Despite slow economy, local locksmith says business is good.
Make no mistake about it, not one company is immune from the economic and financial downturn the country has taken. However, a family-owned business in Independence has seen the effects of the financial market and home foreclosure crisis create an ongoing demand for their often timely services.
Greg Fasse, owner – with wife Jayne – of Greg’s Lock and Key Service, 112 S. Memorial Drive, said the lock and key business has experienced a hike in commercial business unprecedented in the company’s 22 years in business. Fasse said with job cutbacks, company downsizing and rampant layoffs taking root in their service area, affected businesses are forced to change the locks on buildings and offices, causing the company to increase their workload.
“During an economic downturn, you have to let someone go,” Greg Fasse said. “You are probably going to re-key the lock on your business. Normally where you never change your locks, you may be changing them now two or three times in a six- or seven-month period.”
Greg Fasse said commercial businesses comprise 50 percent of the company’s work, while the automotive end produces 30 percent of the business, with residential customers comprising the additional 20 percent. Automotive customers have continued to use the business steadily, he said.
“I don’t know how to describe it, but when times get tough, if you lose your keys to your car and you don’t really have any money, you have to pass on something but it can’t be your car keys,” Greg Fasse said. “You don’t go to work, you don’t take your kids to the doctor. You don’t do nothing. So, car keys become number one on the list. You’ll borrow money to get your car back on the road.”
The increased business during tough economic times, doesn’t surprise the Fasses. The lock and key business “seems to be a field that tends to survive,” Jayne Fasse said.
“I’ve always said that the service business is a lot better to be in, in my opinion, than the sales business,” Greg Fasse added. “Right now, the phone just tends to ring. I don’t know anybody that’s in the field now that is slow. I’m not saying we are not going to get hit by the economic times, but we’ve been blessed.”
The Fasses started their business in 1986 in the basement of the couple’s home. Jayne Fasse said they sold her car to get the start-up money to purchase a key machine and a van.
“We literally started from zero,” she said.
Greg Fasse said he got started in the business when a next-door neighbor at the time who was a locksmith hired him part-time because he needed help. Greg Fasse, then an employee in the combine department of Allis-Chalmers – a manufacturing business that started to struggle financially in 1985 due to an economic climate similar to today’s – was hooked.
“We were getting laid off like six months out of the year,” Greg Fasse said of his last days at Allis-Chalmers. “Then we had children. My next door neighbor was a locksmith and (Jayne) answered the phone for him. I rode around with him and learned the trade. I started liking the (locksmith) job better than my other job. When Allis-Chalmers called me to come back, I just gave it up.”
Soon, the couple embarked on their own lock and key enterprise based in their home.
“We actually were not allowed to put a sign in our yard, so we painted our name on the back of our basketball goal,” Jayne Fasse said. “That was the first sign we had. I wish we still had that basketball goal.”
The couple moved to it’s current location on South Memorial Drive in 1991.
Loyal and Dedicated Employees
Employee turnover at Greg’s Lock and Key is almost non-existent. The company has 12 employees on staff, eight of them certified locksmiths. They hired their first employee, Darrell Richardson, in 1989. Richardson is still with the company.
“Greg and Jayne are good people to work for,” Richardson said. “It’s a good stable company that’s been growing since day one. Turnover is almost zero. People like working there. I know I enjoy going to work.”
Richardson said some of the home repossession cases he has had to work lately have not been as pleasant. Home foreclosures are on the rise, and banks are choosing Greg’s Lock and Key to change plenty of locks on the previously occupied homes. Still, work remains and Richardson doesn’t let the jobs personally affect his work.
“As bad as the economy has gotten now,” Richardson said, “we’ve seen a lot of homes repossessed. Where we used to do about one repo every eight or nine months, now we do so many of them, it’s a sad thing, but somebody has got to do the job.”
The Fasses agree. Their group of employees do fine work,they said.
“We have excellent employees,” Greg Fasse said. “My dad – who is 79 years old and works here part-time – gave me a useful piece of advice. He said ‘if you have a return call, or a come back, take care of it first.’ You have to address someone who is disgruntled or not happy.
“All of our guys are like that. They get there when they say there are going to get there and they give the customers a fair price and get the job done.”
Emerging Business and Technological Advances
Greg Fasse said technology advances has allowed the company to expand into the remote starter business for vehicles and car alarms.
“That has picked up,” he said. “We’ve never really had that. Everybody wants remote starts. Years ago, it was too expensive, they didn’t want it or they didn’t know anything about it. Now everybody wants a remote starter.
Greg Fasse said the company hired an employee who had years of experience installing remote starters and alarms. That employee, Greg Fasse said, is slowly learning the intricacies of the lock and key business.
Newer cars also require a more sophisticated approach to key replacement, Greg Fasse said. To stay current, the Fasses hired capable people to man the changing technology.
“I’m a bit of the old school,” Greg Fasse said. “We kind of did everything mechanically. Now everything is so high-tech. The younger people, that’s what they are into, the computers, whereas I’m still into the old school. Yet, it’s been a good thing. Having the young blood in here, they tell me what the people want.”
Sales of Liberty Gun Safes have also emerged as a leading new revenue generator for the company.
“I don’t know if it’s the economy or what, but our safe sales has skyrocketed,” Greg Fasse said. “All of the companies that I’ve talked to that sell the safes say the same thing. Yet, if we would have had this conversation a year or two ago, I would have said sales would have went down.
“The price of steel had gotten real high, the price of fuel was real high, so we all thought we aren’t going to sell a safe. Now, it’s like wow, it’s the complete opposite.”
The Next Generation
The Fasses have anointed their two sons Brent, 27, and Clint, 23, as successors to the company. Both of the younger Fasses have taken to the business, their parents said, and the couple looks forward to the day they can pass the company on and step away from what are usually 70-hour work weeks from them.
“They seem to like it,” Greg Fasse said. “I think this is going to be their career. I’m thinking – and I could be wrong – but I think this is going to pass on down. They seem to like it enough that they will take over.”
Clint Fasse said his father’s suspicion is spot on. Although he described himself as not mechanically inclined, Clint Fasse made up his mind to join the family business after two years at Metropolitan Community College-Blue River.
“I figured I would give this a try,” Clint Fasse said. “It’s a family business, so I tried it. I liked it. This is want I want to do. This is me for life.”