 1979s and 1980s GM steering columns. "This is stuff that I quit teaching 20 years ago. Now, we have a new generation of locksmiths who have never torn down a steering column on a 1976 Corvette, or other pricey classic cars that are restored and still on the road. “This younger generation can program a key for a 2019 Ford Escape in minutes, but put a 1975 El Camino in front of them and their first question is, ‘Where’s the Lishi?’ Lishi picks hadn’t been invented yet," Woods says.
Other more high-tech classes will focus on EEPROM, including sautering, which might not sound high-tech, but it is when you are working on chips the size of a postage stamp with as many as 64 legs that have to be desautered off the board to make new keys, Woods noted.
Motorcycle classes will include transponder programming and advanced motorcycle key generation.
The automotive industry needed its own convention, following the retirement of Jim Hetchler, the force behind the popular Just Cars automotive convention, now discontinued. Jim Hetchler did so much for the automotive industry. Now it’s an opportunity for ALOA to shine.
While education is the main target for this event, the show will also feature vendors with the latest products and services under one roof at the Kansas City Convention Center. The Loews Kansas City is on point as the host hotel adjacent to the convention center with a skywalk connecting the facilities for a quick walk between the two. The hotel and Center are downtown and close to Main Street and a wide selection of restaurants and bars and outdoor venues that are easily walkable or accessible by the free trolley for attendees to enjoy while at the Expo.
The IAAL offers a discounted group room rate at Loews for rooms booked by Wednesday, Aug. 23 at 5 p.m. Reservations can be secured by calling 877 748-1451 and using the group name “IAAL”.
On-Site Registration at the KC Convention Center will be:
- Thursday, Sept. 14, 7:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
- Friday, Sept. 15, 7:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
- Saturday, Sept. 16, 7:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Editor’s note: As we get closer to this event, Locksmith Ledger will add the class schedule and registration links.
What training are you doing besides at the convention? Are there certifications for automotive locksmiths?
Woods: There will be certifications offered like the CAL, Certified Automotive Locksmith and the CMAL, Certified Master Automotive Locksmith designations. We are also supporting classes at distributor shows.
Has membership grown? Who is eligible?
Woods: We are still in the growing stage for this division and have so far had 79 people sign up for the IAAL membership. The membership is for any locksmith in the industry who meets the requirements for membership with ALOA.
There are actually two membership options. ALOA members can add on an ALOA AAIL membership, or automotive locksmiths can join the automotive chapter.
How are you reaching all these automotive locksmiths? I notice your social media game is strong. Is that an effective tool for your organization?
Woods: Yes, we are working with Facebook and locksmith forums ClearStar and KeyPro. An IAAL Convention brochure will be mailed out to all ALOA members in the June Keynotes issue, which will be featuring the automotive locksmith.
As automotive becomes more specialized and high-tech, often requiring substantial investment in equipment, how do new locksmiths get into this field?
Woods: Spend wisely and market your services.
For more information about the ALOA International Association of Automotive Locksmiths, visit www.aloa.org.
State of the Automotive Industry
Woods was also kind enough to share his insights on the state of automotive locksmithing industry. He noted that it is challenging for locksmiths to get started in automotive because of the high costs of equipment needed to do their jobs.
Key machines can start at $3,000; programmers can range from $1,000 to $6,000 and nobody has just one programmer, he says. Then OEM key blanks, prox keys and remote head keys are pricy.
“It becomes very difficult to have a large inventory. A one-man operation may need $50,000 in inventory,” he estimates. “But it can also be very lucrative.”
Woods’ recommendations for new automotive locksmiths include taking advantage of all the training out there – via ALOA, manufacturer and distributor events. Banner Solutions, Hans Johnson, Southern Lock and Supply, American Key Supply and the Automotive Keys Group offer extensive training classes.
Woods tells an interesting story about how he got started in automotive. “In November 1997, I ran into my very first transponder that needed one of those fancy machines that only dealers had back then.”
His best client at that time was the Trump Casino in Gary, Ind., and he was called there multiple times a day when guests or valet parking attendants lost keys. The valet lost the key to a brand-new Lincoln, one of the first transponder-equipped vehicles. Woods made a new mechanical key, but of course it would not start the car. The car had to be towed to the dealer, who programmed the key.
Nobody had a dealer diagnostic tool at that time. But Woods had to find one or lose his best customer. The casino insisted that lost keys be replaced on site. He spent $4,300 on an early model programmer and says it was paid for in less than a year.
Today, Woods is the in-house locksmith for Hard Rock Casino in Gary, Ind.
His other advice for new locksmiths is to focus on marketing. Many consumers have no idea that locksmiths can perform the same services as dealers, usually at a lower price point and often at the customer’s location.
“A very big part of automotive locksmithing is educating our customers that we do much more than open cars with a Slim Jim,” Woods said.
Dealership work is also a market for auto locksmiths. Often the dealerships don’t want to invest their time and money in equipment and are happy to hire the local automotive locksmith to do that work, he added.
When asked if auto lockout calls are still lucrative, Woods responded with a resounding no.
But that doesn’t mean car keys are going away anytime soon. “That is at least 10 to 15 years away, maybe not as much mechanical but keys are going to be around.”
Security remains a concern, he explained, noting that the top three vehicles for car theft all are keyless – Hyundai and Kia models, followed by Jeep Chargers and Challengers. Chryslers are easier to steal because they are push-start and there’s no mechanical lock.