Thwarting the Big Box - We Are Tradesmen

May 1, 2008
Take a moment and look at the market created with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). How can we apply this toward our safe sales and retrofits? Where’s that niche to carve out for us?

With the “big box” increasing intrusion into the locksmith’s domain, they have unintentionally helped enhance development of new niche areas. The realized loss of income from quality lock, door closer and safe sales have required some locksmiths to gain prosperity within alternative areas of our service fields, simply, a niche within a niche. Our skill and expertise in the less-traveled regions shall continuously provide the upper hand over the big box. They simply cannot tread here. By existing in areas where others cannot go, craftsmen gain the freedom and independence to charge the rates they rightfully deserve. Get off the well-beaten path of grade three hardware installations. There’s no money in it.

I have found a niche to enhance my bottom line over the years. Everybody sells safes. That’s no big deal. But just exactly who is the target market? Anybody that happens to walk in the door? YES! That is the niche. Anyone that calls or enters your shop IS the target market.

By definition, anybody shall also include those with arthritis, the elderly, the blind, etc. What would happen if you were able to install a lock on a safe which would allow them the freedom to go about their daily business unimpeded by their ailment(s)? Well I’ll tell you....They will happily write out a check to retain that freedom, and they will love you for it.

Take a moment and look at the market created with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). How can we apply this toward our safe sales and retrofits? Where’s that niche to carve out for us?
What follows is merely one answer where our skills can be applied to set us apart. Photo 1 shows a quality generic two hour rated fire safe. The manufacturer is not important for this exercise as this demonstration can be applied to numerous types of containers.

The “normal” configuration shipped from factory is either a combination lock or a digital of some sort. High tech is great, but it’s not always the answer. Although misspelled but phonetically correct, a good thing to remember is the 4S axiom, that is Seasoned Sitizens Savor Simple. There are many “sitizens” out there who are still intimidated by the blinking clock on their VCR. Even today, this demographic is larger than one might think. We should be aiming to please them.

In scenario number one, Grandma comes in and needs a container to hold her will, insurance papers, a small amount of cash, and other valuable items. However, she has bad eye sight; her memory isn’t the best anymore, and she has arthritis. Whew! Not the best candidate for a combination lock! A digital is better, but not necessarily the best choice. A biometric places it out of her price range and comfort zone.
Photo 2 shows what will cause Grandma to smile and pinch your cheek. This is the LaGard 2200 (2270) key lock. It is a standard footprint, direct replacement safe lock. The keys come in 3, 4, 5, 6 and 12 inch lengths.

Photo 3 shows the flip-up escutcheon for the outside of the door. Take note of the engraved line on the surface as I will reference this later. Photo 4 shows the inside of the safe with the combination lock body and relocker as it came from factory. Photo 5 shows everything except the relocker removed. Photo 6 shows the outside of the safe door stripped and ready for installation of the escutcheon.
Pre-existing dial ring mounting holes in the door must be addressed. If they cannot be covered up or utilized with the escutcheon you are installing, you need to make them disappear. In the photo, these holes are indicated by red arrows. These holes will vary in location depending on the container and lock previously installed.

There are two ways of addressing the dial ring holes. First, you can use some sort of epoxy steel and paint to match. Or, you can cover them up. There are many ways to do this, but I will show just one using off-the-shelf components.

Photo 7 shows the outside of the completed safe. This is how clean it can look if you have worked with new or have refurbished and applied custom graphics. In photo 8, the same mounted escutcheon is shown with cover rings. These cover rings are simply stacked on top of each other. The chrome rings are Mag adapter plates 8865C and 8860C. These are available from almost any locksmith distributor.
Past retrofit experience indicates that the area under the dial ring may need to be addressed. Sometimes, before painting, a manufacturer will install a dial and ring. You also may find holes, putty, mismatched paint, etc. If you have a smooth surface, you may be able to utilize some sort of adhesive cover solution.

