Key Powell, the owner of Key Security Services, says he caught the entrepreneurial bug from his father. After graduating from the University of Florida, he entered the corporate world, which only confirmed to him that he wanted to own his own business. “I was most driven by the idea that my success would no longer be tied to the corporate structure. Hard work, determination, ingenuity, creativity and intelligence became very real concepts,” he says.
And while he knew he wanted his own business, the big question was what kind of business. His father, a retired locksmith, suggested that Powell start a locksmith business simply because he already knew the trade. “I knew how to do it and I could own my own business — there it is!” says Powell, thankful that his father had helped him to find the direction he had been seeking.
Powell started Key Security Services — then Key Locksmith Services — in 2005. The business has since expanded its services from traditional mechanical locks to include alarm systems, security cameras, and electronic access control, prompted by the property manager market that makes up a large part of the business. Powell himself was once a property manager, so well understands the needs of that market.
I realized that the (property) managers trusted me and would eventually ask if I could do other things for them, he says. So, Powell got the training required for the new security services and expanded his business to better meet his customers’ needs. “I’m constantly asking myself what can I do better for the property manager, which defines our services,” he explains.
Yet in 2010, Powell had what he refers to as a “humbling moment”: He was faced with a cash flow issue that he couldn’t understand, despite having a MBA from Hodges University. This challenge prompted his first visit to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Florida Gulf Coast University. There he worked with one of the certified consultants, who helped him to better understand the cyclicality of his business’ cash flow, and why he was having challenges paying his suppliers even though his financials were great.
One year later, Powell met certified consultant, Cathy Haworth, at an SBDC business function, who he has been working with ever since. At the time, Powell had been considering hiring a business coach to help him stay focused, sharing that he has a tendency towards Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
I tend to follow the shiniest object, which was creating a wake of unfinished projects behind me, he says. This point of self-awareness made him realize that he needed some form of accountability, and “Cathy [Haworth] was the perfect person to play that role,” explains Powell.
The two now meet monthly, where Haworth functions as a sounding board for his monthly goals, and as an accountability partner to help keep him stay focused on the goals that are established. “I had been wanting to write up a marketing plan for Fort Myers for eight months,” says Powell. “Once I started working with Cathy [Haworth], it happened immediately. I told her ‘I’ll show it to you next month, and that’s what happened.’ “Without Haworth, he might have thrown his hands up in the air, found working on the plan too frustrating, and opted to do something more fun, he says.
Haworth also helped him to trust his own business instincts. “I knew the right answers but lacked the confidence to follow through with things,” explains Powell. For example, he was considering scaling back on his yellow page advertising, and ran his thought process by Haworth, who validated his instincts. This gave him the strength to commit to this decision, even when the sales representative from the yellow pages was pressing him to expand his advertising. Haworth’s support helped him to move forward.
“I credit the SBDC with helping me to be a better manager, boss and owner, which means my business operates smoother, and I’m more profitable because of that. I appreciate the broad asset of the SBDC as a whole…I can trust their advice; there’s no ulterior motive,” says Powell.
When asked if his name, Key, had anything to do with his decision to start a locksmithing business, he explains that his father entered the locksmith trade when Key was already three years old. Maybe it was destiny.
Story written and submitted by Jacqueline Aaron