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The Truth about Small Town Locksmithing- Hours & Distance
"In all the apartment buildings and commercial buildings and everything, I use the same hardware, I use the same keyways and everything, and all of a sudden, you're thrown to the wild, and you're dealing with everything. And I had never dealt with the A3 pinning system before. And that was a culture shock for me. I didn't even know when A3 pinning system existed." – Greg Gibson
Super excited to introduce you to a longtime lock boss community member. His name is Yogi Greg Gibson. Greg has a fascinating take on the geographical location he's at and how he operates the business. I think it is essential to have him share some of his tactics and get to hang out with him for a few minutes. This is how the conversation went.
PJ: I appreciate you coming on here and hanging out for a little bit. And then let me get to kind of dissect your business operation and some of your flaws. So, Greg, let's start from the beginning. Where are you located in the US?
Greg: I'm located right smack dab in the middle of North Dakota.
PJ: Right in the middle?
Greg: Right in the middle, a worse place to be.
PJ: And how long have you been locksmithing as a profession?
Greg: As a profession, I'm going on my fourth year.
PJ: And what were you doing before locksmithing?
Greg: I was serving as a locksmith, but I'm not a professional locksmith. I had a pool of realtors and a massive pool of property owners, and I managed their entire master key systems and hired and managed crews for any time somebody moved or needed to be evicted, any repairs that needed to be made. I was the guy all the locksmiths hated.
PJ: Okay, so you're a locksmith, but you were also doing some property maintenance-type stuff.
PJ: Okay. What was that moment when someone decided to switch focus on how they're making money? And what was the moment that led to the circumstances that led to 'I want to start my own locksmithing business.
Greg: Well, the defining moment was when the last local locksmith called me, and he said, I'm 74 years old. I can't do this anymore. I'll make you a heck of a good deal on all my equipment and inventory. And I got thinking, well, you know, some of this stuff I could use, so I threw him a bone, and I ended up buying him out. I didn't advertise or anything because I hadn't intended on going public, and then all of a sudden, the Chamber of Commerce and local government officials are like, "Help! We don't have a locksmith within 120 miles. Please, please serve the public." I just decided that that's the time. The neighborhood, the communities, and the businesses were suffering because they had to pay to have somebody drive 120 miles.
PJ: Wow! So that's when you decided to get into it. It was kind of a comeback conversation.
Greg: Oh, yeah. And that's when our real relationship began. That's when I bought my first Futura machine from PJ.
WHAT HIS FAMILY THOUGHT ABOUT LOCKSMITHING
PJ: Yeah, well, thank you. Now, I'm kind of curious about this. How was your family when you're like, 'Hey, I'm going to start being a locksmith.' Were they like, 'Greg, if you lost your mind… 'you know, how did that process go?
Greg: Know that the biggest frustration was that how am I going to finance this? Because it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that if you're going to be an actual locksmith, it's a considerable investment when you're starting from scratch. I mean, I had your .003 universal pinning kit and a few tools, but I did everything the old-fashioned way. I did everything with space and depth keys. I didn't even have an originating code machine until I bought that Futura edge from you. I mean, I ended up buying all of that equipment to make it so that I was more efficient, but that's what my family thought. My family felt that I was crazy because I would deplete everything I had worked for and put it on the line for something I never intended to do.
PJ: Interesting. Yeah, I guess that kind of makes sense, right? Especially when you got all the stuff from that locksmith, and you're just going to keep doing your thing. And then you're going to make it kind of a public offering as a big step, but you know, at the same time relaxed for you also to realize it's like hey if I'm going to do this, I want to make sure I get the equipment that I need to get the job done, right?
Greg: Absolutely. I got a good supplier that you know works with you well.
WHAT SERVICES ARE OFFERED
PJ: Yeah, well, thank you. Yeah, I appreciate all of the support for sure. So you start doing all this, and do you do automotive as well as residential commercial? Like what would you say your offering is to the public?
Greg: Well, you and I, we've had this discussion before. I want to get into the auto. I bought the new machine from you to do the car, bought the programmer, you hooked me up with just a whole slew of keys. But right now, again, it's a battle of time and in the distance; right now, I don't have the time to dive in auto. I want to, and it bugs me knowing that I have all that money and equipment and everything just sitting over there on the shelf. Still, I don't have anybody that's even interested in learning the trade other than my son, but he just graduated from the Marines, and he's off doing this thing, so I lost my number one man.
