(last updated July 2019)
About the locksmith sector
In the past, locksmiths typically opened locks for people who had locked themselves out or lost their keys, cut keys and installed new locks, and little else. These days, although they do still carry out these core activities, they also undertake a wide range of other services, including:
- installing and maintaining electronic access control systems
- auto locksmithing (opening vehicle locks and duplicating vehicle keys)
- supplying, installing and maintaining safes
- supplying and installing intruder alarms and CCTV systems
- supplying and installing other security devices like grilles, gates and shutters
Demand for the locksmith's services can be affected by the following:
- the level of crime
- how security conscious people are
- the state of the housing market and the number of repossessions
- the general state of the economy
Surveys have shown that around 40% of people buying a new house change some or all of the locks when they move in, so a buoyant housing market is good news for the locksmithing sector. However when the housing market slumps, as it did from 2008 until starting to pick up again in 2013, there are fewer property transactions and so less call for changing locks. The number of housing transactions grew modestly from 2013 to 2016 but slumped again in 2017 after the vote in 2016 to leave the EU. Little change is forecast for 2018, for which the number of housing transactions is expected to be lower than 2016 and 2017, and well below the peak achieved in 2007.
Although the housing market crash reduced demand for locksmiths' services for a few years from house movers, this was partially offset by a large rise in the number of houses that were repossessed during this period - repossessions more than quadrupled in the second half of the 2000s. (Having repossessed a house, a bank, building society or landlord generally requires a quick service from a locksmith to replace the locks.)
Domestic crime levels have fallen significantly since the mid 1990s and households are now three times less likely to suffer a burglary than they were twenty years ago. Research suggests that this reduction has come about as a result of households improving their security by fitting devices like window locks, deadlocks and intruder alarms. Insurance companies have played a significant part in raising awareness. Householders may be offered lower insurance premiums on contents insurance if their property is fitted with certain security devices. Increasingly sophisticated locks and security systems contributed to a similar fall in vehicle crime. However, after falling year on year since 2003, domestic burglaries rose in 2017 and vehicle crime, which had fallen since its peak in the 1990s, started to rise again in 2014 and has increased significantly in every year since then up until 2017 so demand for lock repair and replacement continues.
The overall state of the economy can affect the level of demand from the commercial sector and many locksmiths experienced a fall in demand from commercial customers during the economic slowdown of the late 2000s/early 2010s as they looked to cut their expenditure. The economy picked up in 2013 and continued to improve into 2015 as wages increased and people felt more secure in their jobs. Following the Brexit vote in June 2016, consumer confidence in the economy fell and the economy performed poorly for the rest of the year, throughout 2017 and into 2018. Little change is expected in 2018 and 2019.
In the 2010s, the multiservice chain Timpson branched out into offering mobile locksmithing services with plans to quickly grow this arm of the business. This is likely to create further competition for the independent sector.
Competition in the sector also comes from:
- other locksmiths, including independents, franchisees and regional chains
- outlets offering key cutting
- DIY outlets that stock a range of locks that people will fit themselves rather than engage a professional
You will have to decide whether:
- there is sufficient demand in your area to support your proposed business
- you will be able to compete against other outlets
The Master Locksmiths Association (MLA) is the main trade association for the sector and operates a licensing scheme for its members that includes background checks and regular inspections. The MLA website provides a great deal of useful information about the locksmith sector, including details of training available.
The Institute of Certified Locksmiths (ICL) aims to promote high standards in locksmith services and encourages its members to achieve these. You can find out more on the ICL website.
The Auto Locksmith Association (ALA) represents the interests of locksmiths that specialise in supplying and installing vehicle locks and other security devices. Members must pass a background check. You can find out more on the Association's website.
You will be able to obtain a lot of useful information if you go to a trade show for the sector. You will be able to meet manufacturers, suppliers and importers and plan your future stock buying. The MLA runs an exhibition every two years.