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How to start your own mobile locksmithing business
HOW TO START YOUR OWN MOBILE LOCKSMITHING SERVICE
The locks on the doors of most homes keep the skilled burglar out
for about 30 seconds! This is especially true if the only thing
slowing him down is a standard key-in-the-knob lock.
Statistically, there's about one residential burglary every 30
seconds in this country. Traditionally, as the economy falters and
times get harder, the number tends to rise.
Quite naturally, people are concerned and frightened. As a result,
locksmithing is not only one of the new "demand" businesses, it's
rapidly becoming one of the more profitable businesses for
entrepreneurs with not too much capital to invest .
Today's locksmiths are usually well versed in mathematics and basic
electronics. They almost have to be, what with the new types of
locks being introduced. Today's locksmith is more likely to be
known as a "Security Specialist", than as just ordinary locksmith,
as in the past .
Even so, most locksmithing businesses are still one-man operations.
In many instances, it's a husband and wife family affair, with the
husband handling the mechanical end and the wife the books and
financial end of the business. Most of these small operations
concentrate on the repair side of the business, and deliberately
choose to remain small in size. As we will discuss later, however,
this need not be the case; these small businesses can "grow up."
According to the area in which he is located, an established, well
organized and trained locksmith may gross between $50,000 and
$60,000 per year, using a van as a mobile "workshop," and space in
his home as an office. Remember: As the economy turns toward
recession, burglaries increase and people become aware of the need
for better locks to protect what they own; thus the locksmith enjoys
an increased income during hard times.
Just because locksmithing is a "personal" kind of business, and can
be started on a shoestring and operated out of the home, that's not
to say that a locksmithing service cannot be developed into a
million dollar business. On the contrary, there are a number of
operations in some of the larger metropolitan areas that have
several mobile locksmith vans on the road, in addition to retail
store locations. These operations are grossing well into the
million dollar figures every year.
It's a matter of desire, determination and personal fulfillment and
satisfaction. Attitude, marketing skills and general business
knowledge are also positive attributes necessary for real success.
Very definitely, the sharp businessman with determined ambition can
dominate any market with a modern locksmithing service.
The key ingredient to this business is the utilization of proper
marketing and selling skills. It goes without saying: You can know
all there is about the mechanical functioning of a business, but
without innovative marketing and selling skills, your business will
However, given the marketing know-how, plus persistent sales
efforts, you can succeed in this business with the knowledge you can
acquire of the technical side. The success of any business is built
upon the marketing and sales expertise of its founder, because after
all, "mechanics" can always be hired, if you decide to go that route
rather than learn the trade and the business.
Your marketing efforts should stress the theme that your services
will allay the fears of your buyers. You want to get across to your
prospective customers the sense of security your service will
provide. You can make them safe in their own homes; no longer will
they have to worry about being rudely awakened in the middle of the
night by a burglar rustling around in their house; no longer will
they have to worry about coming home to a house that's been cleaned
out or ransacked.
Once you understand that fear is a basic human instinct, it's easy
to see that virtually everyone can be a prospect for your services
as a locksmith. Your potential market includes everyone in your
area, because everyone has possessions. So every homeowner, every
apartment dweller, every business owner, all the schools, churches,
government institutions, and a wide variety of other commercial and
industrial accounts can be yours.
In this day and age, new homeowners and apartment dwellers want the
locks changed the day they move in, so that former occupants and
other keyholders will not have access to their place. In addition,
there will probably be the need for additional keys for each member
of the new family, now that new, safer locks have been installed.
Commercial and industrial accounts present an even more lucrative
market. Larger companies tend to want their keys
"departmentalized," so that office workers can get into the building
on weekends, but not into the factory or shipping areas, and vice
versa. Banks and savings institutions frequently need the safe
deposit locks changed.
Generally speaking, newcomers to this field should focus their
efforts on the commercial and industrial area as soon as possible.
The commercial market is vast, and often up for grabs in many areas.
In addition, the profit margins in these areas are excellent! With
one of these accounts you'll have work paying about $500 or more per
visit, compared with $25 to $50 per visit for a residential job.
With commercial/industrial accounts, there's also the possibility of
ongoing service and maintenance. Definitely, the
commercial/industrial business is well worth going after, and can
put your business in the black very rapidly. However, it does take
aggressiveness, and the determination to sell these accounts.
