So what exactly does a locksmith do?

I’ll admit I have a pretty lousy “elevator speech”. Why? Because I do a lot of different things, not all of which can be explained (at least by me) in 90 seconds.

Most of the time when someone asks me what I do and I say “I’m a locksmith”, they immediately jump into a story about locking their keys in their car, and follow that with either “so I called a locksmith and that guy/gal sucked/was awesome/charged too much/was super fast/took forever to show up” or the prouder “got into it with coathanger/brick/spare key from wife/husband/dealer/sketchy guy on Craigslist”.

Truth is I (and most of my colleagues) do a lot more than just open cars. Me personally? I doubt I open more than two or three in a week. So what am I doing all day (besides writing blog posts)?

This was yesterday:

-Show up at the shop, go over my job roster for the day, try to arrange it into a sensible route. Have coffee, discuss yesterday with Maria.

-Take care of some dropped-off work left for me to do. . in this case, fitting a key to a Nissan ignition.

-Reply to some emails asking for quotes (mostly safe and vault stuff), look at what needs to be ordered from our vendors, start keying in an order. Maria will finish it later in the day, in case we need to buy more stuff.

-Take a call to fit keys to a 2017 Tacmoa. . . trouble is we don’t have a key for it in stock (it’s a relatively new key used only on very late model Toyota vehicles). Text another local locksmith—he has one and needs  a key I have so we agree to meet. Book the job, throw the laptop and one of our programmers in the truck and off I go.

-Arrive at customer’s house with Tacoma. Truck is locked so I pick open the door using a specialty pick that is specific to this keyway. I also decode the lock while it’s picked in case the code is not stamped on it (it is, but you never know). Fit a metal key, it works in the door and ignition. Cut the expensive transponder key and grab the programmer. . . whoops, 2017 Tacoma is not supported  🙁 Try another programmer I have in the van. . .not supported there either. Text yet another local locksmith to ask if he has the capacity to program this key–yes he does and will complete the job honoring my quote (it’s good to have friends). I charge nothing and walk away, considering it a learning experience. The other locksmith offers to buy me lunch for doing the initial work and referring the job. . . which is fine, he sends me work so it all comes out in the wash.

Success pays the bills, but failure pays tuition. . . which pays the bills later.

-Moving on. . . stop at a local bank that needs a key to a file cabinet. This is relatively easy. . . remove cylinder (no code available), decode, cut key, replace cylinder and leave invoice. Smile, exchange pleasantries with staff (they’ve been customers for over 10 years), say goodbye.

-Head south to a giant parts warehouse to fix a door that won’t stay latched. Another longtime customer. I know the door and the lock that’s installed and know what needs to happen to fix it, so most of my time is spent signing in and out, collecting my contractor badge and dropping it off, discussing previous and upcoming service needs with staff, etc.

-Next stop is around the corner. . . horse farm with an automatic driveway gate that has stopped working. I’m not in the gate business, nor the gate opener business, but I’ve repaired this gate once before after their DIY attempts were unsuccessful and I suppose now they’d rather pay me than read the manual. . . which is exactly what I do (for $75/hr). Get out the iPad, download manual, follow online troubleshooter, and within about 30 minutes I’ve narrowed it down to a bad motor in one of the gate arms. Homeowner says she has a couple of spare arms and delivers them. One is new, sealed in the box, the other is in a box but does not look new. I’m suspicious but install it first anyway. Turns out it’s dead too. I tease her about hanging onto broken parts as I toss it and install the one from the sealed box. Voila, it works! Spend a few minutes setting the limits and making sure it works properly, collect my check and carry on.

-Stop for lunch. Cheeseburger & tots at a local diner. I should probably eat better but burgers and tots are delicious.

-Head south to Madisonville. Next stop is to repair an ignition on a Dodge Neon. Another fairly simple job (provided the customer hasn’t attempted any repairs on their own–they hadn’t in this case). 20 minutes, done, same key, happy customer.

-Next stop is a small private college that needs a lock rekeyed in the girl’s dorm, and some extra keys made for a few others. Another stop where the work doesn’t take long but the procedure does.  In this case, and for obvious reasons, I don’t work inside the building without an escort. Today my escort is the RA (resident advisor). They’re not always available immediately (classes and such) but as this was a scheduled job she was aware I’d be coming and meets me within a few minutes. Downside is none of the keys they want copies of are on file. . . they’re all out with the residents. So I have her escort me up to the dorm that needs rekeying, see me out, and task her with running down the keys. I am not optimistic but about 10 minutes later she shows up at my truck with all the keys in hand. With the lock rekeyed I return it to the door (with my escort), hand over the requested keys and move on.

-It’s 4.30 p.m.. I have another job that can be done while in Madisonville but I don’t have time. Gotta get home to relieve the babysitter.

And that’s (some of ) what a locksmith does.