Compliance woes lock up security industry

Master Locksmiths Association of Australasia (MLAA) Chief Executive Officer, Peter Johnson, recently sat down with AHJ to reveal his perspective on issues and trends within the safety and security market. While business has weathered the COVID storm reasonably well, Mr Johnson said the success of the industry does not come without on-going issues.

14/05/2021 by Christine Bannister

While the role of the MLAA is more around compliance, regulatory reform, advocacy and support and education of its members, Mr Johnson still maintains a lot of awareness around new products and trends within the safety and security market.

The MLAA represents more than 700 locksmith businesses across Australia and New Zealand, with members ranging from sole traders to businesses with 20 to 30 employees, Mr Johnson said.

“Because so many of our members are small businesses, much of what we do revolves around keeping on top of regulatory developments, business support and market trends for them that they often do not have the time to do themselves,” he said.

MLAA CEO, Peter Johnson, believes the safety and security industry has weathered the COVID storm reasonably well.

Some of the major issues the locksmith industry is dealing with at the moment are regulatory compliance, licensing, and staffing. 

“There are also a number of issues presenting in the market that we try to advise our members on as well. You might have heard of automatic mutual recognition of occupational registrations that Scott Morrison has been talking in the press about lately. As we understand it, the states are going to push for a five year exemption for security. While this is frustrating, it gives everyone time to ensure there is more consistency between the states,” he said.

“Currently security is considered both a technical trade and a physical trade. What this means for us is that all crowd controllers and security guards are lumped in with locksmiths as part of the security industry. This causes a lot of issues with regulation throughout our industry.”

“While regulations do differ state-by-state with business activities, the rules around who can go to a property and conduct security work is an absolute mess all over the country. It is semi-regulated and it tends to focus on those with licenses, while those without licenses are left alone,” he said.

Regulations across the states differ considerably, according to Mr Johnson. A licence is required to operate as a locksmith in New South Wales, Queensland, the ACT and Western Australia, but not in South Australia, Tasmania or the Northern Territory. In Victoria, a licence is only required for those working on safes or electronic access control.

“Anyone can just call themselves a locksmith and do what they want, which I do not think is particularly great for the consumer. In the last few years there has been a lot of scams in the technical part of security that we represent. So, this could mean that ‘Mr $45 locksmith’ is advertising that this is all a job will cost if they are called to a home. But the reality is this is never the case. Usually they come out, destroy the door, charge hundreds of dollars and then the customer has to call a real locksmith to fix the damage,” he said.

COVID comeback

Thankfully MLAA members were considered an essential service throughout COVID lockdowns, however they were not allowed to open their shops and could only conduct emergency work, which obviously affected Melbourne locksmiths significantly.

“Our industry has bounced back pretty quickly because when times get tough, security is one of the things that you cannot afford to not take seriously. In difficult times crime goes up and that is when security is needed most,” he said.

“Most locksmiths worked throughout COVID and we did not lose any members because of it, which was great. Business is picking up quickly now, particularly in Auckland and around Australia, with the exception of Melbourne which has been a little spasmodic.”

“A lot of the current government stimulus money is also keeping things ticking along, and I do not think this will come to a sudden halt any time soon with a lot of building and construction activity expected over the next 12 to 18 months,” Mr Johnson said.

Being busy is not a new thing for the locksmith industry, he added. “There is a long-term staff shortage in lock smithing, so decent, qualified locksmiths are always in demand.” 

While the lock smithing industry was once traditionally seen as more of a satin chrome industry in terms of finishes, it seems there are now a lot of commercial finishes that have made their way into the residential space.

“You will often see new apartments, particularly in Melbourne, are all now using satin products whether it be brushed or pearl – it is just a different look. Things like brass are not as popular because they tarnish, but the one variety that our suppliers have added in recent times is black chrome and matt black, which are simple, designer colours that people love. Today if manufacturers do not have locks that match then they miss the game, and matt black or satin chrome door furniture compliments neutral tones quite nicely,” he said.

“There is of course a move to electronic access control. The residential market is going there as well, and it has already established itself quite well within the commercial space. We all click a button to get into the car but we do not do this at home, for some reason. That is slowly changing, though, and there is a move to digital locks as well as security that’s fully integrated into smart homes.”

“A number of suppliers in our industry offer systems that allow homeowners to open their front door with an app on their phones, or send a code to a tradie’s phone with a one-hour expiry window so the tradie can go in and fix something. It is this convenience that is driving the electronic security trend, even though there are barriers. The biggest is cost, of course, because it can be quite expensive at the start.”

“Electronic access control offers even more advantages to commercial users, which is why it is already the standard for new commercial builds. These systems keep records of when people are coming and going, and they are an easy way to manage the access of large numbers of people.”

