Florida Locksmith Sees Shift From Mechanical to Electronic Locks

June 4, 2012
"The last five to seven years have evolved at a pace I once thought would take 10 to 20 years," says Michael Adams

June 04--HAINES CITY -- Michael Adams had various job experiences before choosing a career in locksmithing at the relatively late age of 38.

The list included carpentry, electrician, home remodeling, roofing, chef and picking and hauling citrus fruit.

Summarizing each venture, Adams, 58, noted, "I quickly concluded I didn't want to do that for the rest of my life" -- with particular force after discussing his roofing experience.

After discovering locksmithing and opening his business, Adams Quality Lock & Key, in 1993, Adams came to the opposite conclusion.

"Within that first year, I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life," he said. "I like that almost everything we do has to be done today. That gives me a lot of job satisfaction. I'm also helping people."

The locksmithing industry encompasses a diversity of businesses, said Mary May, acting executive director of the Associated Locksmiths of America Inc. The Dallas-based trade group has about 6,500 members, including Adams.

Locksmith businesses include, she said, those who sell, install and repair mechanical locks on homes and businesses and aid people who've lost their keys to get into a building or car; installers and technicians of electronic locks and alarm systems; security consultants; and any combination of the above.

Adams Lock & Key most closely fits the first category, although it also sells and installs electronic systems and safes. A recently published Associated Locksmiths study shows 38 percent of businesses are solo operations like Adams and about two-thirds have four or fewer employees.

"I'll be the first to admit it's kind of strange how I got into this business," Adams said.

After trying a variety of jobs, Adams landed at Disney World, first as a chef and later in maintenance.

"I realized there was no real money (there) unless you got real high up," he said.

Adams had done some work for a locksmith in his native Kissimmee, and he found a job with Precision Safe & Lock in Winter Haven, he said. He learned the job there.

Adams opened his business almost 20 years ago as a strictly mobile operation, workinHg out of his van, he said. That's still the case for 33 percent of locksmiths, the association survey says.

After five years, Adams moved into its current location at 4 N. Fourth St. in Haines City.

Adams Lock & Key was profitable from its first year, the owner said. As recently as five years ago, annual income exceeded $100,000.

Since 2008, annual income has fallen by half, he said.

The biggest change in the industry during his career has been the move away from mechanical to electronic locks, he said. Cars made in recent years won't start without a key containing an imbedded microchip.

That transition has been particularly rapid in recent years, Adams said.

"The last five to seven years have evolved at a pace I once thought would take 10 to 20 years," he said.

[ Kevin Bouffard can be reached at [email protected] or at 863-422-6800. ]

Copyright 2012 - The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla.