Homer Henley started Henley’s Key Service Inc. in 1945 from his basement. Locksmithing was a hobby for the late Henley, who had been a schoolteacher on the East Coast until the beginning World War II.
“The country needed people to work on airplanes more than it needed schoolteachers,” said Paul Henley, Homer’s son and now majority owner of the business. Homer transferred his skills from teaching to engineering. He worked for Bristol Aircraft in North Carolina and was even employed to work on Howard Hughes’ fleet prior to Henley making a home in Colorado Springs.
According to Homer’s grandson, Pete Henley, Homer started as the locksmith for Giddings Department Store, which was once located in downtown Colorado Springs.
After his business grew too large for his basement, Homer rented the location at 117 E. Boulder St. in 1953, where Henley’s Key Service still operates today.
On the up and up
Homer Henley incorporated the business in 1981, and seven employees and former employees now own a stake.
According to Phyllis Adams, the company’s corporate treasurer as well as an employee of 33 years and part-owner, the company will do “almost anything that’s legal.”
“Almost anything” includes locksmith mainstays like opening locked cars and making keys for vehicles, homes and businesses. The company also services vaults and safes, installs master key systems and fabricates locks and lock pieces.
“We could build a whole lock based on a picture,” Adams said. She added that, while Henley’s is on the up and up, they have been asked to bend the rules in the past.
“We’ve had people ask us to open homes that weren’t theirs,” she said. “They’ll say they’re house-sitting. We’re very strict on that. We ask that the owner call us, or fax us or send us a letter. If you drop your [car] keys on the seat of your car and someone sees them, they’ll tell us they locked their keys in their car.”
Adams said, upon opening the vehicle, they’ll pick up the keys, look for the registration and match it to a driver’s license. “If they don’t match, we put the keys back in, shut the door and lock it up,” she said. “If you have a key that says ‘do not duplicate’ on it, we won’t unless we have a written letter.”
Pete said getting paid to provide personal and organizational security isn’t as recession-proof as one might think.
“The mindset is, I can go buy this lock and it will hold the door closed for this price. If it works, they’re happy. When it comes to repairs and stuff — money’s tight, despite what the news and economists say,” he said. “Most people are going to try and deal with [security] themselves.”
Adams said, during economic down times, Henley’s doesn’t terminate positions, but rather cuts hours.
“It’s hard to find good locksmiths,” she said. “When you get them, you want to hang on to them as long as you can.”
There are recognized levels in locksmithing, similar to those obtained by plumbers and electricians, Pete said.
“There’s a registered locksmith who is your basic guy,” he said. “Then it goes to certified professional and certified master. There’s also the same [ratings] for safe technicians and card technicians.”
The future is now
Despite its being a skill utilized for centuries, Adams said locksmithing has been significantly affected by technology.
“Most of your car keys are electronic now,” she said. “People don’t realize there’s a chip or transponder in your keys. Some aren’t even keys. It’s just a fob you carry with you. Don’t lose your keys. You could be looking at $300 [to replace it].”
Pete Henley, who also serves as a volunteer firefighter, said continuing education is a big part of the business.
“I spend almost as much time learning [locksmithing] as I do firefighting,” he said. “Electronics are taking over everything. … There are locks you can control with your smartphone.”
He said he’s also seen a move in the corporate world away from mechanical systems to keycard systems that can be easily programmed to allow certain people into certain areas.
Adams said Henley’s relies on trade magazines and shows as well as classes offered through suppliers and trade associations like the Associated Locksmiths of America, or ALOA, to remain up-to-date.
Despite technology’s influence on the industry, both Adams and Pete Henley said they don’t foresee the old-school key going away anytime soon.
“I think the future will be a combination of both,” Pete said. “With electronics, if the power goes out, how do you lock it up?”
He said the business subcontracts electricians to handle more complex electrical work.
“For high-voltage stuff, you have to have a license,” Pete said. “For our trade, that’s anything above 50 volts. One thing that does make things easier — there is a lot of secured wireless out there. We can put our power supply and controller in one spot and have a wireless controller that controls doors around the facility, and we don’t have to string 600 to 800 feet of wire.”
Occasionally, history lessons are included in service calls, Pete said.
“Locksmithing is one of those industries where on one visit I’ll see something made yesterday and on the job after that, I’ll see something made 100 years ago,” he said.
“They genuinely don’t make it like they used to. Especially in the residential series of locks, there is nothing made today, barring an unusual set of circumstances, that will last 100 years.”
Henley’s Key Service Inc.
Address: 117 E. Boulder St.