30 Under 30: Jeff Styer

As part of Locksmith Ledger’s 30 Under 30 series of interviews with 30 young locksmiths, I approached Jeffrey Styer about answering some questions about the world of locksmithing. Jeff is a very friendly and personable guy who made a point to show me his championship football ring while in his home.

Styer works for DMD Locksmithing in southern New Jersey. Following are the Ledger’s questions and Styer’s answers.

How old are you, Jeff?

I just turned 26 last week.

Do you consider yourself a locksmith?

Now I do actually. When I first started, I was working in the bank industry and there were four things I did. 99.9% of my day was eat,sleep and work at the bank. I never did any kind of residential or commercial work outside of what I did for the bank.

How did you get started with them?

My current employer, Justin, worked for them and they brought me on to help cover Pennsylvania and Delaware. I got all my knowledge on the job. The guys I work with joke around about me not being a real locksmith until I’m working out in the real world. During the past two years I’ve gotten exposure to the world of locksmithing outside of the bank. Lots of both commercial and residential; lots of old hardware, panic bars, everything you can think of as a real locksmith.

What’s been the biggest challenge for you as a real locksmith?

With the bank, there were maybe four different products we worked on. My biggest challenge since then has to do with hardware I haven’t seen before. In the real world you’ll find stuff from the 70s that they don’t even make any more. It’s the different products and how they work and how to repair them that’s the biggest challenge.

So you’re saying that most of what you learn now is on the job as you see hardware and situations you haven’t seen before, right?

Yes, there’s no way you could read a book that says today you’re going to run into an old Segal jimmy proof with one way screws. Here in South Jersey, you’ll run into that stuff all the time. Coming from the bank environment, you run into that stuff and you’re thinking “what the heck is this?”

Growing up were you mechanically inclined; did you enjoy working with your hands?

I didn’t do too much but had some hobbies. I used to like the Legos, etc, but wasn’t one of those guys in the basement taking things apart. I do enjoy figuring things out. I like the payoff in the end.

What is the pay off?

The payoff is that you have another notch on your belt. You figured it out and now next time you see it you’re prepared to take on that problem without getting frustrated. I’ll be honest; I get easily frustrated about things. When you haven’t seen something yet and you’re trying to figure it out, it could get frustrating. When you finally get it done, you feel accomplished. The payoff in the end is the feeling of satisfaction.

Do you have a preference when it comes to the type of work you do? What do you enjoy working on the most?

I still like the vault penetration we did a lot of at the bank. The combo isn’t working because two days ago it was changed and now it’s a few numbers off. Now you have to drill and figure it out. I used to like doing that very much. It feels really good when you feel that click and the arm drops in! Rekeying is fun; its simple basic locksmithing but you don’t feel real accomplished when it’s done.

What about impressioning and picking? Have you gotten the hang of those?

We don’t do much impressioning since we have the codes for most of the wafer locks we work on. Picking’s great. Some days you don’t have your picking hands but I like the way it feels when you do get it. Picking is usually done on residential jobs but we have to pick lever’s open on commercial jobs to take them apart and fit keys to.

Who would you rather deal with on a regular basis, commercial or residential customers?

I like dealing with residential ones because you’re dealing one on one and can get an answer quickly because it’s their house. With commercial, especially the bank customers, it’s tough to get a straight answer or to find the right person to deal with. For me it’s more gratifying when a residential customer likes your work and refers you to someone else. You’re working for people in your community who trust and refer you and that feels good.

Do you think you being a young locksmith at 26 ever gets in the way as far as your credibility with customers?

Maybe. When I first started since I was the new guy, I had a certain greenness to me. I don’t feel that way anymore because I know the product I’m working with and I’m more confident about what the outcome will be. When you don’t have confidence, then someone’s more likely to ask about how long you’ve been doing this.

How is the difficult economy affecting you guys? Are you being kept busy?

The key word here at DMD Lock is efficient. We have everything down to a science. We don’t keep much product around; wedon’t keep expensive hardware sitting on the shelves for seven months. We’re all over the Yellow Pages and the Internet. We get our schedule for the day and leave a little window in the day for emergencies or change of plans. The way things are now, you’ve got be as efficient as possible; you have to make the most of every opportunity. You can’t show up a half hour late; keep in mind these people don’t want to spend the money but usually they have no choice.

Do you see yourself still working as a locksmith in ten years?

JI do; this business has been around since 1970 and I’d like to keep it going if Justin decides to move on and do something else one day.

Where do you see locksmithing down the road?

It’s tough because of all the scammers out there. Locksmithing has been around since people needed to lock things up and you have these guys out there who are scamming people and giving the rest of us a bad name. Once they’ve had a scammer out to do the work, it makes them look at us more suspiciously. Honestly, I think locksmiths should have a union.

What would a locksmith union accomplish?

It would weed out all the carpenters and sheet metal workers who want to be a locksmith for a day. I can’t go on a job site and be a carpenter or a plumber. Why should they be able to perform locksmithing work?

I don’t think licensing does anything with guys coming here from a call center in New York; those guys are in and out in no time. You’d have to tick someone off pretty bad to have a report filed. Most people just chalk it up as a bad experience and move on. It does need to stop because it’s killing us.

No disrespect to other trades but I take pride in what I do. You do your job and I’ll do mine.

Do you keys going away?

People find solutions to every problem, that’s what we do. I never thought I would see this SmartKey thing. Who would’ve thought you’d be able to stick a little tool in the lock, turn it back and forth and magically the old key doesn’t work any more? I think the manufacturer has done a good job of making these locks idiot proof because we aren’t getting the calls to fix them like we thought would happen when the customer broke them.

Education is really important. Locksmiths need to keep learning as much as possible about the products so we always know much more than the general public. Sometime soon Home Depot will sell do it yourself access control systems and that will take away from us. People want what’s easiest and cheapest. With the economy the way it is people want to spend as little as possible.

What would you say to an 18 year old who’s mechanically inclined? Wwould you recommend locksmithing as a career?

I would but I would be honest and tell them not a lot of young people get into it and you might be discouraged about everyone else being higher than you on the totem pole. When I started going to association meetings I was impressed at how much knowledge these guys had and how tough it would be for me to catch up to them.

Wouldn’t it be same with other trades like carpentry or plumbing?

In those trades you see a lot of young guys on the job. A lot of my friends are carpenters or HVAC guys. There are lots of schools for young people to get training. With locksmithing, you have to do it to learn it. That’s where you can get discouraged because when you run into a problem you usually have to figure it out on your own.

If you get into this industry now, you have to evolve with it, you can be one dimensional. If you have the mentality that you’ll be fine rekeying locks, you’ll have a problem. Every day new products come out and you’ve got to keep up. Otherwise it’s going to be tough to convince a customer to have confidence in you when you’re sitting and reading the instructions before an installation.

That’s why I give my employer a lot of credit. Every day we’re learning about something new so we can be prepared for what we might run into when we’re out there.