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Interview with Mike Tang, the owner of GMS Industries, maker of replacement cylinders like mortise cylinders, rim cylinders, key-in knob cylinders, SFIC cores, LFIC cores, and many others in a wide variety of keyways. On top of that, GMS is also known for its quality, and I love GMS cylinders. They do such a great job. Here's how the conversation went, and I hope that you learn something new too.
PJ: Well, hey, Mike, thank you so much for coming on and chatting with me here for a little bit.
Mike: No problem, PJ. It's good to be here.
PJ: Yeah, thank you. I'm pretty curious, when did you start GMS industries, and does GMS stand for anything?
Mike: Yeah, good question. The company officially started, Incorporated, if you will, in January of 2000 but of course, before that, I was in, you know, there's a story about that. But I spent about five years before that. Before I got to the point of incorporating GMS, you asked me what GMS stands for? So when I started the company, we were looking for a name, and I was married. There was me, my wife, and my daughter. And so GMS is just the initials of our first name. So you have Gloria, that's my wife, M would be Mike. That's me. And then S is Sabrina, and that's my daughter.
PJ: Very cool.
Mike: That's the name. Yeah. And then that's the time that we incorporated the company. The funny story about that is a lot of people don't know this; my family is actually in the bakery business. So my dad has been a baker all his life, and then I grew up in a bakery. And our family moved from Taiwan to Canada in the early 1980s, and then, in the early 1990s, my dad had friends visiting from Taiwan to our bakery in Vancouver, Canada. And they said to him, "Well, you know, the economy in Taiwan is doing very well. Why don't you come back to Taiwan and have a look at it? And maybe there are some other business opportunities, other than, you know, working as a baker, for example." And so, so that got started the whole thing. But to make a long story short, whatever he was working on, didn't end very well. And so that's when I graduated from studying engineering, and we decided, well, we have to pivot. And I figured, after learning a few, a thing or two about cylinders, we shifted and decided, well, I think we could get into the replacements cylinder business, and that's how GMS got started. And the rest of it is history.
PJ: Wow! So up to the point when you started doing cylinders, you didn't have any background per se in cylinders?
Mike: That is correct. So I guess you could say I was a pretty quick learner, and so, I got to study how cylinders or, I think, its usage. At the time, I didn't even know there were so many key ways involved, for example, and the different brands and the difference between a five-pin and a six-pin, for instance. So we learned quickly and went from a blank sheet of paper to sort of the most important aspect or principle that we established for the company was that we're sure to make replacements cylinders. But we want to make it so that it is exact to the original spec so that you could use your original pinning kit, and then you could cut the keys to spec. And then use our cylinders as if they were OEM, so that was the first thing we established. And we always kind of stuck to that idea ever since, which helped us a lot, which set us apart.
THE MANUFACTURING PROCESS
PJ: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. You guys are known for your quality in your cylinders, which kind of brings me to my next question: a lot of brands today outsource all of the manufacturing processes. I'm curious, does GMS outsource that, or do you guys own the factory or factories that you produce the cylinders at?
Mike: Yeah, that's an excellent question. We built every cylinder we made. Now, we currently have factories in Taiwan. We also have a factory in China, and the way it works, as far as the flow of the products goes, is that in Taiwan, we make quite a bit of the component, the major components, such as the housing, the plug. Then they will be shipped from Taiwan to China, where we do the plating, some of the finishes, and then the final assembly, for example. Now, some people ask me, "Well, do you own the factories in Taiwan and China?" And the answer is yes. We are unique in that we are, technically speaking, a tiny company, but what's unique about us is that we make everything we sell even though we have locations in the United States, Taiwan, and China. We only sell what we make, and that's basically how I look at it.
PJ: Wow, that's very impressive, and I guess that kind of makes sense when you own the factories where your products are being made, and you can get that consistent quality. Over the years, some of the products we buy, sometimes we look at it, you can tell, like even the country they've been made in had changes throughout whatever reasons they're switching factories for.
Mike: Again, what's important to know for our customers is that, in a way, in the big scheme of things, cylinders are not high-value products, so when there are manufacturers out there, who wants to get into this business, it seems very easy to go and buy from somebody who knows how to make a cylinder, but as you and I know, who kind of have been in the industry for a while, there's a lot of nuances, and then there are intricacies that you wouldn't understand until you start using it. And so, we're learning all the time. That helped us make sure that the quality of the cylinders is there for our customers. Instead of, for example, a manufacturer decides to buy a cylinder from somebody.
