James Doan continues locksmith service launched by dad in 1978

April 25, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Behind the name Harold Doan and Sons Ltd, “Profession mobile locksmith service,” lies a story of familial loyalty to what a father began.

James Doan, now running the business on his own since the deaths of his father, Harold, and his brother, Harold Jr., told the Citizen the story.

“My father passed and, then, so did my brother. Father kept working until he couldn’t any more because of cancer,” Mr. Doan began.

“He came here in 1962 and started learning the business with correspondence courses for locksmiths in the 1970’s. He took extra courses of various aspects of locksmithing and joined the Associations of Locksmiths in the U.S. and Canada. He went to courses in the U.S. too.

“Dad did 25 courses over the time. We have a wall covered in his certificates,” Mr. Doan boasted of his father’s hard studying.

While his father and brother were working the family business, James was employed elsewhere. 

“I had been working as an engineer,” said he, “until my company moved and neglected to take me with them. My dad suggested I work with the two of them, just until I found something else.

“So, I apprenticed with my dad and the Academy of Locksmithing opened. It started up at the same time as I was getting into it. I was working with dad during the day in ‘85 and started courses in ‘87. I was a little bit surprised when it happened that my engineering company left me behind but it worked out for the better.”

“We went to conventions to learn about high security locks; took courses: high security locks are basically designed as standard but with higher quality materials. At the big end, you can’t get keys made at a hardware store. You have to go the to locksmith company that made them.” 

There is plenty of information: “Medico locks, in the ‘70’s, Dad was using it until they said to use ASSA locks, out of Sweden. We found their keys were a little bit thicker, guaranteed never to break and I’ve never had to replace one in 35 years. These keys go on and on.

“For standard locks, we use USCAN brands. All the different parts, USCAN matches other types; so, we can put together any other kind of standard locks.” 

Today, the firm’s business extends well beyond fixing locks. “We do basically residential locks, commercial glass and aluminum store fronts. High security locks are mostly for commercial use. For residential, they are usually over-kill. In a residential situation, we don’t promote it. If it’s a family, if you lose a key, you have to rekey and that can run expensive. ASSA keys are expensive.”

As banks have a policy to have their locks maintained internally, the Doan business no longer offers service to them.

“Between the residential and commercial needs right now, you really noticed the turnover, especially the way the economy goes. 

“If it’s a do it yourself-er, there’s residential, where we really shone in the 80s. Then, it was simple but when people from the city came, they wanted deadbolts. A lot of what we’re doing now is for new occupants, getting the locks re-keyed or replaced.

“For commercial, there are many new tenants or break-ins. Burglars are getting very creative.

“I’m the last of the [male] line. My sister has moved in. We’ll fix up this house and we’ll have a nice little retirement place.”

He told us, “Dad worked until he was 85 when cancer stopped him. That was one thing he thought: if you work for someone else, then, you have a pension and when you stop working, you have nothing to do. But if you work for yourself, you wake up and have a plan.” 

He said, “My sister come back from Gananoque; she was a teacher. I took her down in the mid ‘80’s and she basically stayed there until she retired. She did take the locksmithing course but didn’t do much with us.

“We’re noticing push-button locks, swiping, blue tooth on your locks. So many mechanical locks out there, when you need a key. Once, someone came up with a push button lock, run on a battery but it had no key override. So, if battery dies, you can’t open it.

“As far as I’m concerned, there is enough of that coming along. It’s a question of when there’s enough demand. Two or three push button locks have a key override but 95% locks are still of the old style. A lot of older houses use the Yale and people still used them because they match the decor.

“I still prefer standard locks and they do still sell the push button but they all have key override. You can use your smart phone to open them. Amazon offers a service where the delivery man can open your door and leave your parcel inside. They can provide a camera.” For perspective, he added, “Hospitals and some office buildings, you have your little badge to allow you to go from room to room.” 

Philosophically, he commented, “The train is progress. I’m not going to say I only do mechanical; I can still take a few courses and keep up. Someone will design the right things for any need.”

He talked about the future of his family business. “Because Dad worked so hard to set this up, it’s his name. When the time comes I want to stop, I’ll just close the business down. It carries the imprint of him and out of respect for him I wouldn’t want someone else to run it.”

For young people who might want to get into locksmithing, Mr. Doan recommended, “If you’ve got certain mechanical aptitude, certainly around here and any of the other slightly larger size community, there is a demand. The Academy of Locksmithing, which you can learn about on the TOAL website, appropriate training schedule, it’s night school at the moment. Take it in modules. You can take all the different aspects of the lock work. If you wanted to work in a bigger community, apprentice with one of the bigger locksmith companies.”

His advice: “Check out all the aspects. The TOAL website has forms to ask questions. They are looking for people to come into the business.” 

Practically speaking, “On a residential situation, I still have my preference for the basic dead lock. The best you can really hope in, is to make it so unattractive for thieves. Front gates, some of the locking systems I can rekey. Mostly, hinged doors or swing doors, either residential or commercial, crash bars, alarm ones, we get into all the office type things.” 

A mobile locksmith, with his office in his vehicle? “Given the size of this town, the other locksmiths are also mobile units.” 

It seems, that is how business is done for the locksmith – all house calls.


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