Don't Ignore the Sales Impulse

July 2, 2020
Even during a pandemic, the point of bothering with point-of-purchase items when foot traffic is slow is that every little bit of revenue can add up.

During good times, so-called point-of-purchase (POP) items—items that are displayed by the cash register meant for a quick or “impulse” purchase—aren’t a major source of income for a locksmith.

Eric Casey, owner of Casey Lock & Key, which has been in business in Bentonville, Arkansas, for nearly a half-century, guesses that POP/impulse items make up maybe 1–2 percent of his company’s revenue. He isn’t sure of the precise amount. What he is sure of is that every little bit of income helps.

“Does [POP items] bring in an extra $5,000 year, an extra $3,000 a year? I don’t know,” Casey says. “But it’s money that I would not have had if we didn’t have” those items in stock.

Casey Lock & Key carries key tags, keychains, key rings and key bracelets by Lucky Line Products, as well as several types of Jet Groovy Keys, among other products. These items are priced from a few cents to a few bucks apiece.

Casey recounts an April visit by a customer looking to make duplicate keys for his 2008 Ford Mustang. The customer ended up buying several key tags and key rings and a few other items.

“We’re still talking less than $5, and the whole ticket was $80,” Casey says, adding that not much of his POP/impulse merchandise is expensive. Still, “it adds up.”

It’s always a good time for small businesses to maximize their revenue, but it’s particularly true during a time when typical revenue are more difficult to come by. As of press time, although parts of the nation were starting to emerge from a shutdown meant to stem the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic, no one was certain when foot traffic into stores would return to normal. Locksmiths have been more fortunate than many retailers because of their status as an essential business, and, thus, allowed to continue to operate, but locksmiths across the nation, even in states where traffic hasn’t been as restricted as it has elsewhere, such as Arkansas, have seen a notable decline in customers.

Ed Henning, who manages the retail store for J&R Lock & Safe in Palatine, Illinois, which has been under a stay-at-home order since the middle of March, says the work his company has received during his state’s shutdown didn’t lend itself to POP/impulse revenue. The bulk of the work has been for hospitals.

“Impulse items are not what those guys go for,” he explains. “They have a list or a plan called in ahead of time.”

Several companies that make POP/impulse items agree that the market for these types of products has dwindled as a result of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean that they should be ignored completely. It just means that the nature of what’s considered to be POP/impulse and how those types of items are marketed might require different thinking for unusual times.

One idea is that if the customer can’t come to the store, you take the store to the customer. Marty Jalove, a longtime security industry expert, says he often recommends presenting items that might not fall under the typical category of “impulse buy.” Jalove most recently was with Hudson Lock, which makes Hide-A-Key among other products. Specifically, he mentions an HPC Kekab lockable key cabinet in the case of a commercial job.

“A Kekab 30 holds 30 keys; it’s small enough and easy enough to carry,” he explains. “You walk into a company to repair this door, and you show them this key cabinet and say, ‘Take a look at this cabinet. What do you think?’”

Note: Not whether the customer is interested in buying it now, but just, simply, what does the customer think about the product itself? Jalove stresses. “And what everyone loves is to give their opinion.”

Of course, the customer might hand it back after giving their opinion and say they weren’t interested, so you just fix the door, as contracted. But it also might lead to an additional sale, even beyond that of the particular item itself.

“They might say, “That’s a beautiful cabinet, but I need something larger,’” Jalove says. “Now, you’re set to have a sales conversation” and inquire about the reason behind the desire for a larger cabinet. From there, you can move to questions about other additional potential work, including masterkey systems and other security upgrades, such as door closers or high-security locks.

“You set yourself up as the expert,” Jalove says of such a potential discussion. “It all started with you showing them a key cabinet. That, to me, is the perfect impulse proposition.”

Brad Smith, director of marketing for longtime padlock-maker Master Lock, agrees with Jalove and holds out his company’s Bluetooth Door Controller as an extreme example of a POP/impulse item during a repair call.

“Maybe it’s been out of their price point before finding they need to change how they operate,” he says of a business or a multifamily property.

Although other experts agree that this could be a good way to generate future business, Marc Auerbach, the president of marketing and the operations manager of Jet Hardware, warns that locksmiths should be careful.

“Unless it’s related to the job they just did, I wouldn’t be a fan” of locksmiths bringing impulse-sales items on a job with them. “It smacks of cheesiness.” He adds that the customer could become offended that they’re being upsold, particularly at a time when finances might be particularly tight, such as during the COVID-19 shutdown, and direct future business elsewhere.

But an item that’s related to the job? That’s different. Auerbach is all in favor of that and gives the example of fixing a lock at a residence.

“Now, if I put in a lock, I might say, ‘Hey, I have Groovy Keys. Maybe I can make you a few,’” he says. “I think that’s smart. You’re giving them a choice they may have had in a store that they may not have known existed otherwise. It’s related. Related items would be a real lynchpin” to adding sales.

Another place where locksmiths should look to “take the store to the customer” regarding POP/impulse sales is the internet. At a time when fewer people are leaving home and venturing into retail shops regardless of where they live, it only makes sense that more people are looking to buy online. Locksmith companies that have e-commerce sites have an opportunity to make some money in addition to reminding customers that they remain open by putting up padlocks, key hiders and other small-ticket items for sale on their website.

Samantha Coon, marketing manager at Lucky Line Products, points out that in her dealings with customers, she noticed that although business in general has been off significantly, “online sales have increased quite a bit.”

Although the overall sales of POP/impulse items have declined, experts expect the business to come back to what it was before the pandemic arrived, although the obvious question that no one can answer is when that will be. But, as is the case with any part of a locksmith’s business, downtime is a good time to put some thought into the nature of a locksmith’s POP/impulse business—what products to carry, how they should be displayed and where.

The what might depend on the particular market. Adam L. Duberstein, vice president of Pro-Lok, which makes a wide assortment of POP/impulse items, including key hiders and lighted keychains, notes that what sells in, say, Southern California might be very different from what sells in Minneapolis. Of course, locksmiths anywhere should keep track of what actually sells and what collects dust.

The how and where are more straightforward: on the sales counter or at eye level and within easy reach. Casey says most of his shop’s merchandise is on the counter, by where customers will stand while they wait for a key to be made, for example.

“They just flip that Lucky Line carousel and kind of look through the fancy keys,” he says. “They may not buy at that time, but they’re flipping through everything, and maybe they’ll buy the next time. They’ll [think later], ‘I know where I can get that.’”

Coon agrees that interaction with products is crucial in helping to put extra dollars into the register till. For locksmiths who carry Lucky Line’s new Touchless Door Opener and Stylus, for example, she recommends keeping one open and available for a customer to try, whether it’s on a door or on your cellphone.

“The more personal you can get with the customer, the better the experience will be, and the more likely they are to purchase and then return,” she says. “If you show them how it works on your phone, they’re going to remember that and come back.”

And, of course, every bit of income helps.

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.