Start small. Consider working out of your home in the beginning.
Most of today's successful locksmiths began by working out of their
homes, with the family car or van outfitted with the tools and
equipment needed. Such an approach will enable you to get started
for as little as $1,000. You should be aware however, that this is
just a beginning, and not all it's going to take to really establish
your business. With this level of investment, you're more or less
limited in the business you can handle and the money you can make.
Locksmiths who want to make the really big money should be investing
all their early profits into more equipment and inventory up to a
level where they can offer complete full-service locksmithing. Such
a business would require at least $5,000 in equipment, perhaps even
$10,000, depending on how many different services you want to offer.
This estimate for start-up costs does not include your van or
inventory of spare parts and new locks.
Perhaps a quick word of caution is in order here. You've no doubt
seen or heard some of the advertisements promising all kinds of big
money to be made with your own locksmithing service; "Just send for
the learn-at-home correspondence course , and you'll be home free."
It's true that you can earn big money in this business, but as we've
noted earlier, without a lot of sharp marketing and selling
expertise, plus at least the essential equipment to handle the kind
of work these courses teach, enrolling in one of these courses will
put you no further ahead than you are right now. This business
requires equipment and knowledge.
You can make excellent money as a locksmith, so long as you operate
your business capably and in a professional manner. But without a
full line of the equipment required to handle a wide variety of
jobs, you will be limiting your total income potential. The more you
invest in quality equipment, the more different kinds of jobs you
can handle, and thus the more money you'll be capable of making.
This is definitely a business in which you decide for yourself
exactly how far and how fast you want to go. As we've said, some
operators are perfectly content to work out of their homes, using a
mobile van. They don't want the larger problems involved in hiring
employees, or the expense of maintaining a retail location.
But to make the really big money in this business, starting small
and working out of your home, you should plan to put more mobile
trucks on the road, and as soon as possible, open a retail location.
Each mobile van will give you another satellite business, and a
retail location will afford you a base headquarters for your mobile
It is of the utmost importance that you build and maintain a
professional image as a quality locksmithing operation from the
start. Clinging to the craftsman type of image will be of advantage
only if you wish to stay in the "Mom and Pop" category.
You should endeavor to handle all jobs as quickly and as efficiently
as possible. Outfitting yourself and your help in sharp looking
uniforms will help. Making your calls in a clean, well-organized
van will also play an important part in the image your customers
have of your business. You want your customers to have confidence
in your business, and in the quality of work you do for them. When
they do, you'll find they are more likely to pay their bills with
Think of it like this: A large invoice presented by a man in a
clean uniform who drives up in a good looking truck and does quality
work is going to be paid more readily than one for $25 presented by
a guy in grubby jeans who drove up in a 10-year old decrepit truck.
With so many technological changes occurring within this field on an
almost monthly basis, it's to your advantage to stay on top of
what's happening within the locksmithing field. This means
subscribing to some of the better trade publications. You should be
attending the various Locksmithing Association promoted seminars and
workshops that offer on-going help in both the technical and
financial side of this business. In other words, you should plan to
keep yourself up to date with a program of continuous learning.
There are several ways to get started in this business. You can buy
an existing operation from a retiring craftsman. Ask him to help
you with the technical side of the operation while you spend most of
your time actively promoting and managing the business. Or, you can
hire the technical help you need, and the sales force to build the
business while you do the managing. You can enroll in one of the
popular correspondence courses, become involved in the business as
you learn from the various trade publications, and progress at your
own speed. Our recommendation is that you learn the fiscal and
management side of the business, and hire others to handle the
mechanical or technical side. Thus the purpose of this report is to
indoctrinate you on the business side. To explain the technical
details of this business would take volumes, and probably much of
the information contained would be out-dated by the time it came off
However, we will provide you with an outline of the most common
types of jobs a locksmith should be able to handle.
RECOMBINATION LOCKS: A customer may want to change an existing lock
to work off a new key - the most common type of lock being the
key-in-the-knob cylinder or pin tumbler lock. When the proper key
is inserted in the keyway, spring-loaded pins are pushed up and out
of the cylinder, allowing the plug to turn, and opening the lock.
When recombinating, you're changing the depth of these pins so that
a new key is the only one that will work. Most house, auto and
padlocks are the pin-tumbler variety. Different brands of locks use
different depths, spaces and keyways. But with a given brand of
lock, up to 50,000 variations exist. Thus, it's not always
necessary to change to a new lock.
