“The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”

This popular quote is often falsely attributed to a Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov; you may know him better as Lenin, the communist revolutionary of the Soviet Union. Catchy, I’ll admit, perhaps so much so that it’s also been attributed to one of Lenin’s associates, Joseph Stalin, and even Karl Marx. The phrase is still used today albeit in slightly different and less provocative manner. One version that I’ve often heard reads as follows:

“They’ll buy the rope that we will hang them with.”

This article isn’t about phrase origins, however, or political figures of the 19th and 20th century. It’s about how current business relationships in the locksmith industry could be accurately described using the above phrase.


The relationship manufacturers, distributors, locksmiths, and customers has historically been as follows: manufacturers sell to distributors who sell to locksmiths (or other security professionals) who sell to their customers. Now it seems that some distributors are forgoing, if not outright bypassing, locksmiths/security professionals and selling directly to the customer. They are, in effect, subsidizing a change in their business model, even if only a slight one, at the expense of locksmiths all while being our competition. The parent company of one distributor has even gone so far as to actually bid complete jobs (parts and labor) using a separate business entity.

I don’t think I need to argue that this shift is not favorable to locksmiths, that much should be self-evident. So what can be done?


I think the only realistic solution in this situation is for locksmiths to stop doing business with distributors that seek to usurp us. I’ve broached this topic on Clearstar but was told that, in no uncertain terms, locksmiths are “small potatoes” to distributors and they wouldn’t care. I find this hard to believe (we may not be a majority but we’re surely a sizable minority) but even if it were true, who cares? Why should we buy the rope, no matter it’s length, that they’ll eventually hang us with? Their endgame might not be storefronts where John and Jane Doe can stop by on Saturdays but anything that attempts to cut us out of the picture should be taken as no less than a personal affront. There are many distributors available to locksmiths and, near as I can tell, a good number do play by the rules. Why not give them your business?

Another possible solution would be to start buying direct. A growing number of manufacturers are offering direct buy programs with locksmith shops. There are certain requirements, such as annual or initial buy-ins, but get behind a brand you trust and try to make it work – you’d be surprised at how good their numbers can be.

If distributors want to abandon a decades old business relationship to squeeze out all of the revenue of your city or town then there’s not a lot you can do about it, but don’t be a party to it and don’t support it. Take your dollars elsewhere and urge your colleagues to do the same. Hit them where it hurts the most: their pockets.