Written by Dasha Morgan | Photos by Ellen Gwin
On the surface, locksmithing isn’t a hard field to get into. All you need is some mechanical ability, a year of apprenticeship, pass a test, survive a background check, get a license and swear to uphold a strict code of ethics.
Congratulations. You’re on your way.
Oh, and you’ll need about $50,000 worth of equipment including a truck and the willingness to answer your cell phone at all hours. If you want to sell locks and keys, you’ll have to compete with the big-box stores, and every employee you hire will bring another ton of responsibility for the doors he opens and the keys he makes. You’ll have to be ready to handle the stress of people who are desperately counting on you to change a lock to keep a spouse or formerly-significant other out; and you’ll have to be ready to open a car door calmly and assuredly with a panicked mom screaming and crying in your ear and a helpless child locked inside.
Back in 2002, Marianne Odom and her husband, Alan Odom, thought that sounded pretty good. They had moved to Asheville from Goldsboro, North Carolina, where Alan was a facilities manager for Progress Energy. Alan also had been in law enforcement and found his career path with the former Carolina Power & Light, which became Progress Energy and today is Duke Energy.
Alan and Marianne had been married in 1983. The next several years saw Alan being reassigned to different Progress locations, including a long stay in Goldsboro. After Progress moved Alan to Asheville, the Odoms decided it was time to get something going in anticipation of yet another move or Progress cutbacks.
Marianne, a graduate of East Tennessee State University with degrees in English and journalism, also had the urge to try something outside the home other than home schooling their son. She didn’t want to work for a newspaper, a job she had done before, so she became a locksmith.
Alan eventually retired and became president of the family business, A.L. Odom Locksmith on Sweeten Creek Road. Through the years they have become fixtures and even lifesavers to thousands of businesses and residents in the Asheville area.
Just as Alan and Marianne Odom suspected long ago, there is no shortage of need for a good locksmith.
“I never had a job that was what you would consider to be a traditional female position,” Marianne says. “My father was a contractor and I had brothers as role models. We came from Wilmington but we grew up in Johnson City, Tennessee. I worked in contracting and for a newspaper before I started home schooling.”
Marianne says that once she decided to become a locksmith she particularly enjoyed taking their son, Jason, to her classes. “I was attending classes and working to learn the trade and many times I would have him with me. By the time he was old enough to work, he had attended so many classes that sometimes he would answer questions in a class before any of the students had a chance to say anything.”
Locksmithing is regulated in North Carolina by the North Carolina Locksmith Licensing Board. According to Barden Culbreth, executive director of the board, the licensing examination consists of 150 questions and requires about a year of practical experience and classes to pass. (See sidebar). Thirty five questions relate to state laws and the Locksmith Code of Ethics.
From its start in 2002, the Odom firm grew quickly. It currently has three vans on the road staffed by employees and, at times, by Marianne herself. Alan Odom had a heart attack in 2012 and his health no longer allows him to be as active in the business as he once was. Marianne says nothing has changed except that she now carries more of the responsibility.
“Alan’s still here for advice and support,” Marianne says. “Our company continues to do pretty much anything, residential and commercial. We sell new locks, work on existing locks, get doors open and replace things that are worn out. And don’t forget keys. We make a lot of keys for houses, commercial buildings and cars. Pretty much anything with a lock. The commercial work includes key and lock changes for property managers. Whenever someone vacates an apartment you need to change the locks. You never know how many keys are floating around out there.”
(article continues on page 2 and more photographs are at the end)