Chris Dangerfield is known throughout the world for his prolific adventures and storytelling. Over the years he has amassed a life of thrills, dangers, catastrophes, and personal enlightenment. He is as diverse and intellectually capable as his go-to lock picking set.
As a writer, comedian, adrenaline junkie, and expert lock slayer, Chris has created an empire in the Locksport community. In this interview, Mr. Dangerfield will be telling us how he got to this point and reveal some techniques he is using to maintain his kingdom for now and many years to come.
Q: Let’s start this interview off by telling us about yourself. What do you do for a living, and how are you involved with the Locksport community?
Q: What got you into lock picking and selling lock picks?
“As a child I needed access to my family telephone as I wanted to continue making prank calls to whoever I could. My parents were not happy with the phone bill and installed a little lock on the dial. Soon enough I managed to jiggle it with the gunk-scraper from a set of toe-nail clippers. The lock didn’t require a key to re-lock, so I was able to put it back in place after using the telephone. My parents were dumbfounded when the bills continued to be confusingly high, and I think I contributed to a lack of trust in their relationship, which was a bonus. This and a fascination with escape artist Harry Houdini led to my interest in lock picking. For a child, the idea of having power over locks – something the adult world depended on for the security of their property and families seemed almost like a superpower.”
Q: Who were some of the major competitors in the industry that you had to compete against when you first started out? Who do you consider to be your biggest competitor?
“This is going back a long time, and most of my competitors then are no longer in business. It didn’t take me long to realize the best way to deal with competition was to offer not only something better, but something different, which in a way eliminates the competition. Rather than fight them, improve yourself. It’s positive energy rather than negative energy, and my experience would suggest, good business practice.
Our biggest competitors now are without doubt the likes of Amazon and Ebay. Although lock picks are prohibited on Amazon USA and Ebay globally, dedicated people fly under the radar. With no overheads, they seem to be able to offer more for less. Of course, that’s frequently a myth, and what’s on offer is of low quality, with no specialist customer service, or engagement with the community. Again, we compete by offering what they cannot, loyalty, incredibly dedicated and knowledgeable customer service, and innovation. Add to that great prices and high quality, it’s no surprise we continue to grow rapidly and have a great reputation.”
Q: I have noticed that UKBumpKeys.com seems to offer products at a significantly discounted price compared to most other distributors. How have you been able to keep your costs so low while maintaining a profit?
“There are two ways to stay in business: Sell a few items with a high mark-up, or many at a small mark-up. I was lucky in that I took an item that was exploding online – the bump key – and redesigned it, making it better. In fact, the changes I made are now almost universally imitated (the removal of the shoulder, the variety of bump-patterns, and the use of dampeners). This meant I was inundated with requests for keys. Since the initial demand was huge, I was able to sell them with a small mark-up – whereas if only say 10 people had asked, they would have been more expensive. This allowed me to build a trusting customer base very quickly. And with each new tool we added to our range, the same thing happened, lots of people bought them. This continues to the present day. We have a very large and extremely active mailing list. People choose to opt-in because we don’t spam them, and when we do offer something new, it’s going to be quality and at a good price. It’s a self-perpetuating system. As long as we maintain our standards, from product to support, I am confident we will sell in good numbers, so we can manufacture or buy in large amounts, saving money and being able to pass those savings on to our customers.”
Q: What are some of the products that are new to the market right now, and which of your products seem to sell the most?
“Our PRAXIS set is our newest innovation. At the time of writing it’s the only dual-gauge pick set on the market. With half the picks being 0.025” and the other half being 0.015”. However, we didn’t want this feature to deter from the other features. So often new innovations will ‘dine out’ on the new feature, allowing other aspects to suffer. A new feature shouldn’t be an excuse to cut back elsewhere, it should add to the all-round excellence of a product. So, the selection process for the types of picks and wrenches included was a thorough and rigorous process, involving the knowledge of many different pickers from around the world. World-champion pickers, people who have published books on picking, and professional reviewers. I made use of the many contacts I have made over the years to produce the perfect pick set. From the steel used in manufacture, down to the length and angles of the tension tools, this set took nothing for granted. We wanted to produce the fruit from the tree of all the available lock picking skill and knowledge. From both the sales and reviews it’s received, I think we did an exceptional job. It also shows our customers that we have remained passionate about our product and that we work from a position few can imitate.