“But mechanical locks are not going anywhere; most of these electronic access systems have a physical back up, so there is an alternative if the electronic access doesn’t work,” Mr Johnson said.

Due to the continued growth in electronic access control, the education of locksmiths is also changing rapidly to keep up with demand within this space.

“Locksmiths undertake a four-year apprenticeship at TAFE. Due to the rapidly-changing market, we have spent the last few years working with the main body that controls the training package and with TAFEs to make sure the training package evolves as the industry evolves. This is to ensure that new locksmiths coming through are being exposed to new trends in the market, and to make sure apprentices get the electronic access control skillset that they will need for the future.”

“Older locksmiths can also upgrade their skills through the help of suppliers, but often the apprentice ends up teaching their boss the new stuff. We have a robust TAFE system with four colleges in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, and the training package does its best to accommodate changes in the industry,” he said.

In saying this, Mr Johnson still believes traditional locks will remain a big part of the industry for many years to come.

“We might find that consumers prefer a combination of the two and want the best of both worlds, with electronic access control on the outside of the building while traditional locks are used internally, particularly in commercial spaces,” he said.

Mechanical locks also sometimes have distinct advantages over electronic systems. One example is Changing Places, a national network of high-end changing facilities for people with severe disabilities. When the program began development in 2011, it needed to select a system to give disabled people access, while keeping the facilities safe from vandalism.

The program eventually selected the Master Locksmiths Access Key (MLAK), an existing mechanical system designed by the MLAA and used since 1994 to grant access to disabled toilets and other facilities across Australia.

“Changing Places did look at electronic security options, but in the end they decided to use the tried and true MLAK mechanical key because it made more sense. For disability facilities that are spread all over the country, it offered the reliability, easy user experience and cost effectiveness they needed. An electronic system simply would have been too difficult.”

“Mechanical systems still work well today, and this will be the case for many years in the residential sector, even if the commercial sector becomes increasingly electronic.”

“I often look down the lock aisle in hardware stores, and it is still full of traditional dead bolts, dead locks, latches, levers, and padlocks – they are all still there. Traditional locks will be attractive for a long time to come because they are reliable, affordable, simple, people understand how they work and often they are more secure,” Mr Johnson said.

The future of the category is based around both segments, he said, with digital locks continuing to grow and evolve the safety and security industry while traditional locks will remain a day-to-day essential of the safety and security space.

Traditional locks remain essential despite digital paving the way

Bunnings Hardware Door and Gate Buyer, Nathan Monk, recently spoke with AHJ on just some of the most popular door furniture products that are paving the way of the future, particularly as smart and digital door hardware furniture become more main stream.

Bunnings Hardware Door and Gate Buyer, Nathan Monk, said smart and digital door furniture has become mainstream.

“Whether a product is smart or digital related I believe customers are now starting to see keyless entry locks become a bit more main stream. I was in-store recently and I happened to sell a smart lock to a customer who would have been in their fifties. They were just happy with choosing a familiar brand and wanted something different from keys, because they had kids coming home from school,” Mr Monk said.

When discussing whether customers remain primarily loyal to either digital locks or traditional mechanical locks, Mr Monk said the comparison was an interesting dynamic in that there is still the customer who would prefer to opt for mechanical products, particularly within the retro-fit market.

“Australian consumers have become a lot more tech savvy with phones and computers, which is why they are now looking for alternatives when it comes to digital security. They are definitely looking around for the newest and greatest product within this space which is why we are starting to see this space grow,” he said.

When looking at some of the latest trends within the safety and security space, Mr Monk said gone are the days where there was only satin chrome and stainless-steel finishes available, with matt black just one of several on-trend colours that have become more mainstream in the last five or so years.

“We are also seeing a growing interest in several new finishes including brushed brass, which has become an increasingly popular choice. I think home owners do believe that first impressions last, which is why on-trend front door furniture has become so popular, whether this is a long pull handle installed on the front door or a product that has a particularly unique design. I think consumers are definitely following a new trend of upgrading their front door furniture because it sets the tone for the remainder of the house.”

“Customers then also go on to match their door furniture with the remainder of the house, whether it be tap wear, door furniture, door stops, customers are definitely looking for that family experience where everything matches,” he said.

As Australian consumers move into the wake of COVID and search for lifestyle alternatives that will combat viruses and germs throughout the home and work place, there has been a growing interest around copper style product, despite the expensive price tag, according to Mr Monk. 

“Bunnings will continue to look at this product and see how this space evolves” Mr Monk said.

“There are also bacteria free products emerging for internal doors, and these are used particularly within a commercial environment. The new handles allow doors to be pulled by the foot instead of the hand and are perfect for use on doors that do not actually require a lock handle. The application is designed more for offices and warehouses but there is definitely a growing market for this space,” he said.

With so many consumers housebound during COVID lockdowns, Mr Monk reiterated that there was definitely a strong trend towards upgrading homes both inside and out during 2020. 

