Blankety Blanks

Oct. 2, 2020
Kiosks are replacing key-board displays at hardware stores.

During my recent visit to a local Ace Hardware store, a few moments were spent at the keymaking kiosk. Gone was the former key board, and in its place was a large, impressive automatic key duplicator. A small cabinet that has several drawers sat beside the key machine. A revolving display of transponder keys was the only indication that this was a kiosk for making keys.

Key boards always have been a visible way of impressing customers with what we do. S&S Co., an old locksmith in Chicago, once had an eight-foot-high key board that covered an entire wall in its store. Technicians had to use a ladder to reach the highest key hooks. Times have changed. Seventy-five percent of all residential keys now seem to use SC1, KW1 or Y11 keyways, which can be contained in one small key cabinet in hardware stores.

There still are many new key blanks and keyways being used for toolboxes, roof racks, truck caps, safe cabinets, padlocks and just about any accessory containing a lock. Many of these accessories are made in the USA but use imported locks. Customers buy these items and then find that the small key cabinet at Ace Hardware or big-box store doesn’t have a usable blank for duplication.

This is when customers turn to locksmiths for their expertise. But we aren’t prepared either. Aftermarket keymakers haven’t kept up with the demand. For example, all of the Kaba-Ilco Key Notes since November 2018 have featured only automotive remotes or transponder keys. Other aftermarket companies have featured some standard keys during this time but almost exclusively for the European market. In addition, most of these standard keys are made of steel and not conducive for duplication on domestic key machines.

Meanwhile, the best locksmiths can do is find substitute key blanks that can be shortened, narrowed or otherwise mutilated to fit into the locks. This works the first time around when duplicating from an original but is harder to accomplish when the mutilated key is brought in at a later date for another duplicate. At least people are visiting our shops and providing an opportunity for further business.