PJ: Okay, so now it's just you're by yourself.
Greg: I do have a team of maintenance guys across the state that are godsends, they helped me with installs and in essential works, but every ounce of pinning comes across my desk, every ounce of it.
SERVICING A LARGE AREA
PJ: Okay. Something you've touched on a few times, and I would like to deep dive for a minute because this is probably unique to some people, especially in less populated areas. And that is what you've mentioned like your service territory and like what the Chamber of Commerce said, it's 120 miles away, was the nearest locksmith, was that right? 120?
Greg: Yeah, if you go to the west, it's about 130, and if you go to the east, it's between 100 and 120, depending on the quality of locksmith you want. So I would say it's about 120 miles. It's crazy.
PJ: I mean, that's quite the distance, right? I mean, so from where you're at, and I mean, you could get a call to rekey a building that's 80 miles 100 miles away.
Greg: Absolutely. And John hit on many subjects on Tuesday that I honestly thought were kind of business trade secrets that I was utilizing. Probably the number one take that I think a lot of locksmiths should take away is there's more than one way to make money as a locksmith, and the way I make my money and the way I'm able to service my customers from a long distance is exactly what John said on Tuesday. Interchange of a course. When I set up a new system, I set them up with an extra set of cores and keys because I am so far away. I just can't drop a dime and travel 120 miles to rekey for somebody when I can get them additional cores, and they sit in their vault, and they do it themselves, and that's also the same way that I've run the apartment buildings for years every month when there's a move-out. They tell me how many cylinders it does I need. I already have their master key systems; I send them the cylinders, send the old ones back, and rekey them; it saves me a lot of time and a lot of travel.
PJ: Yeah. I guess that's my question here, so when you have such a massive range, I mean, you can eat up a good large chunk of the day just driving to and from one job, just one job. And so, do you like batch jobs together? Well, as I mean, like dude, I mean it sounds like how you're dealing with the customers a little bit as you can even set up to where a lot of things aren't in an emergency, so like maybe every other week you head up to this area or that area or like how do you handle that?
Greg: You know, you hit it right on the head. The last day of the month is crazy. On the last day of the month, I make the loop, and I have the contracts for section 8 housing and USDA and Hud housing. So once a month, I make the big loop. I start at midnight, and I just drive, and I'll switch out the cylinders that I need to do in all the government-subsidized housing, and I do the same thing with businesses. One day, I'll go north. Next day I'll go east, next day I'll go south, next day I'll go west, and I hope that somewhere in there I can get a day off, but as of right now, I'm on day number seven straight.
PJ: Oh wow! You're after right now. Wow! That's interesting. It makes sense from your service area because, I mean, it'd be tough to do to rekeys 100 miles away for a price that would work for everybody, right?
Greg: Well, I don't know how many other guys run their businesses, but, in my mind, where I make my money is sitting at one of my three desks, pinning the locks. I don't make money, even with the service charge and mileage. If you look at dollar for dollar on how your minutes are spent, traveling is not a moneymaker. At best, it's a break-even. It's not a moneymaker.
PJ: And that's it. That's very interesting coming from you and your situation because you have to travel a lot, right?
PJ: I mean, I could not imagine. I mean, when you go to leave, you're like, do I have this tool? I made sure I have this tool, you know, do you ever go through that?
Greg: Absolutely. Here's a classic example. I have a service contract for the Force State chain of convenience stores. Generally, I don't have to go to the convenience stores. But they called me yesterday, and they said that somebody stuck the wrong key that isn't supposed to go into that keyway in there, and now they're locked, screwed up. So there's a classic example. That store is 95 miles away. So as soon as we're done here, I'll be climbing in the vehicle, and I'll be going there because they can't lock their store tonight. So what do you do? Either they stay there all night until I get there tomorrow, or I climb in the vehicle, and I drive 95 miles one way, and I make it suitable.
PJ: 95 miles one way.
Greg: Yep. Ninety-five miles one way PJ.
