Speak to almost all locksmiths and they love locksmithing. Whether someone has been picking locks and cracking safes for half a century (or even longer), is installing biometric access controls, programming car keys, replacing window locks after a burglary or anything in between, locksmiths love locksmithing. For some locksmiths, however, struggling to attract customers or having lots of work but struggling to make a decent profit is getting in the way of the job they love. This means having to take on work they don’t like, moving away from the industry, or sacrificing precious time with family and friends in attempt to work more hours. Help is here.
For anyone who has already heard of Help Locks and its founder Paul Stevens; a short intro to his background simply states that Paul turned his hand to locksmithing having worked as a retail manager for 17 years, and for some this might seem like an unusual step; even if it isn’t unusual for locksmiths to have started their career in another sector.
“It’s true I worked in retail first,” Paul says, “and I had been considering setting up a business of my own, but at the time it wasn’t going to be locksmithing. The matter of the fact is that I was managing the retail store at Bradford City FC and quite often trainee locksmiths would come into the store from a neighbouring training centre.
“I would speak to the trainers and the trainees, and I became interested in it myself. I thought it would be a nice side-line and I like picking up new skills. During my training though, I saw much more scope in locksmithing and my head for business started thinking of a new idea.
“I attended the MLA expo in 2015 and that was my ‘Eureka moment’; to combine the centuries-old tradition of locksmithing with the modern business practices I’d been immersed in for almost two decades. That’s when I set to work with Help Locks.”
It wasn’t a case of leaving one career path behind and starting on a new venture however, as Paul explains, he merged the two together to create a new model. Having noticed himself that there can be very skilful, hardworking locksmiths that put in the hours but don’t seem to get back the take-home pay they should be expecting, Paul had a business plan that would allow locksmiths to do the work they love and get the rewards they deserve, through proper support, and his own personal mentorship.
“In my ‘retail life’, I worked with very large companies and much smaller ones, meaning that I experienced the entire gambit of branding and budgets, management and marketing, working with suppliers, dealing with customers; everything that is needed to run a business and help others set up their own.
“Then in my ‘locksmith life’, I started to apply what I’d learnt during my previous roles to my own business. In my mind from day one was ‘can my hours on the tools and the profit I’m making each year be made into a model to help others do the same’. The answer was yes.
“Through my own work – which in itself was an experiment to see if Help Locks could be a franchise – I was developing an online presence, through our website and social media. I was establishing our product line and forging relationships with suppliers. I was negotiating costs and building up case studies. Last but by no means least, I was getting a real feel for what locksmiths love about their jobs and what they need more of.
“For the most part, the majority of locksmiths are really good at their job, but for whatever reason they are not attracting enough customers or they are not making enough money from the work they do. It’s not as simple as putting up the prices or placing some advertising though, there needs to be a sound business model that can provide locksmiths the earning potential they deserve, great products at decent prices to them, training when its needed, support and mentorship, plus job satisfaction for, let’s face it, the next 30 years in some cases. That’s a long time to be doing a job you don’t like or worse, a job you really like but isn’t giving back what you’re putting into it.”
By the time Paul started to work on the official franchising of Help Locks he had already put enough personal work into business plan that the process that usually takes around six months was completed and signed off in just two. The franchise partner he worked with to get all the documentation, paperwork and policies together commented at the time how they could clearly see how much of the process had already been thought through and was ready to implement.
And, Paul – a CORGI locksmith himself – sent out the first batch of invitations to potential franchisees to fellow CORGI members, he was even surprised himself by the response. From those that requested further information to those that are already on the next stage of the process already in five different regions in the UK.
The million dollar question though – or the 90k question as that is the earning potential for year four turnover of a Help Locks locksmith – how is this different to another locksmith network, and why should locksmiths join?
“In my mind, there’s a few different reasons a locksmith would want to join Help Locks,” explains Paul. “Firstly, they may be doing warrant work and just not like it. Help Locks really is enjoyable work for the locksmith. Secondly, they may be employed by someone else or newly-qualified and – like me at the beginning of Help Locks – want to work for themselves, but unlike me not have the business experience, acumen or confidence to get it off the ground. Thirdly, they are experienced, self-employed locksmiths who are just not earning enough or finding consistent custom for whatever reason. These are the three main reasons they are looking for a change.
“There are so many reasons why Help Lock is the answer though, and that’s what makes it unlike anything else in the industry. Help Locks exists to build business for locksmiths first and foremost. The earning potential figures are solid and based on my own experience. They are achievable and they are accessible for locksmiths. Moreover, they are based on hours ‘on the tools’ not an overall weekly or monthly total.
“The online and social media presence is readymade for Help Locks locksmiths to tap into, with more than 48,000 followers across our three Facebook groups, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube channels; and I’ve had SEO companies congratulate us on our website rather than try and pitch it for work!
“On a practical point, the branded van, the uniform, the starter stock and the discount card is ready for the locksmith to go out and get working. Meanwhile product training, business support, marketing materials – such as a co-branded website, and my own personal mentorship comes part and parcel too. And other than that, anything else that a prospective franchisee needs or wants to know is just a phone call or an email away.”