Editorial: Following The Bouncing Ball

Dec. 3, 2009

As a young boy growing up in the family locksmith business, I was overwhelmed at first by the large amount of lock companies there were in existence. It took a long time to be able to discern the subtle differences between keyways, but it was an interesting challenge. Customers were always impressed when I could take one glance at their original key and then quickly pick the correct key blank from our large keyboard.

Fast forward to the present. Decorative key blanks are available in two keyways, Schlage and Kwikset. These two keyways cover a large percentage of keyways in use today. Aftermarket key blank manufacturers offer assortments of key blanks for hardware and big-box stores. There are less than 100 different key blank types in the whole assortment. While there are approximately 6500 key blank types available through aftermarket key blank manufacturers, 6400 of these are rarely requested by customers.

If you have not heard the news, Stanley Works has announced the purchase of Black & Decker. Black & Decker owns Kwikset and Weiser. Stanley Works owns Sargent & Greenleaf plus Best Access Systems. Earlier mergers by Assa Abloy united Yale, Sargent, Arrow, Corbin-Russwin, Abloy, Mul-T-Lock and Medeco. Schlage owns parts of what was once Dexter Lock and Ilco was purchased some time ago by Kaba.

One cannot miss the parallel between the amount of mergers which have taken place and the diminution of keyways. This must say something about the degree of ‘sameness’ we now have throughout the industry. A lever lock is a lever lock, an SC1 keyway is an SC1 keyway. It becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate between brands, either foreign or domestic. Indeed, more and more domestic brands are not actually made in U.S.A.

Like trying to watch a bouncing ball, it is hard to follow the changes as old companies and products disappear. We were contacted recently by a locksmith who was looking for a latch unit for a heavy-duty cylindrical lock. The manufacturer told him that his latch was from four generations ago, and was no longer made today. This is not an uncommon situation. It is becoming a throw away and replace world today with very little room individual craftsmanship.