PJ: Whoo! I mean, that's a lot. You know, Greg, this is fascinating because your situation and how you have to run your business are unique. I think with that distance
Greg: It is, and I started at 6:00 AM this morning. I got back here at 2:00 PM and hopefully spent a little bit of time with the kids and about 5:00 PM. I'll head back out, and I'll probably get home about midnight.
Greg: And you never know, as you said, what do you take? So luckily, I already serve at service third chain of the store, so I already know that it's a deadlatched, so I know to make dug one sure that I got both an inch and an inch and an eighth backset deadlatched. I make sure I got new, new IC housings, I make sure I got new cylinders. I make sure I got everything that I could need to rebuild that door before I leave entirely.
PJ: 100% I mean, 100 %, I mean it's bad enough when you have to go back 15 minutes to grab something, let alone your time. I mean, that's crazy. I mean, you could probably teach a class on tool organization and part organization to make sure you have what you need at the job because the stakes are high with what you're doing.
Greg: Absolutely. I know you can't see, but maybe when we do the live, I'll give you a little better view, but I utilize Tupperware containers, and I have things set up for different customers like TJ Maxx. I already know that they use the Best X10 keyway and interchangeable system. So, I have a little tote set up for TJ Maxx that has everything I could need for their service call.
Greg: And that's it that sits on the shelf. And it's just; I have to be as efficient as I can because too much of my time is eaten up on the road. So, efficiency and key.
WHAT DO YOU DO ON THE ROAD
PJ: Yeah, I have to ask you, so when you're on the road, you have all this time, of course, you're taking phone calls when they come in doing that. Do you listen to audiobooks, the radio, what do you do on the road when you're traveling?
Greg: In all honesty, I do get a lot of calls because I try in via telephone doctor is I'm driving when a customer calls and says I have a problem. And I'm walking them through things and asking them key questions. Okay, you have a commercial door? Do you need to key on the inside or the outside, or do you have a thumb turn on the inside? Okay, when you turn the thumb turn, what does it do? I try and diagnose as much as I can so that I make sure that I have what I need because a lot of these customers I've never dealt with. And you and I both know you only have so much room to carry stuff. The average customer has no idea what they have for a keyway. They have no idea what size locks they have or what type of locking mechanism; most don't even know what a crash bar or exit device is.
PJ: Yeah, you're right. I mean, it's either I push this thing to get out, right?
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU KNEW IN THE BEGINNING
PJ: So, you know, Greg, if we can rewind the clock, and you're getting ready to enter into the business officially. What's one thing that you wish that you knew then that you know now?
Greg: Oh, goodness. I wish I had spent more time learning about hardware that I was unfamiliar with. You have no idea how much time I spent dealing with hardware that I had never dealt with in my life. I mean, it's classic locksmith fashion, you tear it apart, and you hope you can get it put back together.
PJ: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah, it's a hard thing. In the locksmithing world, you have to learn the skill of building on existing knowledge. Right?
Greg: Absolutely 110%, in all the apartment buildings and commercial buildings and everything, I use the same hardware, I use the same keyways and everything, and all of a sudden you're thrown into the wild, and you're dealing with everything. And I had never dealt with the A3 pinning system before, which was a culture shock for me. I didn't even know when the A3 pinning system existed.
PJ: Oh, okay. Yeah, that'd be a tough one because you're first trying to decode the keys, and you're like, Okay, this isn't working.
Greg: Yeah. The one good thing about the locksmith community, especially all the lock bosses out there, is the willingness to help and share. I mean, when you have a problem, there's a lot of forums that you can go to that you can get some genuine, honest answers, and I love locksmiths because they're not afraid to be brutally honest with you. I mean, if you're doing something dumb, or you want to put on the wrong piece of hardware, I mean, there's a lot of guys like locksny out there that will look at you and say, Man, no, what are you doing? I mean, I just appreciate the whole lockboss community and, I've been a part of it for quite a while. And that the lockboss community is incredible. I mean, that's how I learned about things like my favorite little tool that the big burly. This thing is the best thing since peanut butter and jelly as far as I'm concerned.
PJ: Oh, nice. Nice, thank you. It's a great tool. It was one of those that I love the mullet, and I still love the mullet.
Greg: Oh, yeah.
