Under Lock and Key
Ashley Safe & Security takes locksmith business high-tech
By this time next year, Indianapolis-based Ashley Safe & Security will be opening the doors on its third location as the commercial security integrator expands into Kentucky. Led by Air Force veteran Jim Ashley, the family-owned company is a one-stop shop for anything that locks—from the installation of a door and frame to high-tech systems for government agencies.
Jim is the President and Owner of the company. “I wear many hats from day to day,” he jokes. The company already has a second location in Kokomo, Indiana, and decided to open another in Kentucky, where Jim and his wife have family.
“There is not a lot of competition in that area that are as well-versed as we are. Opening another storefront location is a very realistic goal. I started out of my garage 20 years ago and now we have two storefront locations and six trucks on the road,” he says.
“We are a true security integrator for all kinds of systems, from the lock on your front door to a server controlling access for 20 or more entries,” Jim says. A lot of what the firm does, Jim says, centers around keeping people in or keeping people out. Some of their work revolves around preventing people from unauthorized exiting from particular doors, as well as installing electronic access control devices that can monitor who comes in or goes out with the touch of a button, he explains.
Being a locksmith entails knowing about a wide variety of security measures, from electromagnetic locks to push bars with switches in them that control access in or out. It starts getting heavy duty when working with government facilities or detention centers, he says.
Closed-circuit television or CCTV is another aspect of their work. “Many people call them security cameras,” he says. “What they can do is let the operator know exactly what someone did at a particular time and in a particular place with positive identification. It can also be used to vindicate people who are innocent of accusations,” he explains.
A Security Integrator
Jim says he invests time in advising clients about the best systems for their specific needs. “Sometimes a client knows exactly what they want down to the name brand; but if not, my approach is to ask them what they want their new system to do. From that information, I can tailor-make a system based on a variety of product manufacturers that we represent and have certifications with. As a security integrator, I can put several systems together to achieve what they want and need,” Jim says.
This summer, for example, Ashley Safe & Security was installing electronic access control systems on a senior living/assisted living campus in southern Indiana. “We have video surveillance, so when someone approaches the door and swipes their access card, the camera will record the event and save it in the access control system. The goal is to provide evidence that the person that used the card is the person to whom the card was issued,” Jim explains.
Jim is watching the senior living industry as a potential for even more security projects. “With the population aging, we are directing our focus on comprehensive security for nursing homes. There will definitely be a need—from installing electronic systems that prevent dementia patients from roaming to systems that provide fall alerts,” he says.
Super Safe Systems
The Ashley Safe & Security team also provides complex systems for correctional clients. For example, the firm was called upon recently to install an electronic access control system in a regional detention facility. Another system they installed there was a delayed egress system.
“That’s part of access control; telling a door when to open and when not to open,” Jim says. “The delayed egress system determines if a door is good to open or staff can swipe their badges—it’s basically integrating systems to make them ‘talk’ to each other.”
One of the projects that Jim is most proud to be part of is the team of contractors who handled the installation of a 181-door access control system in a government facility in Central Indiana. The firm also installed a wireless camera system for the Tipton County Courthouse in Tipton, Indiana, so that the historical characteristics of the building aren’t compromised.
Jim says staying on top of the latest technology is made easier by the wealth of in-depth information and training developed by product manufacturers. “They send out notifications, brochures and host webinars on their latest and greatest developments. We invest time in learning new things and keeping up with the latest and greatest developments in the field of electronics. Security industry technology is fast-paced,” he says.
Jim supervises the field team, which includes five technicians. He has a duo who handle a lot of mechanical lock work, another pair that work largely on electronics, including running cable, installing conduit, wiring panels and assisting with programming, and one tech who “does it all.”
“We have a lot of repeat customers,” he explains. “We tell it to them straight; even if it is detrimental to our bottom line, we tell them what they need. Sometimes I give them good advice that doesn’t work to my benefit, but I give them the advice they need to hear.”
Jim and his wife, Debbie, who serves as Bookkeeper and Office Manager, maintain an open mind when it comes to hiring, and it has paid off with top-notch talent. For example, the Indiana School for the Deaf (ISD) approached Jim about a student who had some experience in working with low-voltage electronics who was looking for a job. Jim was happy to bring him on board. To help overcome the communication barrier, Jim and other team members learned American Sign Language. “It’s not that challenging,” he says. “Sometimes we have to text each other, but it’s truly been a success story,” he adds.
In another instance, when the company was looking for additional finance expertise, Debbie got a response from a woman who had an accounting degree from an American university overseas. Jim says she was overqualified, but she was struggling to find a job. “Debbie and I talked to her and offered her the position. She had been experiencing discrimination because of her ethnicity. We’re glad to have discovered her; she’s been a wonderful addition to our team,” Jim says.
Beyond the quality of his team, Jim says having that GSA certification and a solid reputation for doing good work has been helpful in getting word-of-mouth recommendations for projects. “We’ve done work for the Department of Defense, bypassed alarm systems for a number of federal agencies and assisted military installations with opening and repairing vault doors and GSA containers,” Jim says.
Jim started the company in 2001 after working in the security industry since the mid-1980s. While stationed at Lackland Air Force Base (now part of Joint Base San Antonio), he made friends with the owners of a locksmith shop who was in a motorcycle club with him. After leaving the military, his friends took him under their wing and taught him the industry, he says. “I shadowed their field tech to learn as much as I could, and here I am 35 years later.”
Unlocking the Future
Jim and Debbie both feel like a job well done is satisfying. “When a plan comes together and the clients are happy with the results, that is important. I don’t stop until a client is happy,” Jim says. “Owning a business, you’re married to it. People talk about vacation and I ask, ‘What’s that?’ I enjoy seeing someone pleased and satisfied with work that we do. I am personally involved in almost every project we do. As a systems integrator, it’s a welcome challenge. Making systems talk to each other, finding the right protocol and watching something come together is really rewarding when it is all said and done,” he adds.
One of those rewarding projects was an unexpected one. Jim says he found a great deal on residential hardware, but then found that it didn’t work with his projects and just took up warehouse space that could be put to better use. So, he and Debbie decided to donate the materials to the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
“We are firm believers in the mission of Habitat for Humanity to help families build and improve the places they call home. We could have tried to sell it, but Debbie felt this was the right thing to do. We were able to clear shelf space and help someone less fortunate. The organization really appreciated it,” Jim says.
Jim and Debbie say the pandemic has impacted business, but they’ve stayed nimble and taken on some different projects that the company wouldn’t normally do. Many of the big projects that were on the books are now on hold, but taking on smaller projects for regular customers has been a good move, Jim says. “We are big enough to take on any project, but still small enough that we care about what we’re doing.”
“The greatest asset any company has is their team,” Debbie says. “We are doing everything we can to keep everyone safe and healthy. We’ve told our team if they don’t feel comfortable with a situation to let me know and I’ll deal with it. We make decisions every day to protect our employees and their families. They’re not just employees, but more like our extended family.”
Jim says he and Debbie make a good team. “We complement each other. She is a business guru handling the office end of things with a lot of finesse. I handle the fieldwork since I’m the technical brain. A lot of guys are a one-man show, and they may be good at lock work but terrible at the office end of it. Some are good at business operations but have no business picking up a screwdriver. Having someone run the office that you can trust implicitly has really been good for us and the company.”