COMBINATING ALIKE: Some customers will have a house or a business
with several different locks and keys, none of them alike or using
the same key. Sometimes these people will want to change to a
system that will require the least number of keys to carry around.
Here, you'll be required to change the key coding so that one key
works all the locks. Sometimes this requires the installation of
common door hardware; however, in most cases, you'll find the same
brand of locks are used throughout the building.
MASTERKEYING: Apartment owners and other commercial accounts may
want dual key access. This is done by using locks with dual pin
tumbler sets. One works with the apartment key, the other with the
master key. Keys are spoken of in terms of code numbers. These are
sets of digits reflecting the depth of serrations. A given lock in
a master key setup might respond, for example, to keys with code
numbers 1-2-3-4-5 and 6-7-6-9. Mathematical progressions are used
in master keying .
LOCKOUTS: Frequently a person finds himself locked out of his home,
office, warehouse, car, etc. Invariably this happens at odd hours
of the day or night. So opening locks at odd hours of the day and
night will be a role you'll definitely play in the lives of your
customers. A typical pin tumbler lock can generally be picked open
in about 30 seconds, using either picks or a single piece of spring
steel and good wrist work. All locks have tolerances and variations
in manufacture which allow you to push the cylinder pins up out of
the way while exerting a turning pressure on the cylinder itself.
AUTOMOBILE LOCKOUTS: This problem occurs frequently and will
require a different procedure. A tool called a "Slim Shim" is often
used here, and works on most domestic and many foreign cars. This is
pushed down between the glass and the weather stripping on the door
far enough to reach the back of the lock cylinder on the door. You
simply push down or pull up . A "button popper" is also used,
worked through the weather stripping on vent windows in the older
cars, and angled back to the latch button.
LOCK INSTALLATION: Much of your time will be spent installing new
locks and door hardware. In many cases, homeowners and business
people will want to upgrade their security with the latest model
hard-ware for older homes, offices and other buildings. Many
locksmiths get involved in new construction of apartment houses,
condominiums, shopping centers, and the like. Often you'll be
adding more security to an existing door, such as installing a
deadbolt lock .
PANIC BARS AND DOOR CLOSERS: Many locksmiths working the commercial
or industrial market get involved in the repair and installation of
panic bars in public access areas. Panic bars are those large metal
bars you push on to open the outside doors of many public buildings.
Door closers are those hydraulic devices mounted at the top of these
doors which return the door to the closed position after it has been
ALARMS, SAFES and VAULTS: The sale and installation of alarms are a
natural adjunct to the locksmith thing business. Many larger
locksmithing operations move into this area, which is somewhat
specialized. Alarms can be the "perimeter" type, which sound when a
door is opened after hours, or "area" alarms. "Space" or "area"
protection is generally preferred, and involves infrared, ultrasonic
or microwave sensors triggering alarms by detecting movement.
Safe and vault work is another specialty. Some locksmiths have
major banks and savings and loan associations as clients. They spend
a good deal of their time changing safe deposit box locks and
maintaining vaults and the like. Gaining in popularity is the sale
and service of safes for home and business use. You will be exposed
to all these specialties and to new technology at seminars,
conventions and workshops .
HIGH SECURITY work: A typical locksmith is a "general
practitioner," while the high-security locksmith is a "specialist."
High security work is often done for major corporations, government
institutions, large banks, race tracks, museums and wealthy private
individuals who desire maximum security. Often this work involves
access control systems using card readers or voice print equipment,
possibly combined with electronic push-button locks that work off a
combination of numbers known only to a very few individuals.
In addition to these major areas of activity, locksmiths the world
over do key duplicating and impressioning, which is the replacing of
lost keys with custom made copies, and a wide variety of other types
of sales, repair and service work.
In order to achieve maximum profitability as a locksmith, you must
be able to offer all these services to your customers. Locks and
security are of prime concern to your customers, and it follows that
when a customer wants help in this area, he wants it taken care of
immediately. Thus, you must position yourself to handle his job
immediately, or lose him to a locksmith who can take care of his
needs on the spot.