“During this time, I also believe that consumers discovered that replacing door furniture was an easy way to update a house and make it look more appealing. While we have seen our customers become more DIY hungry over the last 12 months, this is a trend that is not specific to door furniture and is across the board of the DIY market. What we have learned through this period is that customers are more willing to give DIY projects a go and have found a new sense of confidence in their own abilities. Spending more time at home gave people a new perspective and motivation on how to get the most out of their home,” Mr Monk said.

“There are a lot of stylish design elements within homes currently, and there are a lot of people who have a good idea of how they want to upgrade their homes, so I do not see the DIY trend slowing down. For now, our focus will be on continuing to make sure we offer our customers the widest range at the best price,” he said. 

When it comes to supply chain issues within the hardware industry currently, Mr Monk said it is important to make sure the team does their due diligence in continuing to stock high quality products.

We understand the importance of having a wide range of products to suit all budgets including offering trusted brands like Lockwood, Gainsborough, Lane and Lemaar.

In regards to supply, Mr Monk said he does not believe there have been too many concerns within this space recently, and if there have been problems it has not been anything serious enough to derail the market. 

“There have not been any major projects delayed and we continue to work closely with suppliers to ensure customers can access the products they need,” he said.

While digital products do continue to grow and evolve, Mr Monk still believes customers prefer to use trusted, traditional products including the Lockwood 001 and standard security bolts because customers know these products so well. 

“While there is that customer demographic and the younger generation who wants something more digital based, there is no doubt that over time this will grow and our range will reflect this as we see fit.”

“In saying this there is also the older generation that has become more familiar with digital, keyless entry locks as well.However, it would be naïve of me to say that the younger generation is not driving this space simply because they are so much more tech savvy,” he said.

Delf delivers on ultimate security and lifestyle convenience 

Delf Architectural’s smart home door furniture and accessories range continues to be well received within the Australian marketplace, not only due to its aesthetic appeal and lifestyle convenience but also its advanced technology that delivers the ultimate in security.  

Delf’s cutting-edge Digital Bluetooth Smart Lock DDL120 now pairs easily with the Delf app, according to Delf General Manager, Peter Crossley.

Just one advanced product Delf launched into the safety and security market recently is the cutting-edge Digital Bluetooth Smart Lock DDL120 which now pairs easily with the Delf app to lock and unlock doors, according to Delf General Manager, Peter Crossley. The Digital Bluetooth Smart Lock DDL120 also provides the option of an additional Gateway solution for when users are out of Bluetooth range, he said.

“Australian consumer demand for door hardware is being driven by the desire for innovative products that are both convenient and aesthetically pleasing – rather than by a primary need to update security. That said, Delf’s innovative DDL 120 Digital Smart Lock, which is great looking and symmetrical on either side of a door, is being chosen for the advanced level of security it offers at many types of entrance door.”

Delf has also recently released new round and square lockable entrance additions to its Cavity Slider product line-up for exterior doors, now available in on-trend matt black and satin nickel finishes. 

“Where space is at a premium and Cavity Slider doors are a practical choice, Delf’s Cavity Slider range is proving to be a very popular, quality and convenient door hardware solution,” Mr Crossley said.

Remote and keyless options are also continuing to take off, according to Mr Crossley, who said the trend stems from a growing interest and demand for smart home products that fit with modern lifestyles.

“Consumers are looking for quality products and finishes that fit with their home style or requirements, while also offering the technological advancements and security they need. Rather than being an ‘afterthought’, door hardware (both internal and external) has increasingly become integral to the ‘look’ and aesthetic appeal of the home.”

“There is also, undoubtedly, an increasing interest in high tech door hardware products in the market, particularly when it comes to entrance doors. In saying this however, traditional locks, are still very much in demand combined with contemporary pull handles and other on-trend traditional door locks, handles and lever solutions,” he said.

Although Delf’s sales are currently sitting well above 2019 levels, Mr Crossley did point out that he believes it is still too early to be feeling the effects of the current building and construction boom.

“This is why we believe the current sales lift should rather be attributed to pre-COVID activity which is continuing to flow through. While there was obviously some stalling of projects due to 2020 lockdowns, these are now mostly back on and picking up pace where they left off. This activity is running alongside the current boom – which will in turn continue to push sales levels going forward,” Mr Crossley said.

In saying this, Mr Crossley said that the safety and security space remains highly competitive and this is being driven to a large extent by the increase in the price of raw materials as well as changes in exchange rate, particularly RMB versus the USD.

Supply also continues to be the biggest challenge within this space, particularly when considering the continuing pace of the industry and the imminent boom from new housing.

