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Mid-Week Mugging: The Key to Success

'We see lots of businesses come and go. We usually change the locks before they come and then just after they leave so we see the turnover and it’s disappointing, but that’s part of life today...We’ve outlasted lots of businesses, small and large'
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The Locksmithing team is a tight-knit family that's been around for nearly 30 years. Photo by Ryen Veldhuis.

Building a business can present many locked doors, but for some, the keys are already in hand—both figuratively and literally—but that doesn’t mean it’s without hard work, especially when they’ve spent nearly 30 years growing and building.

For Jim and Kathy Landon, it all started in 1988 in their home when they decided to delve into the locksmithing business. Jim’s Locksmithing, it was dubbed, with a recent purchase of an old skate sharpening van from a man who worked on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.

“We needed a truck with a generating system,” Jim explained. “So we did some mobile sharpening and then we needed a bigger truck, moving the generator into that and ran a mobile unit out of that. Then Brad came on, we brought in another service van and we continued from there.”

And from humble beginnings, they set their family on a road they couldn’t have anticipated where it would go. But not all roads need to be bumpy, and while running a business can have its challenges, Jim said it’s been mostly ups, with his biggest ‘down’ being not being able to make every service call in a day.

“We’ve just been busy expanding, getting into cars, and into newer technologies,” he said. “Keeping up with technologies are the biggest challenges. We have to learn newer things like the coding keys for cars and different things like that. It’s an ongoing knowledge-based business and you need to keep up with the times to be successful. Any downs we’ve had were day to day and smaller.”

And within their first five years, Jim and Kathy saw themselves moving their business from their home and entering their first storefront—one the older generation in North Bay will remember as ‘General Repair & Key Shop", also known as "Chee Chaw's", operated by Ernest Ricciuto on Algonquin. There Jim’s Locksmithing widened its reach, built its reputation, and diversified its services.

“It’s different, every call is different,” he explained about how their service reach has grown. “It’s never the same day ever, which is really nice. We might have a call in Sudbury for the day or Bracebridge. We don’t refuse much, we’ve been to Orillia, Barry, Windsor, basically, anywhere in Ontario we’ve been to. Our general area is about three hours from North Bay; it just depends on where the client is.”

But that’s now, and nearly 30 years ago, neither of them could have imagined building such a provincial reputation, with clients and suppliers far and wide praising their service—putting in the extra time to ensure things are done properly and tidily.

Not to mention, with technologies increasing the amount of digital security, a service that once dealt only in physical keys for locks has had to adapt in the ever-changing industry, as not to fall by the wayside.

“Whatever the customer needs we try and accommodate them,” Jim said. “Even if we haven’t done it before, we will try something new or bring in a specific product to try it. We upgrade as the industry grows. Who would have thought we’d be doing so much card access now? Those things, 30 years ago wouldn’t even be thought of.”

He said they try and stay flexible and current in their day-to-day, training and buying new equipment, but it adds up quickly working in a specialty field.

“In the locksmith industry there aren’t very many of us,” he explained. “Any piece of equipment in the trade that’s needed isn’t as mass produced so there is a premium on it. It’s custom-made tools and the software is the same thing. All of that stuff becomes very expensive.”  

With multiple members of their family working there—part of their now nine staff—it can be a challenge to separate family and business. Their daughter Amber said it can make for some pretty interesting family dinners or holidays—despite the everyday experience being fabulous.

“We’ll have Thanksgiving dinner and we’ll be talking shop, it’s never-ending,” Amber said. “I’ll mention this person called, or be asked about ordering a part, but that’s one of the downfalls, is it’s hard to separate and not talk about work.”

And despite working in the same building, she said it isn’t out of the ordinary for some family members to go a couple days without seeing each other, the hectic schedules and service calls amongst other work often dominating a day.

But with nearly 30 years, it can be a bit scary watching the trends of businesses, locksmiths usually being the first ones in and the last ones out, providing locks for new businesses and changing them as they close down for good.

“We see lots of businesses come and go,” Jim said. “We usually change the locks before they come and then just after they leave so we see the turnover and it’s disappointing, but that’s part of life today. Even the big ones are falling, it’s sad."

He referred to the recent announcement of SEARS closing in town, saying how he recalled them putting the locks on it when it first came to town, not the first of large local retailers closing.

“We did Zellers, and Target too,” he said. “We’ve outlasted lots of businesses, small and large.”

For Jim, the key to his success was putting in the extra work—his business providing 24/7 service—and doing it well, while also being cognizant of new technologies and being open to change.

Jim’s Locksmithing’s new location is open at 36 Lakeshore Drive, today marking its grand opening event.