I mean, our bump keys continue to sell well as there really are no others like them. No one seems to apply the quality control that we do, or have such a dedication to the product. I have to thank Bump Keys for allowing me to set up a business with a donated computer and zero investment. So although not our best sellers, they do represent the company and they are mighty fine tools. Having said that, it’s pick sets that continue to sell the best. Our PRAXIS set has out sold everything else, every month since its release a few months ago. There’s only so many Bump Keys most people will need, and anyone needing them for very specific or high security locks will end up making their own. But people love a new pick set, even though they may already have 4 or 5. I am like this with Rakes, I love raking, and by cannibalizing other sets feel I have made the best set of rakes possible. But if I see a new set, I feel my heart pumping, and know I will at some point, find the right excuse to buy it.”
Q: Have you had to deal with any legal restrictions for the products you sell or the countries and states you sell to? How have those restrictions changed over the years?
“We keep a close eye on such restrictions and have people in place to maintain our awareness of such changes. Again, the main area is with Amazon and Ebay, they seem to change their minds on a whim, and have different rules for different people. And like I said, they will allow people to fly under the radar. We also don’t sell destructive entry tools, but that’s more for ethical than legal reasons. We’ve always maintained a good relationship with the law and police, they frequently come to us for advice, and we supply a lot of forces around the UK. I was approached by an unnamed US government department from Langley, Virginia to stock and train them in lock picking. But I think they underestimated the level of work and time required to do what they wanted, and eventually, they put us on the back burner.”
Q: Is there any connection or communication between you and the makers and fabricators of the products you sell on your website, or is it hard enough just to get in as a distributor?
“We speak all the time with manufacturers. Having been in the trade for so long, and with such regular custom, we have built up good, trusting relationships with many of them. You can soon cut out the middle man (or men as it tends to be) as you move up the chain, as the middle men just can’t supply in the quantities you require. Often, they have approached us first, as it’s frequently as beneficial for them as it is us. We have a lot of kit manufactured exclusively for us, such as those items in our DANGERFIELD range, so it makes sense to keep regular communication from start to finish.”
Q: In your opinion, how has the Locksport community itself changed over the years and where would you like to see it go from here?
“From a retail perspective it’s become more competitive, which is a good thing. The free market means only the best survive. There was a period when chancers were turning up almost weekly, a new website, selling much the same tools as everyone else and not realizing just because it was an online business that work and effort was still required. Now, to survive you have to offer all that’s expected – customer service, quality control, customer experience, engaging website, plenty of dialogue with customers) as well as something unique about you, and innovation, of course. There’s a big difference between a shop and a specialist, and customers are giving you money, they deserve a specialist, they deserve someone who is passionate about their passion.
Away from retail, I think the community is a lot more accepted. There was a time when people outside the community would immediately and wrongly associate an interest in lock picking with an interest in crime. These days, with the spread of social media, people are more understanding of the area as a hobby, or a profession.
Where would I like to see it go? I’d like more interaction and dialogue between lock manufacturers and lock pickers. Companies who make locks could learn so much, and so much quicker by engaging with the people who have shown up vulnerabilities in their products. It happens, but it’s rare. They are often seen as enemies, but they aren’t going away. Companies that engaged and worked with pickers would be producing the best locks, it would also make a great marketing angle, especially since it’s true. I once had a company write to me to ask if I could delay the release of a certain Bump Key until they’d received their British Standards Institute KiteMark – which suggests a product has been identified as putting safety at the forefront. It was ridiculous. Why didn’t they contact me before making this new lock? I could have worked with them to make the lock more secure.”
Q: Do you have any tips for anyone wanting to get into selling, making, or trading on a wholesale or distributor level, and what was/is the hardest part about selling to the Locksport community and locksmiths?
“Online, of course, unless you want to limit your customer base to a few miles radius, rather than the world. And like any business, find experts to do the things you can’t. You might be the best SPP’er in your country, but it doesn’t make you an SEO expert.
Selling to the locksport community and locksmiths is different from selling to the wider market. They want innovation, they want something they haven’t already got, or can’t make themselves. These people often have a shed load of bench grinders, files, pliers, steel strips etc. So offer them something they can’t make — a new idea.
Locksmiths are also slightly different as they have a series of problems they want solved. Usually quicker than before, and easier. For them time is money, if you can save them time, you’ll sell the item to them, no problem.”
Q: What tools do you keep in your personal ultimate lock picking kit?
“It’s cylinder-lock specific, it contains: various rakes, a couple of the shiny variety too. A couple of hooks, a deforest diamond, and a half diamond – all these in two gauges. Wrenches: a Z-wrench, and some Top of Keyway wrenches. Haha, I’ve just pretty much detailed our PRAXIS set.”
Q: Are you picking any locks right now? What are some of your favorite locks to play with?
“Yes I am, The Banham opposing dimple nightmare, which makes it my favorite lock to play with. It drives me mad, or madder, perhaps.”
Q: Finally, what is your favorite beer to drink while picking locks?