Do some market research. Analyze your local market area before you
embark upon this business. This can be done via letters to the local
locksmithing association, Chamber of Commerce, or even by checking
through the yellow pages. As important as anything else, you'll
want to know how many locksmiths are already operating in your area,
and how much of the market you can expect to attract with your
business. Most industry experts agree that any more than one
locksmith for every 30,000 people tends to saturate the market.
However, you should study the operations of the existing locksmiths
to determine if you can capture a good portion of the existing
market by offering more and better service, especially with a
well-planned effort towards the commercial and industrial accounts.
In many areas, the established locksmiths have been in business for
20 years or more, and are not interested in expanding their
businesses to include the newer and more intricate types of
Look your market over. Determine if there's been any real effort
made to "sell" the market on upgraded protection. Door-to-door
sales efforts; direct mail advertising campaigns; local "hard sell"
newspaper advertising; home protection and business security
seminars, are angles that can be used to launch your business. These
approaches should prove to be especially profitable if the existing
locksmiths have been sitting back and letting the people come to
them when they have a problem. Get to know the building contractors
and start bidding on the installation of locks on their building
projects. You will get your share of the business, even though at
first you may get contracts only from the new builders who have not
had experience with other locksmiths.
For a fast start in this business, we suggest that you set yourself
up with a van and take your business to your customers. It isn't
absolutely necessary to buy a van off the showroom floor and outfit
it with all the equipment you'll ultimately need for a full service
locksmithing business. That would be nice, but it would probably
run you close to $50,000 or more. By shopping around, you should be
able to pick up a good, late model used van for about $3,000. You
might be able to work an even better deal by leasing a new van, and
writing off your payments as a business tax deduction. One thing
you'll definitely want to consider is a van that has a raised roof
in order for you to stand upright in it. After all, you'll be doing
most of your work in it, and to have to stoop all the time would
soon become quite tiring.
Generally, you can run a workbench down either or both sides of your
van, building in adequate storage shelves and drawers under the
workbenches. Above the workbenches, and on the sides of the van,
peg-board works very well for hanging your tools and key blanks.
You'll need 110-volt as well as 12-volt outlets for power. This is
accomplished with either a power converter or ready-line generator.
Definitely something to think about is the addition of an air
Whether you do or don't start out with a van, you'll need a variety
of equipment. Your first basic investment should be a key
duplicating machine. This is the machine you'll be using to take
one key and make copies. You'll also need a key-coding machine
which will allow you to turn keys out to new codes. This machine
will be essential for the combinating work you'll be doing. These
two machines will be the workhorses of your business - the basic
machines you'll need to call yourself a locksmith. So shop around
and be sure you get good quality, dependable machines to do the work
You'll also need a wide variety of hand tools such as files, jigs,
drills, screwdrivers, micrometer, and mortising tools. You may also
want to check out the additional profit potential of your owning a
hand key-coding machine. You should also have a pin kit, plus key
blanks, locks, and padlocks. Depending on how aggressively you
intend to pursue the different areas of the locksmithing business,
you should plan to invest at least $1,000 for a beginning operating
inventory of spare parts, locks and key blanks. Before ordering
your inventory, work with your area distributors or suppliers to
determine the most frequently needed locks and keys.
By creating a professional image, turning out quality work, and
having a van that enables you to take your business to the customer,
you'll be able to charge accordingly. It's just that simple.
Because traditionally, locksmiths have located themselves in
"hole-in-the-wall" storefront shops or more recently in shopping
center parking lots, most have never charged more than a pittance
for their work. In other words, they have been under-pricing
The great advantage of being mobile is that you can take your
services to the customer, and should be able to charge $25 to $35
per hour (or more) for an installation or repair call. A good way
to upgrade your business is to take your services to the upper
income areas, because they not only have more to protect, but are
more likely to appreciate the value of your services, and pay
When pricing the locks you sell, always mark your procurement cost
up by at least 30 percent. Thus, if you were to buy locks at a
wholesale price of $14 you would charge your customer $18.50 for the
lock, plus your installation charge. If a key blank costs you $1,
your price to the customer would be $1.65 plus whatever portion of
an hour you figure it takes you to turn it out or duplicate it.
What we're saying here is to always consider the base cost of your
supplies, plus a profit margin for yourself, and then the
installation charge. Thus a two-hour job to install a couple of
deadbolt locks, with keys, might run the customer $75 or $80.
