“A lot of contractors buy their locks from one of the big-box stores,” Marianne says, “Many times they and their clients don’t know there is a difference between the inexpensive big-box locks and the ones you buy from a professional locksmith. The cheaper lock often times has fewer tumblers or plastic parts that can wear out quickly. We can still repair them and still make keys for them, but in many cases it’s less expensive to just buy a good lock in the first place.”
The Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA, a trade group) grades residential and commercial door locks from grades 1 to 3. Grade 3 is the entry level for residential locks. The BHMA suggests homeowners consider Grade 2 (Heavy Residential and Light Commercial) as the standard for all exterior doors.
“We also do a lot of work with the new electronic locks and security systems that are operated by cell phone applications (apps)” Marianne says. “As long as there is a mechanical component to it locksmiths will be needed. And we sell some of the best electronic systems.”
The Odom’s business ranges from the other side of Charlotte to Franklin and Murphy and up to Cherokee. They work in South Carolina, but do not cross into Tennessee due to licensing requirements. “We wouldn’t have enough work there to make it worthwhile,” she says.
With the advent of more and more complex automobile and truck keys, some of the business has reverted to automobile dealerships. Marianne acknowledges that but says there is no good reason for it other than manufacturers’ and dealers’ misguided efforts to provide higher levels of security (and keep the business in-house).
“We can do a lot of new automobile keys, but generally only if there is an aftermarket key or if the dealer will sell us the key blank,” Marianne says. “Several years ago California passed a law that said all keys and keys to locks sold in the state have to also be available to locksmiths. That way they can’t force consumers to come into the dealership. That helped free up some of the technology. Still, for certain foreign car manufacturers (to remain nameless) I can cut keys for their cars all day long, but when you call them and tell them you need the key code to program it they’ll say they have to get the code from Germany and they don’t give it to locksmiths. That often means the car has to be towed to the dealership.”
Marianne suggests owners needing certain keys on Friday afternoons might be out of luck. “It’s not the dealer’s fault that the key disappeared on Friday,” she says. “But it’s terribly inconvenient to have to wait through the weekend for a key code when a locksmith could handle it right away.”
In any case with a lost vehicle key, Marianne says the owner should start by writing down the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) located inside the glass at the base of the windshield on the driver’s side. “We need to make sure the vehicle is registered to the person who wants a key. The VIN also gives a locksmith the information they need to determine whether or not an aftermarket key blank is available. Often, with newer, high-tech vehicles, they are not.”
Asked if she is happy, 12 years later, about starting her own business, Marianne responds positively.
“I absolutely am happy that we started our own business. It was a struggle to get going but now, I can’t imagine not to be in a position where we could help and get to know so many people and be captains of our own ship. Now, have there been bad decisions or things I would redo? Absolutely. But overall, yes, it has been a really good thing.”
Marianne says the field, as with many skilled trades, has not been a big attraction to younger workers.[quote float=”right”]“Sometimes we go into a situation where the police have already been there—domestic situations where the situation is resolved but we have to button things up.” Marianne Odom said.[/quote] “Unfortunately for the locksmithing trade there haven’t been a lot of people getting into the field. A lot of the people in the trade are older. As they retire, or die off, it leaves a void that needs to be filled. Even as electronics take over and some of the locks and things evolve into more modern technology, there are still a lot of the older things that need to be handled as well. And even if you have state of the art electronics, there are still going to be mechanical components. You hate to turn someone down when they call you, but without more locksmiths, that’s what we’re facing.”
The average nationwide annual salary for locksmiths was $39,160 in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A young person coming into the field as an apprentice would see considerably less income, but could move up the ladder quickly if they have a background in computers and electronics.
“Special training in the field can pay off,” Marianne says. “The youngsters who already know computers have less to learn. A lot of us who have been in the business awhile are getting older. There’s room for growth and new people.”
Is there still business for locksmiths? The numbers indicate there is but the recession has hurt. Data from the North Carolina Locksmith Licensing Board shows there are only 45 locksmiths and apprentices in Buncombe County and a total of 109 in the state’s 18 western counties. Charts available from the BLS show a total of between 250 and 300 fully licensed locksmiths in the entire state.