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Thinking of becoming a locksmith? Many people ask me about my profession when I arrive at a workplace. The idea of ​​working with the public, working with hand tools, making a quick buck off lock calls, and of course the power and ability to open doors, cars, and safes is quite intoxicating to some people. I don’t place help-seeking ads, but I nevertheless promise one unsolicited resume per month via email. It usually comes from an anxious teen looking to do an apprenticeship. OJT (on the job training) is a good way to go if you can get the job. This is precisely how I started. That and reading every trade magazine I could get my hands on, endless hours researching the web, taking classes, attending trade shows, and talking to any locksmith who would take the time to chat with me (and many would, as long as I wasn’t one of their competitors). But that’s how it is for most lockout athletes. Once you start working as a locksmith, it gets under your skin. It consumes you and becomes an obsession. That’s not exactly a bad thing after all; Being (God willing) financially successful in what you enjoy is a great way to pay the bills. However, there is a price to pay that does not fit the lifestyle of most people and therefore the purpose of this article.

The good: helping the public and earning a few bucks while doing it. First of all, I rarely charge to open a car or house when a child is locked inside. When I get the call, usually from a panicked father saying his son is locked in a car, I rush to the scene. There are few better moments for me as a locksmith than seeing the relief in a mother’s eyes as I open the door and she lifts her son out of a sweltering car on a hot summer day. “You are my HERO,” she says as she hugs her son tearfully. “No charge, ma’am. We don’t charge for kids locked in cars. If you’d like, for a small fee, I can make you a copy of your car door key so it’s less likely to happen again.” They almost always say yes, and the key payment is often accompanied by a tip. The “extra offer” is simply to cover my gas outlay on the call, and the tip, if any, buys me lunch.

The rest of my jobs are typically for-profit jobs. Still, more than half of what I collect goes back to the company in the form of gas, insurance, advertising, business organization, license fees, vehicle maintenance, tools, supplies, and other expenses.

As a locksmith you will never get rich, but if you play your cards right you could retire just fine. The plan, as I read in a popular trade magazine, is to sell a well-established store with a long list of customer accounts, while owning and collecting rent on the property the store is located on. It’s even better if you own an entire complex and also collect rent from your shop’s neighbors. I personally know a retired locksmith who did exactly this and I understand he is doing quite well.

Many locksmiths make and sell tools and/or reference books, or teach classes (like me) to supplement their income.

The bad: being on call 24/7. After-hours and weekend service can account for a large part, if not most, of your revenue in the beginning. Then there are the late night calls. 2 am, half drunk and can’t find his car keys: “I’m sorry sir, I can’t help you drive your car tonight, but if you call me in the morning, I’ll be happy to help you.”

The locksmith industry is a highly regulated (but necessarily) security industry. The licenses, insurance and bonds you must carry can cost a small fortune. I have a city business license, a state locksmith license, a state locksmith and security contractor license, two insurance policies (general liability and commercial vehicle insurance), two different bonds, and am a member of two major national trade organizations. In California, you must be fingerprinted and pass state and federal background tests. I am also a member of a few local organizations including the Chico Chamber of Commerce and the North Valley Property Owners Association.

The cost of running a business like this can be overwhelming and there is always another tool you need to buy, another software upgrade or parts/tools that need to be ordered. I am currently saving for a high security key machine that retails for $5,800.

Let’s not forget the paperwork. You will need to keep legal forms for clients to fill out and detailed records of who, what, where and when. The last thing you want to do is make car or house keys for someone who does not have the authority to possess a key to that property.

Lastly, buy yourself a nice shirt and tie because there’s a good chance you’ll be in a court of law before long for, among other things, domestic disputes.

The ugly: evictions, repossessions (REOs), and re-keys after a domestic dispute. There are few things as humble in this profession as writing a bill for after-hours service and handing over new keys to someone with a new black eye. I vividly remember a woman standing over a hole in the drywall where her head had been forcibly inserted just hours before. The local sheriffs know me because it’s not uncommon to perform security checks and change passwords while they’re still there, filling out their report.

Can you say fleas? Yeah, I keep flea powder in the truck now because you never know what condition a recently foreclosed home is going to be in.

Angry former tenants who have been evicted can also file a challenge. Sometimes the locks are disabled or destroyed, and I keep latex gloves in the van in case I ever have to pick another lock that he peed on.

The bottom line: I’m pretty happy being a locksmith, most of the time. The salary, the freedom of work (I can keep my schedule open if my kids have a school event), and the satisfaction of helping people while making a profit for myself keeps me going.

My advice to you:

1. Do your research before entering the market as a locksmith. My city has too many locksmiths per capita. There is barely enough work to go around most of the time.

2. Get with another locksmith and be willing to move, as you may have to sign a “non-compete” contract that says you won’t stop being your boss’s competitor. Locksmith schools are fine, but an experienced locksmith can show you some tricks of the trade that can help you make higher profits or get jobs done better and faster than the basic skills taught in most schools.

3. Be willing to pay your fair share. It will take many years to build a customer base and a name of your own. A wise locksmith once told me that it takes at least three years before they (customers) know you’re there, and seven before they realize you’re gone.

4. When you start out on your own, get a recognizable logo and put it on everything: your truck, bills, handout pens, and any other piece of advertising (see our logo below).

5. CYA Document everything and have professionally prepared, pre-printed legal forms for your clients to fill out.

6. Don’t get too carried away. If you have other obligations, such as a spouse and/or children, be sure to make time for them. It’s hard to turn off the phone or reject calls because you’re turning down money, but you can’t make up for lost days.

A former employer of mine occasionally tells the story of how he made $2,000 in one weekend fielding calls to his locksmith on call, while out on a boat on Shasta Lake with his wife. It was a weird holiday weekend for them and he spent a good part of the day on the phone. She died of cancer two short years later, and then she told me that she would give anything to get that day back. I know this story personally as I was the clerk on call that weekend.

To quote Uncle Ben (from Spider-Man the Movie): “With great power comes great responsibility.” The ability to unlock doors, bypass alarm systems, unlock safes, and inside knowledge of customers’ security systems has been the bane of unscrupulous locksmiths. In short, if you can’t handle temptation, don’t practice.

Finally: Never take advantage of someone. As Grandpa always said, it can take a lifetime to build a good reputation, but just a moment to ruin it.

Good luck in whatever you decide, unless of course you are planning to open a locksmith shop in my service area.

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