Bam Gets in the Daily Newspaper

A Locksmith's Daily Grind

by Bam (Full name deleted)

This article appeared in The News & Observer
Wednesday, July 22, 1998

The phone rings. "Locksmith, may I help you?" I say as I rub my eyes, swing my feet over the side of the bed and glance over my wife, still sleeping next to me, at the alarm-clock radio, that's set to go off at 7:00 AM, still two hours away. I managed to grab the phone before it rang a second time, which is the ring that would normally wake, not only my wife, but my seven year old son and my ten year old step-daughter.

The person on the other end tells me that he locked his keys in his car and would like to know how long before I could get there. I tell him thirty minutes. And that's pushing it. I figure ten minutes to shower, shave and do the rest of the early morning bathroom necessities, ten minutes to grab a banana, glass of milk and my vitamins and get dressed, and ten minutes to travel the eight miles to where the car is located.

Then he says, "Can't you make it any faster? I'm late for work." I tell him, honestly, that I'll do my best, but thirty minutes is already pushing it. Then he asks me if I have a cellular phone and if I could take his number and call him when I get to his car, so he can come down, since he's busy getting ready for work and doesn't want to be interrupted.

Now, I'm curious. How do you lock your keys in your car while you're getting ready for work? Why do people think that they're the only ones that need to get ready? Do people think that I wake up each and every morning at 4:30 AM so I can get ready and wait around for the one day that they'll call?

Don't get me wrong, the lockout end of Locksmithing is the bread and butter. Low overhead, moderate income, little work. But then comes the kicker. "How much will it be?"

Our normal service charge is $35.00. Before and after regular business hours is an additional "emergency work" charge. Usually ranging from ten to twenty dollars, depending on the job, location and time. Almost everyone in this business charges virtually the same thing. A few dollars here or there, depending upon experience, work load, discounts and specials, but anyone worth their salt is in the same marketplace, price wise. "How come so much?"

I wonder if they ask the mechanic why he charges $45.00 an hour, and you have to bring your car to him. The plumber gets a $45.00 service call PLUS $45.00 an hour, with a one hour minimum. Air conditioner repair man? Electrician? Glazier?

But, you know they'll call every single locksmith in the phone book. Wake up every single member of every locksmith family. Call, and call back to find out if they're all the same price. Then, finally, get back to me, waking up the whole house again, and telling me to hurry.

I've been a licensed, bonded locksmith for eighteen years. I've been to classes and seminars and certification testing. I've spent many thousand dollars on equipment, tools, books, pamphlets, and keeping current on the latest locks and techniques. Advertising, depreciation, wear and tear, gas, licenses, bonds, insurance, cell phones, business phone lines, stock, blanks, locks, and "burglary tools". My prices are the same today as my bosses were when I first started as a young apprentice eighteen years ago.

I don't believe there is another service profession, or any profession for that matter, that can say that. Locksmiths are a people oriented service profession where the prices do not go up to match inflation or cost of living, only to cover costs and try to hump out a salary. "But wait, there's more!"

"Boy, some hourly rate you got there. One minute, thirty-five dollars". I guess they forgot they woke up my entire family at five o'clock in the morning. I had to forgo my usual daily routine to get out of the house as soon as possible. It'll take me another ten minutes to get home and I've been downstairs waiting for this guy for ten minutes when I got here. After the paperwork is done, and the government gets their end and I've filled out my 941's and NC DOR papers for the month, and other small business paperwork requirements, then tried to catch up on some very necessary sleep, that I missed, I've probably ended up spending a little more than four hours for that thirty five dollars. Now my hourly wage for that hour is much different. If I did that for eight hours a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year, I'm only slightly above the poverty level when all is said and done.

Thank goodness for the real test of a locksmith's bread. The key making on the side of the road, the deadbolt installations, the panic bars and pilfer devices that have become common place and code. Houses, cars, and businesses. The difference between a locksmith and a "car opening company".

My favorite answer to the question people always ask about why the key they had made up at the local hardware store doesn't work, is that when I break my arm, I don't go to a massage therapist. I love a good massage! I'd get them five times a week if I could. But go to a specialist, when you need his specialty!

Next time you make a mistake, don't blame the person who's coming to help!

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