Day in the Work Life: Hard work is key

Guy Gabai poses with just a few of America's trillions of keys.

TESS VIGELAND:
This is Marketplace Money from American Public Media. I'm Tess Vigeland.

We Americans spend a lot of money buying stuff. And then we spend more money making sure no one steals the stuff. Last week on the show, we did a cost-benefit analysis of home security systems, alarms, surveillance cameras, that sort of thing. But we overlooked the most humble security device of them all: the lock and key.

On this week's A Day in the Work Life, we talk to a guy who pays close attention to those very items. He's a locksmith.

GUY GABAI:
I make probably 10,000, 20,000 keys here. A lot. Hi. My name is Guy, and I am one of the owners and manager of SOS Locksmith and Advance Security Systems in New York City. When most people think of locksmith, they probably think about losing their keys or forgetting their keys in the car. What was really a shock to me was how much work we do. We install doors. We fix glass. When doors fall off, we put them back on their hinges. We deal with safes. We deal with ironwork, gates, welding. The people that get locked out and losing keys is really a very small fraction of the actual work that's performed here.

It's a family business. It's been here for about 35, 36 years. Since I was a kid, I used to cut keys. And 12 years ago, I started coming around here more often. I kind of liked it. I've been here ever since. The favorite thing about this job is there's constantly new people, constantly going to different places. We see the best of both world. We see when people move in to their apartments and they need to change their locks and their hardware just for safety's sake, and then we see, you know, when a boyfriend and a girlfriend break up, or somebody gets divorced, and they need to change their locks.

The most bizarre thing was, probably, once there are people in the bedroom, lock themselves with a handcuff, then they lose they key, or the key is too far for them to reach. On the other end of the spectrum, though, we've opened apartment doors where there's (SIC) dead people. So, seen everything. My salary is approximately $100,000. An average locksmith salary, it's probably anywhere between $40,000 to $60,000 a year. Then, you have people that provide emergency services, technicians that work at night will make substantial amount, or probably double if the company has enough work to provide. I think, one of the great things about this type of business, I would never have to worry about job security.

Just like everybody has milk in their refrigerator, and water to drink, everybody has a key. Even though we deal with a lot of electronic and keyless products, and wireless products, there is millions and billions and, I could even say trillions of keys in this country. Every year, on a consistent level, we sell more and more dead vaults and we install more locks for people. There's, there will never be, anywhere, in terms of job security. Oh, boy. You're gonna embarrass me now. Did I ever lock myself out of anywhere? Yes, I did. Actually, when I moved in to my new apartment, when I was bringing up boxes, I did slam the door behind me.

I called one of my friends, and they came and they helped me open the door. It's very cheap. Yes, everybody laughed. My wife laughed, my employees laughed, and it was a pretty good laugh here for about a month.

TESS VIGELAND:
A Day in the Work Life was reported by Sally Herships.

CUSTOMER:
Thank you.

GABAI: Have a great day.

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