When it comes to safes, if possible, I prefer not to rely on anything adhesive. Therefore, I generally opt for the “guaranteed not to fall off” method similar to what is shown. I am simply demonstrating one solution using off the shelf components. Most times I will use my own one-piece plate made for this purpose.

Photo 9 shows the lock body mounted onto the safe door. As the footprint is standard, installation is quite simple. This also shows the relocker plate installed. It is essential if your container has a relocker that it is utilized during the conversion. This adds greatly to your customer’s security. When retrofitting locks, I Locktite all screws inside the safe door as an added measure of precaution. An extra minute at this juncture goes a long way toward preventing that “lockout” call.

Now, why this lock for Grandma? Look at the key. It’s huge! That’s perfect for arthritic hands to grasp and turn. There are no numbers or dialing sequence to remember either. There are no batteries to replace or electronics to fail, and it’s quick to use. Simply line up the groove on the key with the groove on the escutcheon, insert, and turn. This solves all her problems and allows her to retain her privacy and security.

Scenario number two, a blind person needs a BF container to hold papers and some cash. Obviously, a combination lock will not work. Sometimes a digital isn’t the best choice depending on the keypad, and biometrics are pricey. Here again, a key lock makes perfect sense.

Photo 10 shows alternatives to the LaGard. On the top is the S&G 6804 key, the middle a FAS, and on the bottom is a Mauer key. Both S&G and Mauer have standard footprint models that will install easily. Both have flip-type escutcheons as shown in photo11. Standard single-piece escutcheons are also available.

A person with poor eyesight but good hands can easily distinguish these keys, their escutcheons, their orientation (by feel) and therefore utilize them properly. These keys are much smaller and somewhat easier to keep on their person if they so choose.

Photo 12 shows another version of keys for a safe lock. This is called a stem and bit. The bit attaches to the stem and is retained by means of a small piece of spring steel as shown in the photo. The rationale behind the stem and bit is that you only need to carry the bit on your person. If the door is very thick, a long stem key is required. Carrying the bit alone is much more comfortable and convenient than a big key. A few manufacturers offer the stem and bit configuration.

All of the basic key locks shown in photo 13 have a standard footprint, thereby making installation quite easy. They are also capable of having the combinations changed (rekeyed) should the need arise. If you are not capable of cutting these types of keys for a rekey, many vendors stock pre-cut keys for just such a purpose.

Key locks are also a renewable source of income. As with a standard combination lock, they also need to be serviced periodically. Parts will wear, keys will break and key control can be lost. When you have completed the sale of a keylock install or retrofit, why not mention the fact that you also offer, for a minimal fee, a maintenance contract tailored to their specific need? An annual or periodic service of the lock, combined with new keys, will provide your customer with low-cost protection against lockouts due to wear or lack of lubrication. It all adds up to that happy customer calling again for your exceptional service and care.

Wall safes are another excellent opportunity to sell your expertise with respect to retrofitting key locks. The slim line of the escutcheon protrudes less than the combination lock dial. Years ago I installed a lock on a wall safe that was keyed alike to the auxiliary key lock on a large free standing safe. This aided in convenience for my commercial account and they were most appreciative of my efforts. Subsequently, this has become a regular point for me to mention while selling containers and lock retrofits. Your customers need to know what your capabilities are, and what your services can do for them.
Some customers will be just as impressed by low-tech solutions combined with precision implementation. The limitations of key locks are what the craftsman makes of them.
If you only sell a few safes per year, attention to this niche market with these products will expand your bottom line. Simply by focusing on the needs of the customers will gain you the advantage, as you will thrive where the big box cannot. Morever, if you were to employ the ADA concept/niche as a marketing strategy, how many more customers will come to know you as the person who can make their life just a little easier?

Whether you perform safe work or another form of locksmithing, no one can argue against the power of word of mouth advertising. Word gets around fast at the water cooler or 7AM cups of coffee. Pretty soon, your cheeks will be sore from all the grandmas pinching!        

Photos will be available soon