30 Under 30 Interview

Sept. 3, 2010
Seth and Alex Hecht, Able Locksmith

Brothers Seth and Alex Hecht grew up working in the family business, Able Locksmith & Door Service, Long Island NY (www.ableiskey.com). They are third generation locksmiths for the business launched by their grandfather in 1968 and now owned by their father. Following are the Ledger’s questions to these locksmiths, both in their early 20s (well Seth is now 25), and their answers.

Can you tell me a little bit about your business?

This business has always been in the family. My grandfather started it in 1968 and growing up, my father was always working here and my brother and I would come along and help him out. It was a natural progression to eventually come on full time.

Did either one of you ever consider doing something other than locksmithing?

Seth: It was always just natural, what I knew how to do. It was a natural progression to eventually come on full time after I got my BA in history from SUNY Binghampton. I look at it this way: history is definitely my interest, where business is my passion, and that’s why I’m here.

Alex: I’m attending SUNY Farmingdale on Long Island, pursuing security specialist degree, taking courses in access control. It has more to do with internet security and web server but then again that might be where some of locksmithing is heading. It definitely helps me with the access control, the alarms, and then also some good information for the future.

What scope of work do you do?

Commercial, residential and automotive. We do install some alarms, CCTV, access control.

What do you enjoy the most?

Seth: Commercial. I like commercial hardware.

Why do all locksmiths say that? I hardly ever get anyone who says they particularly enjoy doing lockouts.

Automotive lockouts really aren’t bad, but I wouldn’t look at that as a large portion of my work. It’s something I do enjoy, but it’s an occasional perk. We probably open only a half a dozen to at most a dozen cars a week.

What part of the business do you dislike doing the most?

Well, it’s actually the part that Alex has been dealing with the most – the accounts collectible.

Alex, which part of the job do you enjoy the most?

I’m really only in the shop. I enjoy answering the phone because I get to help people out and I enjoy when people actually appreciate me asking them questions and getting information from them. That really is the best part – you get to talk to everybody and help them out.

How much electronics work do you do?

A small percentage of our business is electronics, maybe about 20 percent. Commercial door hardware is the majority and then as far as residential goes, we do a decent amount of mortise body installs, and that’s a very specialized area.

Where does that specialized business come from?

There actually is a decorative hardware company out in western Nassau County that recommends us, and we end up doing a decent amount of Emtek and Baldwin and Period Brass and Rocky Mountain Hardware installations. It’s nice to get into a little bit of the finite carpentry work.

Do you do transponder programming?

We do some transponder programming. We have the Bianchi Repli-Code so we only do certain models, but there are not too many people coming in for transponders and also once you tell them how much they are, they say “that’s a lot.”

How many family members work in your shop?

Our father, who owns the shop. It’s just the three of us, family-wise.

How do you market your business? Do you get a lot of referrals?

We’re in a good location and have been in the same location since 1978. We get a lot of repeat customers and we have a reputation for quality, professional work, done the right way the first time.

Do you advertise in the local yellow pages?

Yes, we do. We also do some local campaigns in the diners; sometimes we’ll advertise in school pamphlets for events. Our truck on the road may be our best advertising.

Are commercial accounts the bulk of your business?

Without a doubt

Are you being impacted by all those scammer ads popping up in the phone directories and online?

Yes, it’s frustrating, extremely frustrating. You try to inform the customers when they call price shopping as to what they are really getting with the lowball price. Sometimes they’ve got to learn the lesson on their own. I read a review for one of those companies and the gentleman said he learned his lesson that the prices were too good to be true, and sure enough he paid double the quote.

What do you think can be done about this? Does your area have locksmith licensing?

We don’t, and we are all for it. We would love for it to happen.

How many vans do you have on the road?

We have three vans and a Scion. We have an additional person who comes on part-time sometimes. My brother has a Scion XT that he drives and my father and I drive the Ford vans. They are decked out with some digital graphics on them

How do you pick your distributors and get your parts?

Naturally because it is about a two-minute drive to U.S. Lock, we do buy the bulk of our hardware from them. We’ve set up an account there and if we need something on short notice, we can swing by.

We do buy from Akron Hardware also because they have a lot of finishes that we need. One of our customers specifically goes for a 612 bronze finish that really isn’t found on the East Coast, and Akron Hardware does stock it.

Are you active in local locksmith associations or ALOA or similar organizations?

Unfortunately, we’re not currently involved in ALOA but that is something I do intend to change.

What kind of changes do you expect in the next 5 to 10 years?

Without a doubt, the most changes will be in technology, more electronics and magnets and strikes

The mechanical end of it will always be there. I don’t think there will ever come a time where it’s completely electronic. There will always be a need for a physical key. I don’t see locksmithing changing too drastically but there has been exponential change in the last few years as with most technologies.

Are your residential customers requesting keyless locks and willing to spend the money?

They’re not; they are willing to walk into a big box store and buy a poor quality do-it-yourself lock. There’s some awful stuff out there.

Are they willing to pay for high security with restricted keyways?

We are an authorized Mul-T-Lock dealer and we have our own keyway. In fact, my father won a free trip based on a promotion they were running. I would say the resistance to key bumping is a big sales point on the Mul-T-Lock, as well as the control. When you can tell somebody that there’s no way somebody can get a key, there’s no duplication possibility – that means something.

Very often on higher end homes where we do mortise installations, we’ll sell Mul-T-Lock because they can give a key to their contractors and know that is the only key they have. When they finish a job, you get the key back and that’s it.

What is a typical commercial job?

In a Locksmith Ledger article, Gale Johnson hit it right on the nail about the locksmith being the last call. Very often we are on construction sites the day a building is being turned over to the customer, repairing hardware that carpenters really did a number on, repairing faulty carpenter work.

We do a lot of Herculite doors, lock bodies and closer swap-outs, and install LCN closers. We are also a full-line door installer. We do metal doors and frames as well as roll-down doors and frames and aluminum storefronts. We’ve been doing a lot more door work lately.

If you are interested in being featured in a future 30 Under 30 interview, contact managing editor Emily Pike, e-mail [email protected] or 1-800-547-7377, ext 2224.