PJ: Yes, yeah, there's a vast difference between advertising an SC1 cylinder or Kwikset cylinder. Yes, the key goes in, but how does it key up, right? That's the difference.
PJ: I mean, at first and seems the same, but it's massive when a person in the security business goes to the key app or master key a cylinder; that's not actual factory specs.
Mike: Yeah, you mentioned master keying, for example, and that's one of our strong suits, and the only way to make it work properly in the master keying setting is yeah, for sure, because everything needs to be consistent; right? So, if you think about the sizes of the pins, the diameter of the pins, how they have to kind of work inside this, nothing huge, if you will, a small envelope. They do have to be pretty precise. So you avoid interchanging, for example. Now, there are many ways you could cheat, to make it work simply, you could cut the key, the key cuts could be broader, if you will, the size of the chamber could be more extensive, you know, the diameters of the plug versus the bore on the housing. But we don't do any of that. We make it very precise. And then we try to stick to that. And the challenge, of course, is it's one thing to make one cylinder, but it's pretty different when you have to make hundreds of 1000s of them. So yeah, that's not so easy, especially now that I just mentioned it, as you know, because you're one of our good full-line distributors, we have a lot of keyways, and then the keyways are also from different brands. So you're talking about Schlage brand, you're talking about Kwikset brand, they all have different diameters of plugs. They could have different spacings, so we stick to that, we don't fudge the numbers, and then that means in terms of the SKU numbers, and then the part numbers, in terms of what we have to track, it kind of blows up very, very quickly once you start adding different brands and different keywords.
QUALITY DIFFERENCE IN METALS USED
PJ: Okay, yeah, absolutely. So, you know, as you're saying this, a question popped up into my head, which I don't have the answer to, and maybe you do
PJ: The quality difference between like the die-cast, I don't know, pop-metal style of like, mortise cylinder for example, compared to like, your brass mortise cylinder. Why is there such a massive difference in material regarding ease of use and keenness? Is there a real reason behind that?
Mike: Oh, well, if you ask me, I think most of it comes from the material itself. Zinc die-cast, number one, is very soft, so they wear out quickly. And number two, zinc being used is that most likely, the housing of a mortise, for example, using a zinc cast is that it was die casted so then in order for die casting to work, let's say you need it more room for everything. So very often, the holes are more significant, and they are not consistent as well. Because when you die-cast, you have to heat it to temperature, you have to melt it, and then it cools down. So I'm not saying zinc die-cast is no good, per se. I'm just saying that doing works very well is not easy to do, as there's a lot of control. So now switching to using brass, for example, brass is an excellent material for making locks. It's obviously not as hard as steel or stainless steel, but it'll do the job, and then it keeps a finish, it doesn't rust, and it has just been proven as material for glass owners. Once in a while, you will run into some old cylinders that have been made maybe 40 years ago or 50 years ago, and if you look at the housing and the plug, for the most part, they will hold up very well.
PJ: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Okay. I mean, that makes sense. As you go through that, it makes sense why you get a different experience working with that zinc die-cast.
Mike: Yeah, unfortunately, when people go the cheap route, you gave the zinc die-cast a bad name because you could go cheap on that, and so when that happens, it is just the bat, just a poorly made product. Now, you could argue, you know, you can make cheap brass cylinders well if you ignore the tolerances involved. Still, I guess what I'm trying to say is maybe defending a little bit on the zinc cast casting because if you spend the money on it, you can still make a lovely product but like I said in the beginning, cylinders are not a high-value item. So yeah, you don't get good quality zinc die-cast cylinders.
PROCESS OF KEYING
PJ: Okay. Yeah, it makes sense. So, you know, when it comes to cylinders, the number of cylinders that GMS manufactures and sells is a lot, and I've always wondered what the process of keying all of those cylinders looks like. I mean, there's key to like, key different, keyed in pairs, I mean, a lot is going on outside of just the housing per se, how do you guys do that?