The best quality work, and the lowest prices in town, are of no
value whatsoever if you have no customers, so you must aggressively
seek out customers. Don't wait for them to come to you. Knowledge
and concerted efforts in advertising, promotion, and personal sales
will bring you customers. As mentioned earlier in this report, you
can and should use door-to-door circularizing, direct mail, local
newspaper, and seminar type sales efforts. And don't forget the
tremendous advantage of using the telephone.
Run an ad in your local papers calling for commission sales people.
Hire them to call on homeowners door-to-door and to sell the idea of
up-grading their locks. You'll need a preplanned sales program
along with a good breakdown on your costs versus expected income.
Direct mail campaigns can be as simple as making up advertising
circulars or flyers and hiring students to deliver them, or hand
them out to shoppers in busy shopping centers. The best angle here
is to offer a free check of their locks. Show them how easily a
burglar could open their doors; and then propose new locks for all
their doors at a special price. You should feel no reservation
about putting a little fear into the prospect; remember burglary is
real, and frightening!
Local newspaper advertising can be as simple as a regularly run
advertisement announcing your business location and phone number.
However, it's best used to "splash" a special offer such as the
replacement of all key-in-the-knob front door locks with deadbolt
locks for half the regular price. Whenever you spend money to
advertise, really go after new business. Once you've installed or
replaced the lock on one door, it's only natural to check the
adequacy of the locks on the other doors, and thus you should be
able to realize some real profits from your advertised special
Promoting and selling your services via Home Protection Seminars
could work like this: You rent meeting space in a church, school,
fraternal organization facilities, or even the meeting room of a
popular motel. Run lots of flamboyant advertising in your local
papers announcing your seminar. Have brochures made up describing
your services. Have your materials arranged so that you will get the
name, address and telephone number of everyone who attends. Put on
a short half-hour to 45-minute presentation first about the increase
in the number of burglaries and the losses sustained, and then
follow through with a presentation describing the proper ways to
insure the security of a home or business. Contact your suppliers,
and through them you may be able to come up with a slide
presentation of a complete program detailing how their line of
locks, alarms and other security devices will burglar-proof a home
or business. Make sure that everyone in attendance gets one of your
brochures, and then have sales people follow up on all who attended.
Via telephone, your sales people can sell homeowners and business
owners on a free survey. Commission sales people to make the survey
appointments. Then have a commission sales person call on these
prospects and make a quick survey, thens it down with them and make
recommendations on how they can improve the security of their home
or business. From there, it's a natural lead-in to "we call do the
job" for (whatever) amount of money.
The seminar and telemarketing angles can be very profitable for you,
and if promoted properly, will build your business faster than all
other plans put together. The important thing to keep in mind is
that you must be aggressive and go out after customers. By all
means, take advantage of the direct mail opportunities. Have a flyer
or circular made up elaborating on your services, specifically the
upgrading of current security and burglar-proofing of a home or
business. Hire students to deliver these door-to-door, and
commission sales people to contact and follow up via telephone.
Once you've got your sales efforts to homeowners and local
businesses organized, hire a couple of sharp commission sales people
to call on the government agencies and institutions such as
hospitals and schools. By all means, buy a good-sized display ad in
the yellow pages of your area telephone directory; and if possible,
display advertising on buses or commuter trains. Use your knowledge
of how easy it is to burglarize most homes and businesses to come up
with angles to get your name, and the name of your business, written
up in local newspapers and other publications. Make yourself
available for interviews by local radio and television talk shows,
civic clubs and fraternal organizations.
Innovation and persistence in marketing will be the keys to your
immediate success. As we've stated in this report, most locksmiths
are craftsmen who do good work, but just don't understand the
merchandising and selling opportunities. With the business and
marketing skills we've touched upon, plus quality workmanship (which
you can hire others to perform for you) should be able to quickly
establish a profitable business that will continue to grow and
Associations, schools and publishers:
Associated Locksmiths of America, Inc. 3003 Live Oak St. Dallas, TX
National Locksmith Suppliers Association 95 E. Valley Stream Blvd.
Valley Stream, NY 11580
Foley-Belsaw Institute Box 8525 Kansas City, MO 64141
Locksmith Business Management School 6301 Equitable Road Emeryville, CA
Security Systems Management School 1500 Cardinal Drive Little Falls, NJ
Locksmith Ledger 1800 Oakton St. Des Plaines, IL 60018
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