Hi!, I love your posts, I am aware you are probably super busy, So I will make this short.
I have recently started a business that works solely on safes and vaults. (torontosafecracker.com)I was wondering if you have any advice for Safe technicians starting up, I am in Toronto Ontario, Canada. I am looking at education and connections to safe techs that could help me or for leads towards education in the field.I am constantly studying and practice the skills needed everyday. I have a few clients and 2 years experience manipulating and opening safes. I know that education is endless, but I'm looking for the most knowledge with the best network per dollar.
Thanks for all your help, I have used info from this site countless times, and most of the time it's your posts. Thanks
Thanks for the kind words, just remember - in 40 years it will be YOUR turn to give back to the community and to our industry.
First problem being a "Safes & Vaults" service company only - in order to have enough business to make it a "real" business, you need a large enough service area to support the business. For instance, my service area is about 120,000 square miles, but we do go outside of this area. One of my Techs may be flying to Costa Rica for a safe opening job in a couple weeks.
While there are some of the "better" safe technicians in the country, who work out of their garage, most of them also have a wife with a great job to support them. While this gives them plenty of time to hone some of their skills, it doesn't necessarily make them "professional" safe technicians. I've had the opportunity to follow behind some of their work, and it is sometimes appalling. While they may be some of the best drillers or manipulators in the country, their repair work, and installation work leave a lot to be desired.
So my first words of advice is DO NOT IDOLIZE ANYONE IN THIS INDUSTRY.
Besides developing your business, so it actually supports you, your family, your employees, the business and your "hobbies", with enough left over to grow over the years; you also need to develop a work ethic. "EVERY" safe that you touch, should be left in, as close to factory condition as when it was new. If you can't bring it back to like new condition, then the reason that you can't should be noted on your invoice. This does two things, it gives the customer a listing of problems, and remedies - and more importantly, it covers you when that same customer calls back in 3 months, indicating that something on the safe doesn't work, AND YOU were the last one to touch it.
This doesn't mean that you have to service a safe when you are only called out to change a combination or the batteries for a digital lock, however you should still inspect the COMPLETE operation of the safe, door, lock, bolt work, hinges, etc. etc. etc., and mention problems to the customer.
Think of it as a BIG CYA, and future business when the customer has trouble.
ALWAYS, warranty your services. With the exception of those items annotated on your receipt that were not taken care of, if YOU touch it, YOU own it. Generally a standard period is 90 days for service. Make sure your customers know that you will guarantee the work that YOU did.
As Far as education, if you've been in this for a couple years, then I'm sure you already have a listing of educational sources, however I'll run through a quick listing.
National Safeman's Organization / Dave Mcomie
SAVTA (Safe & Vault Technicians Association
Mark Bates & Assoc. Tools & Training
Lockmasters Security Institute - Education
Clearstar Security Technicians online Forum
All of these can be great resources for beginning safe techs.
I would also recommend that you join any local locksmiths or safe techs organizations. This will help you develop a lot of your local contacts - people that you can use, and more importantly - people that can use your services.
If "YOU" are the go to guy, the other companies in your area will always turn to you when they have a job that is too large, or they don't have time for or parts for.
be careful about "training" your competitors, in your area as it simply takes away from your business. While you can do the work, don't feel it necessary to explain how or what you are doing. I made the mistake a few years ago, when I was asked to quote a large vault door, hinge repair job, to a large safe company. To make a long story short - they were price shopping around, and found one of my competitors who was much lower in cost than I. HOWEVER, he did tell them that he had no clue how he was going to repair the hinge. The large safe company asked me how I was going to do the repairs, and then passed the info along to Mr. Cheapskate.
Needless to say - I don't tolerate liars, cheats or thieves, and so both of these companies are now on my DO NOT RESPOND list, and they are also OFF of my Christmas card list. :)
As far as developing a network of people to contact or stay in touch with, while it is generally OK to contact them for basic information, it is NOT KK to have them give you information which allows you to do your business. If YOU don't already know how to do a particular task, then you should probably learn it BEFORE going out to a customer's location. Your customer's are paying you to be a professional so act like it. If you don't have a particular skill, then instead of stealing the info from a colleague, which you are going to make money from - if possible sub the work out, and add this item to your list of "THINGS I NEED TO LEARN". It is not OK to learn on your customer's safes AND charge them for it.
There are a "few" exceptions to this rule, and that would be working on an item where NO ONE around has any idea how to work on it, AND there are no tech manuals or schematics available, AND the manufacturer has been out of business for around 55 years.
I'm currently working on and repairing a late 1940's early 50's HHM, Galaxy 5 Star, electro-hydraulically operated, crane hinge, pressure bar, Vault door.
In this case I do have a back ground in basic hydraulics - HOWEVER in keeping with my previous rule, I've subed out the majority of the repair work to a hydraulics repair company that I use. We are having to (from scratch) write the operating manual, hydraulic and electrical schematics, find parts, and bring the beast back to life.
While Manipulation is a great skill to have and use, it is probably one of the least skills that you will actually need. You need to have either great mechanical skills, or you will need to develop a great library. If you choose to use a digital library, then back it up in at least three places. Nothing worse than needing your library about the time that your computer suffers a catastrophic failure, and is un-rebootable!!! been there, done that and have the T-Shirt! :)
Having your complete library on hard copy is ok for the shop, but it is really hard to us in your work vehicle, AND keep in good condition as it travels around. Having digital versions on a Tablet is a great alternative - easy to carry and have available.
Obviously if you are planning to actually run your business, LIKE a business, requires good bookkeeping skills. This is one of the more overlooked areas of small businesses. In the last 42 years I've seen a lot of lock and safe businesses disappear, mainly because they can't make a financially stable "GO" of it. There are always going to be good months and bad months - how your business weathers the bad periods will determine how long you stay in business.
Lastly I'll touch on tools - while it is always nice to have the latest, greatest, thingamabob - I see more safe techs actually wasting time with their "toys", than actually working on the customer's safe. In the field time management can be your friend or your enemy. If you have no other jobs for the day (or week), then it doesn't hurt to spend an exhorbant amount of time manipulating or playing with a tool. On the other hand, if you have other jobs in line, then it isn't very to your other customers to spend more time than is necessary performing your tasks.
For example, we got called to open a safe last week, where the original locksmith that was called spend 16 days working on a customer's safe. While I have no idea how much actual "Hands On" time he expended on the customers safe, the fact that after DAY 1, he didn't have a clue that he was spending too much time on this safe. While I'm sure that after spending a large portion of the 16 days working on, or researching what he was doing, this locksmith probably feels that he is "OWED" something for his time and effort, most customers would disagree. Failed attempts are not billable, and really screwed up failed attempts would indicate that maybe you are in the wrong trade.
Ok, I think I've hit on enough subjects. good luck in the industry and trade. Start collecting business cards from people in the industry, and then weed through them to eliminate those that don't help you or your business out.