PJ: But I was like, you know, this is the deal, I want to encourage people to be checking for master pins, and the truth is, with a follower, like the Big Bro, you can quickly check. Whereas with the mullet, you're going to have to take your tweezers, get in there and check it on, so I'm glad to like it.
Greg: It's like I was telling you the very first time I use this tool, I was doing a rekey on a local church, and I would never have thought for a million years that the front doors on the church would be master keyed and you know, I was trying it, to see if I like it. The next thing I know, master pins fell out, and it's like the discussion we had, I'm like, I'm very thankful that I accidentally used this tool because the stack would have been too high, and we would have had a max violation and the key, the key would have got jammed. What has been good for me, this tool paid for itself and saved me a lot of time.
QUESTIONS FOR PJ
PJ: Awesome. Very cool. Yeah. Glad to hear. I'm so happy it's working well, and that's great. Okay, I appreciate you taking the time to come on hanging out. And it's been great to talk face to face as well, even though it's through technology. Hopefully, we'll meet each other in person, but I just want to give you the opportunity. Do you have any questions for me?
Greg: Let me ask you this, I know you got all girls, but do you think any of your kids will continue and follow the family tradition?
PJ: That's a good question. It's tough to say. I mean, my oldest is 13. And, you know, it's probably not a huge surprise, but when I was a kid, my dad wanted me to take over his locksmithing business. He was very vocal about that. I didn't want to, honestly. I don't know why, but maybe it's just your parents' stuff, but so, when I was a kid, I wasn't I mean, I liked the work, but I didn't want to take it over necessarily, but you know, I don't know, Greg. I don't know. Maybe one of them will? I don't know. Yeah.
Greg: Well, I understand what you're saying. I mentioned it a few weeks ago. We were in San Diego for my son's graduation from the Marines. And I honestly think that he will help out in the part time, but his true passion is law enforcement, so he's got to follow his true passion, so he's going to be a military police officer and locksmith on the side helping his old man.
PJ: Okay. Very cool. Yeah, I am slacking, though, because my dad had me in his shop rekeying locks and cutting keys for customers at literally six years old.
Greg: Oh, my!
PJ: And, you know, I haven't done that with my kid yet. I probably should. I should probably at least get them to ship some packages or something, right?
Greg: Yeah, well, I think my son probably has more experience with master key systems, and Godstone is accurate than likely a lot of locksmiths out there. I mean, we have over 10,000 IC cores floating around out there, and I don't even want to know the number of cylinders in master key systems that my son has sat at the dining room table and pinned up, and I mean, it's crazy to think.
PJ: Yeah, that's awesome. I mean, that's a great experience and to use that his entire life.
PJ: Something my dad and I used to do as a kid a lot. So I used to work for him, work in a shop, all that kind of stuff, but back then, this is way before lishi and all that kind of stuff, there would be some padlocks or something that would need to get picked open so they could be rekeyed like the re-keyable ones, that sort of stuff.
PJ: And I used just to take those home, and I remember sitting on the couch. I mean, after dinner, my dad and I, we'd be sitting downstairs watching American Chopper or something, and we're sitting there, picking locks trying to get it figured out.
PJ: Good stuff. Greg, well, hey, thank you honestly for serving your community, being a locksmith, and it seems like you do an outstanding job representing locksmith as well. So thank you for that. And I look forward to you coming on live with me.
Greg: Excellent. I do have one more question for you, though. So I have to ask. So whenever Kylie sees my name and comes across her email, she says, oh, no, not Greg.
PJ: I'm not in her office. So I can't tell you for sure, but I would say all the time. She's always like, Hey, I'm talking to Greg today, this or that? No, I don't think so. I think she's happy when she gets an email from you, would be my guess.
Greg: I love you guys. I love dealing with you guys, and I'm very excited about an announcement that you will be making here before long. It's going to make me very happy.
PJ: Yes, thank you. It's been a long time coming, and I'm chomping at the bit for it. So great. Yeah. And of course, thank you for all of the business that you give us, and I genuinely appreciate you.
Greg: Well, I appreciate you guys also. Thanks for having me on, PJ.
PJ: Yep. Thanks, Greg. We'll see you live here in a couple of weeks or this next Tuesday.
Greg: Next Tuesday.