Electro Mechanical Access Control: It’s Not Really That Scary!

By Troy Johnston.

Electronic security may have been the exception rather than the rule when I started as a locksmith 17 years ago, however this is no longer the case. One only needs to go down to the local hardware store to see various forms of electronic security creeping onto the shelves that the DIY crowd are rapidly installing in their homes and businesses. And while the prices of products are decreasing, the ease of use and product range is rapidly increasing. If this is not a sign to locksmiths that they need to diversify into electronic access control to complement their existing physical security range, what is?

My first experience with electronics was back in my apprentice days: My boss wanted an electric strike on the counter door with a button to operate it. “I’ll do it” I shouted with enthusiasm – it was that or cut another 80 keys to code on our old machine.

Several hours later we had a working strike with power supply from an old alarm panel, and a switch from the local electronics store. I also made it a point of proudly stating to anyone that would listen that I had fitted everything, and that it was working perfectly. The point of the story is that, over the years, we actually ended up installing similar setups for many customers once they had seen the work we had done in our own shop.

Your customers already trust your advice as a security professional, so why not expand a little with your current product range to be able to better serve them and increase your revenue at the same time? The days of people happily paying a premium for chunky deadlocks on their doors, windows and gates are somewhat declining. However, in my experience, if it goes beep, if they can watch it on a screen or if it will talk to them on their phone, they are much more enthusiastic to pay for it.

As a locksmith, you already understand the fundamentals of security, upgrading physical security in high-risk areas are providing control and convenience with master key systems. All of these skills transfer very easily into the electronic security world and, more often than not, complement each other. Think of access control as the ultimate master-key system, where the possibilities are infinite and, best of all, the customer still needs additional cards just like they do keys.

Something else that is fairly enticing when contemplating starting out in electronic security is the low level of capital required. As a locksmith, you already have basic hand and electric tools. Add a multimeter, soldering iron and laptop to your kit and you are up and away. This pales in comparison to the capital needed to pursue other areas in security.

A common concern I hear among locksmiths is the issue of cabling. “How do I do it?”, “Do I need a licence for that?”, “What about liability issues if something goes wrong and I don’t have a licence?” This can be easily overcome by taking a few days to get your cabling licence or, alternatively, getting an electrician to perform the cabling duties. Make friends with your local electrician as they will be a great source of information, and you will invariably need them to install a power point in the future anyway.

Another confusing part of entering the world of electronic security is learning the jargon. Amps, IP address, MAC address, IR, TVL, Auto IRIS. I could go on, but you get the idea. It may seem like a foreign language at the moment, but think back to your early days as an apprentice. Did you really know what your boss was talking about in the first week when he said “look at how worn the broach is,” or “look at the burrs on the fence arm, no wonder it won’t drop into the gates.” What? Don’t worry, ask questions, get informed and soon it will be common knowledge.

Like many things in life, the first attempt is not always the easiest or prettiest, especially in hindsight. Of course it may well take longer than you anticipated, but think back to the first time you opened a safe, designed your first master key system or rekeyed the latest car on the market. It was no doubt time consuming, probably not that profitable, but nevertheless an important learning curve that had to be undertaken. Many people try something once only to be dissuaded by a few hurdles and never return. Electronic security is no different.Don’t give up!

For those of you who are now keen to enter the world of electronic security, here are some tips to help you avoid some of the mistakes that I made:

  • Your first priority is to find a good supplier that you can rely on, not only through their product range, but also technical support. Technical support is crucial to your business success and the sanity of you and your staff. Some suppliers will also offer worst-case scenario onsite help. A lot of locksmiths aren’t used to technical support when it comes to physical security. This, however, is common in the electronic security world, and it is reassuring knowing that someone has your back.
  • Training is something that we all need in order for our ambitions not to exceed our abilities. Once again, this can usually be obtained through your supplier, or sometimes an external organisation. Make sure that those who are training you have real life experience and aren’t just referring to page four, chapter six in the manual. Having practical experience that can be passed onto you minimises your mistakes and ads to your profit margin.
  • Stick to a small range of products and become familiar with their capabilities rather than trying to be an expert at everything. This allows you to build a solid foundation of knowledge that will, in turn, allow you to better educate your clients about the features and benefits of the product.
  • Don’t take any products to site unless you have wired them up on the bench and are comfortable with how they work. This should be a golden rule for everyone. If you don’t understand it in the shop, why assume you will know any better on site? I have tried to wing it several times with new products, and it can end in tears. Trust me: The customers can smell your fear!
  • Start small and progress from there, I know it sounds obvious but it is easy to bite off more than you can chew sometimes. I much prefer to be in and out in a few hours or few days maximum, get paid and move on. Don’t be afraid to say no. It’s tempting to see the dollar signs without seeing the job for what it really is. If the project is too big, let the client know. They will appreciate your honesty more than your excuses later for why the job isn’t finished. If you are unsure, lean on your supplier and get their advice where possible.

I would encourage any locksmith to calculate how many enquiries you received five years ago for electronic access control in comparison to how many you receive today. Then take a step back and ask yourself, “With the electronic security becoming more mainstream, how many times will I lose money and say, No, I’m sorry, we do not deal with electronic security.” What may be your bread and butter now, may be your crumbs in the years to come.

Troy Johnston has has been involved in the locksmith industry for the last 17 years in various forms. He is currently based in Queensland and works for LSC Technical Sales and Support Electronic Security. Contact Troy on tjohnston@lsc.com.au or 07 3252 1056