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Things I’d like to change about the locksmith trade

When Metrolocks started, back in 1991, we were great innovators without too much effort. That’s because the locksmith industry in the UK at the time was sleepy and old-fashioned. There was a lot about the trade that needed changing, and we were the right people to start doing that.

But we’re thirty years on, and a lot has changed since then. The rise of online advertising has democratised the trade, allowing even ‘small-fry’ to compete with the big boys; locksmiths are increasingly tech-savvy; and folks have become a lot more enterprising.

There are a few things about the locksmith trade that I’d still like to see change, though. We’re still not perfect, after all!

The industry’s reluctance to touch electronic stuff

One thing that has always irked me, and continues to irk me, is how a great many locksmiths out there shy away from electrical work.

Before intercoms existed we had bellboys and concierges, but nowadays every single building with flats in has an intercom and an electric release. The world is full of decrepit old intercoms that sorely need attention, and there are thousands of landlords willing to pay good money to service them, but locksmiths tend to sniff at that kind of work.

This is a total market failure, because it leads to a huge amount of demand but no supply. We get more demand for electrical work than we can at times handle, just because the field is so uncompetitive.

Add to this the fact that electrical locksmithing isn’t at all complicated. Intercoms and electric releases all run on 12V or 24V, so you don’t need Part P registration or any electrician’s qualifications. All you need is a bit of knowhow, a multimeter and a bit of patience.

It isn’t rocket science and it’s a specialism that can be lucrative. I wish I saw more people daring to try.

The proliferation of security cards for locks

In continental Europe a great many locks are issued with security cards. This means that you can’t get keys copied without being able to show the key-cutter this card. It’s a bit of an inconvenient system, but the people on the continent are accustomed to this process, which makes it less likely for the card to go missing. For instance, when a property is sold, the estate agent will likely include the security card as part of the handover bundle.

But in the UK these carded locks are much less common. Most security keys require a letter of authorisation to be cut, if that. There are nevertheless increasing amounts of carded locks that are creeping into the UK market.

Abloy logoBrands such as Abloy, Keso, Banham and Mul-T-Lock are giving their customers these cards, but their British users don’t fully understand the significance of these cards. The cards get lost and the customers can’t get any new keys. Moreover, most of the time it’s an extremely inflexible process to get new cards made. (I have my suspicions that this process is made as Kafkaesque as possible, to ensure nobody bothers. Manufacturers pass this excessive and prohibitive bureaucracy off as ‘extra security’.)

This is an aspect about the UK locksmith industry that sorely needs updating as a matter of urgency.

Bait-and-switch crooks out and about

Anyone who advertises for anything knows that advertising is expensive. You need a good return on your advertising investment, otherwise you’ll just be chucking your cash out the window.

How do you get a good return on our investment? You have to ensure that as many people as possible who view your advertisement use your services. Most people do this by offering a good service, or by having a great website, or by targeting their customers well. There really are all kinds of solutions to the problem.

One less good solution to the problem is deliberately lying to your customers. You lie to your customers to reel them in, and then change the arrangement afterwards.

This is known as ‘bait and switch’. You bait the customer, most often by an unrealistically low price, and, once you’re at the customer’s door, you suddenly change the price into something much, much higher.

This practice is rife in the locksmith industry at the moment. Most lockies, like us, are fundamentally honest practitioners, but there are a small handful of aggressive companies out there who ruthlessly bait and switch their customers, charging frankly outrageous prices after they had originally quoted tiny amounts of money.

Parochialism across borders

This last point relates mainly to the industry outside of the UK. We have dealings with locksmiths all around the world, primarily within Europe. We’re always more than happy to sell to other countries, even when they have very strict customs rules (I’m looking at you, South Africa!).

The problem is that people outside of the UK are often reluctant to sell abroad. Once a wholesaler or manufacturer reaches a critical mass, they’ll usually sell anywhere in the world, but the industry is full of smaller suppliers, many of whom don’t trust people outside their own country.

In Britain, we tend to be quite capitalist. We’ll do anything for money, in a way. We occasionally get asked to do some pretty crazy stuff that’s way out of our comfort zone (we nearly installed a door made entirely out of stone, until the customer scotched the whole project). But locksmiths in other countries can be rather more parochial than that.

Instead of the British “You say ‘jump’, I say ‘how high?'” attitude, many others would rather not make the extra effort needed to sell abroad (creating zero-rate VAT invoices, organising an international courier, possibly filling out a customs form, etc.) and therefore refuse to sell altogether.

There’s us standing there with a fistful of cash that we’re desperate to throw at some fortunate locksmith from abroad, but they’d rather not. That sort of parochialism makes my blood boil, because it’s so fundamentally anti-commercial.

If you want advice on home security, just give us a call!