Mike: Well, luckily, in this day and age, they have machines for doing that. So, I will try to find a good clip that I can send to you to get an idea of what a machine looks like that does the pinning for cylinders. So basically, you could think of, let's say, using Schlage as an example. As you know, you got 0-9, the bottom pins, and you have different lengths up top pins plus the spring, for example. So the machine would hold each pin in a barrel. So imagine 0-9, you had 10 barrels, and you got the top pins, so you add to that, so in a setup, maybe you will have 15 barrels. Then you pre-assemble the cylinder, put in the fixture, and then you kind of go through the stations, and he has tubes feeding to the chambers, and then the program the machine will read the cuts on the key as well. And so it reads that it knows what pins to put in, then put in the springs and caps it and then basically in a cycle of about less than 10 seconds, then it pins up the cylinder. So that's an efficient way of doing it, but that's not to say we do that for all the cylinders, because one of these machines would cost quite a fair bit of money, for example. So if it's a product like a slow runner, maybe, let's say, Weiser, we don't do as much Weiser as we do in Schlage; for Weiser, we pin it by hand. In China, we have ten employees full-time. Think of it. I mean, all day, they do nothing but, you know, chopping the pins, chopping the springs.
PJ: Wow! That's crazy. Did I hear that right? In about 10 seconds, you have an automated machine that will pin a cylinder?
Mike: Correct. Yeah.
Mike: So it is one of those things. Quite often, you can't even see the fastener like in other words. You have a pre-assemble; imagine a pre-assemble mortise cylinder without the spring cover, if you will. So you know the top is exposed, and then you put in the fixture, and you slide in the key and, you know, if you're not fast enough, you can't even keep up, for example.
Mike: It is very cool for somebody who is mechanically inclined. I mean, it just, it's pretty cool stuff.
PJ: Yeah, absolutely. I would love to see what that looks like.
Mike: Sure. Sure.
PJ: Well, Mike, you know, this has been great. I appreciate you coming on and talking about GMS, and I've personally learned so much, you know. I want to tell you when I started doing what I was doing now, in 2004, as I was trying to build the company and represent different manufacturing lines. When we finally got to the correct size and our two companies started doing business, it was one of those inspiring days for me. My dad's a locksmith, and I remember calling him up as soon as I got word that we would-be distributors, calling him up being like, Dad, can you believe it? We're going to start selling, GMS and he was excited for me, so it was great.
Mike: Good to hear. I mean, one thing I do sort of, let's say one thing I do recognize, in doing what we do is that we hear good things from the actual users. These are, for example, locksmith professionals, who are using our products, and we do hear good things about it. Again, it comes down to that very first principle that we used when we started the company, and that is we wanted to make our cylinders to exact OEM specs. So, if you already had the pinning kit, you already have your key cutting machine set up for this is Schlage, Corbin, we also have arrow Kwikset. Weiser, for example, even Best, right? And you know, you don't have to fudge anything, you take the pinning kit you have, you drop it in, you'll pin-up like the original and then the challenge, of course, is when you run into master keying and then, you know, really so far, we seem to be very good at doing that.
PJ: Absolutely. Yeah. And I mean, that's what makes GMS so great, honestly, the company you've built and the consistency that everyone has come to know, which I think it's been a massive part of your guys' success for the past two decades.
Mike: Yeah, no doubt. The quality of the cylinders. Again, it comes back to the fact that you could pin up just like the original and consistency; as you mentioned, we invested a lot in the machinery that we use, and, of course, that is one thing. Still, of course, we've learned a lot over the years, and I think I said earlier, it's one thing to be making one or two cylinders, but the challenge is very different when you start making hundreds of 1000s of cylinders.
Mike: We worked hard on that. No doubt about that.
PJ: Absolutely. Well, hey, that's awesome. And you know, thank you again for coming on, and you know, I'm excited. Next Tuesday, you're going to be coming on live and hanging out a little bit, so I do appreciate that as well.
Mike: Looking forward to it.
PJ: Good stuff, Mike. Thank you. Have a lovely evening, and we will see you on Tuesday.
Mike: Well, thank you very much. We'll see you next time!
A great conversation with Mike. I feel very fortunate that I've been able to have him on. And I'm looking forward to having him live on YouTube for our giveaway. So I would love to know what you thought in the comments below. Join our giveaway by commenting #LockBoss to our Youtube videos to win one of five free prizes we give away every week. Thank you, and we'll see you next time.