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Unlocked Potential

Looking for the key to happiness? This pair found it in a locksmith business.

This story appears in the February 2004 issue of Start Up.

Being electrocuted allowed Michael Sims to see the light shining on a different career path.

In 1995, a major accident on the job as a trainee electrician left him laid up for months, contemplating his next move. Fate intervened when Michael was reunited with an old church friend, a Pop-a-Lock technician who came to assist a neighbor who was locked out of his car. Upon hearing Michael's plight, the friend introduced Michael to his boss, who hired him on the spot. Three years later, Michael and his wife, Gwen, both 32, knew they wanted to open their own Pop-a-Lock . "Having served as a technician for one of the franchises, I was able to see firsthand how the company not only operates, but [also] provides support in all areas, from management and marketing to technical training," says Michael.

Using $50,000 of start-up capital obtained mostly from personal investments, the Simses relocated from their hometown of , Louisiana, to open the Brower County, Florida, branch of Pop-a-Lock in December 1999. Within their , they generated more than $250,000 in revenues.

Pop-a-Lock provides services such as unlocking car doors, roadside assistance and locksmithing to individuals as well as motor clubs. Pop-a-Lock also works with 911 through its Emergency Door Unlocking program, offering free service in situations where infants, small children, seniors or people with disabilities are locked in vehicles.

Combining Michael's technical skills with Gwen's proved the ideal formula for success. "In the beginning, it was just the two of us," says Gwen. "I handled all the administrative duties from home while Mike was out servicing the field. Initially, we received about three calls [per] day." Today, the company receives more than 70 calls daily and employs 10 technicians and five support staff members.

The couple now manages operations from Morristown, Tennessee. "Last year, we fell in love with this town nestled in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains while on vacation and thought it would be a great place to settle and raise a family," says Michael. The Pop-a-Lock system allows franchisees to operate from any remote location-all they need is access to a phone and a computer. With plans of diversifying into more complicated areas such as safes and closed-circuit security systems, the franchise's revenues are projected to reach $800,000 in 2004.

"It's not an understatement to say that has enriched our lives," emphasizes Michael. "Pop-a-Lock has allowed us to provide a service to over 54,000 people to date, hire our friends and relatives, and live our lives the way we want."

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