“The after effects of COVID have brought with it the current global shipping crisis with unavoidable delays in some cases. Fortunately, however, due to Delf’s forward planning and robust stock levels pre-COVID, together with solid supplier relationships, we have been able to keep stock-outs to a minimum,” Mr Crossley said.

On the near future, Mr Crossley shared, “Our ongoing planning takes lengthier shipping times into account and we are stocking up on key lines ahead of time to avoid inconvenience to customers wherever possible.” 

For now, Delf will continue to refine and evolve its products while also delivering high quality door furniture so consumers have peace of mind when purchasing its products.

“Delf is not only Aussie-owned, but as we have been in the local market for more than 30 years we have a very good understanding and knowledge of the local market and what local end users want,” he said.

“It seems that products in this space currently do vary greatly when it comes to the quality and longevity they represent. I believe that quality, along with innovation and style are key to Delf’s products – which are all backed by the ‘Delf Quality Guarantee’ to really go the distance for modern lifestyles.”

“Having our own in-house team of designers with longstanding expertise in door hardware innovation also gives us a huge point of difference, while also allowing us to adapt to local needs and keeping up with international trends. We also work closely with our suppliers to ensure the quality of our ranges. Our sales team have decades of combined experience in our marketplace with a well-developed understanding of the importance of customer relationships,” Mr Crossley concluded.

Award winning locksmith 

As winner of the ninth annual Australia’s Best Young Locksmith, Joel Gurney of JG Lock Safe & Security in Lithgow, New South Wales is not only well-known for his technical knowledge, but also his excellent people skills and business acumen. Mr Gurney recently spoke with AHJ on his take on the latest trends within the safety and security market, and also industry issues as Australians head out of the pandemic.

When discussing innovative products that have evolved into the door furniture space of late, Mr Gurney said one product that has caught his eye lately is the Gainsborough Trilock Aurora. 

“While this is a smart lock that still has the same look Gainsborough has had for several years, it still packs a good range of features for the domestic market,” he said.

Mr Gurney said he has several quality brands that he prefers to work with on a regular basis including major well-known brands such as Lockwood, Whitco, Dormakaba, and Abus. In saying this he also believes there is a large number of suppliers that bring quality and innovative locking hardware to the market currently. 

Incredibly, despite the consistent implementation of innovative products, Mr Gurney said he feels customers are sticking to more traditional hardware options and traditional finishes.

“Customers are definitely leaning more towards natural finishes. I have seen a lot more natural products come to life and are preferred by consumers in recent years. Long lasting products in natural finishes seem to be winning in the market because consumers are looking for quality products when it comes to installing new furniture on their doors,” he said.

With talk of some bacteria free handles coming onto the market, particularly those products that feature substrate material, Mr Gurney agrees that bacteria free hardware has found itself right in the centre of the market. 

“There has definitely been a lot of discussion in our industry around this. Bacteria free handles have been tested in labs with results boasting a 99.9 per cent germ free environment. These products are absolutely resistant to bugs. If there was a good thing to come from this pandemic for our industry bacteria free handles would be right up there,” Mr Gurney said.

While Mr Gurney agrees the impact of COVID was a tricky time in the locksmith and security industry, “for my company down in Lithgow NSW not much really changed as we only had fewer than five confirmed cases of the virus.” 

“For major companies in the city though I am sure it would have been a difficult time, with the closing of so many businesses due to the heavy restrictions that were put in place,” he said.

But it is not only COVID that has caused disruptions within the safety and security industry of late, with Mr Gurney admitting that he has been fairly vocal about industry issues over the last 12 months.

“Just some of the many issues this industry currently faces include unqualified DIY experts performing installations of security equipment, with these dodgy installations backed by rogue supply companies and hardware stores passing on the product. I definitely feel that more restrictions and care needs to implemented around this industry to ensure it continues to grow and evolve,” he said.

In saying this, some of the most common lock problems, include concerns with misalignment (or latching) and keys not working correctly, according to Mr Gurney.

When comparing digital with traditional locks, Mr Gurney believes there has been a definite increase in the popularity of digital locks in the past few years.

“I believe this increased popularity is based around updated manufacturing technologies that now allow these products to be sold at a more reasonable price, and is also why these products have become particularly popular within the domestic market.”

Looking into the future of the safety and security market, Mr Gurney sees growth in sales through innovation and the need for Australians to continually upgrade their homes with quality products.

“I think it is important to continue to keep Australians informed where the security industry stands and of the developments and new technologies it has to offer,” he said.

About Australia’s Best Young Locksmith Award

Australia’s Best Young Locksmith award was developed by LSC in 2012 to continue its heritage of fostering passion, skill and commitment to lock smithing and recognise outstanding achievements by young locksmiths who demonstrate commitment to excellence in their field. Winners not only receive the ABYl trophy, but $2500 in tools and products, a $2000 Teched voucher, $1000 in travel and accommodation as well as an Apple iPad Pro.