Editor's note: The following story appears in the June edition of RV PRO magazine. To read more stories from the issue, visit our digital archive.
Dealers and manufacturers are discovering that what some customers have been saying for years not only is true, but it is becoming possible – “It sure would be safer and easier if I just had one key to get in my RV and all its compartments.”
Bauer Products of Grand Rapids, Mich., is making that a reality with the help of Elkhart, Ind.-based Lippert Components acting as a kind of distributor to the OEM market.
Thanks to Bauer’s Keyed Alike system, certain RV manufacturers are able to offer RVs that use a single key to open entry doors, slam latches, cam latches and any other lock on the exterior of the vehicle. The concept behind Keyed Alike has been around for the better part of a decade, as Bauer offered it in the horse trailer industry.
But coming up with a way to adapt it to the RV industry and to the manufacturing processes within the industry proved to be a task that took some combined brainpower to pull off.
An Obvious Need
Keyed Alike is a fairly simple idea. All locks contain a tumbler or cylinder that requires a certain key to open. If you have the right key, the lock opens right up. Wrong key, forget it.
The problem is, a typical towable can have numerous external doors. Each door has a different lock. Each lock has a different tumbler. Each tumbler requires a different key.
“There’s toy hauler units that will have compression latches on the back ramp – two of those keyed differently, two doors, they’ll have a slam latch and then they’ll have a cam latch with a CH751 key and might have an electrical hatch door for a total of seven different keys,” says Scott McKinnon, lamination/awning product manager with Lippert Components, which offers Bauer Products locks to OEMs with Lippert-made doors. “These RVers walking around the campgrounds have seven or eight keys hanging around their neck in order to get in one RV.”
With the Keyed Alike system, each external door to an RV can be loaded with tumblers that are made exactly alike, requiring only a single key to perform all of those functions.
But for Bruce Bacon, president of engineering with Bauer Products, there was more than just consumer convenience at play. There was a bottom-line problem.
“What we really noticed once we got into the RV industry is that there is a tremendous amount more warranty claims (than in horse trailers),” he says. “When we got those back, we could tell most of the time it was because people were sticking the wrong key in the lock cylinder. We tried saying, ‘Why don’t we try this?’ but we kind of got rejected by the door companies. ... We kind of let it go to the back-burner and then we started getting emails from RV users saying they have two entrance doors on their trailer and they’re keyed differently. Why would we do that to them?”
Rather than point fingers, Bacon says he set about trying to convince manufacturers of the benefits of the Keyed Alike system.
The response, he says, was an over- whelming, “Yeah, but ...” In other words, it sounded like a great idea, but manufacturers couldn’t possibly slow down the process to ensure they had the exact doors with the exact same locks on them when building the RVs and wouldn’t have time to swap the doors out at the end of the process if they had loaded the wrong ones.
The Right Partner
Bacon gives a lot of credit to Lippert’s McKinnon for finally helping him make the breakthrough at the OEM level.
McKinnon was able to think about the situation from the perspective of the door manufacturer. Together with Bacon, he was able to come up with an assembly-line system that would allow manufacturers to build the trailers and fluidly leave the lock installation until the end of the process.
“To get them to go out our door matching orders with trailers just wasn’t going to happen,” McKinnon says. “You take thousands of bag doors all going into a coach and all being built on different lines in our facility and take an entrance door that has to match those bag doors and have them go out the door simultaneously and then get to the manufacturer and have them sort through them and it would just never work.”
So instead, the doors are shipped to the manufacturers with the locks in place, but no tumblers inserted.
“When we build a baggage door or we build an entrance door, we buy locks from Bauer to build that door,” McKinnon says. “We buy them without the tumblers in it. Every lock that goes out that’s on the Keyed Alike system has a little blue plug in it when it lands at the manufacturer. Then the RV manufacturer has a little shelf of tumblers at the end of the line and he puts all the same number in that coach so that everything is Keyed Alike and that puts the corresponding key with that key code and, ‘Boom.’”
Bacon says Bauer has its own patented method of installing lock cylinders, so in order for the whole process to work, the manufacturers need to be trained in that installation. Using that process and the fact that Bauer locks are available for cam locks,
slam locks and entry doors, make it possible for all external locks to be keyed alike.
“Every once in a while the OEM will still put in a lock that’s a little different, but we’re trying to understand how many applications there might be,” Bacon says. “But for the most part, we can cover a good 90 percent of the applications on the exterior.”
Though initial acceptance was slow, Bauer now has about 30 to 35 percent of towables and fifth wheels being manufactured on a Keyed Alike system.
Grand Design, Jayco towables, Starcraft, select Forest River lines and Palomino are onboard, with more brands to come at this year’s model change, according to McKinnon.
“You can see why the system had never been implemented before until somebody put a brain to it and said, ‘Let’s figure this out,’” McKinnon says. “We did and they embraced it.”
The other complaint Bacon says he hears from a lot of consumers is that there is a distinct lack of security when it comes to RV locks – specifically with cam latches.
CH751 might sound like a robot from “Star Wars”, but it’s a key that has been in use on pretty much every baggage door on every RV going back in time. Everybody has it. It works on every cam lock latch on most RVs ever made.
“Think about how much stuff is stored in those baggage areas,” Bacon says. “There’s tools, equipment and all sorts of things. With the 751 key, there are millions of those things out there. Even with the slam locks that are made by some of the other companies, they’ve got millions of those out there and you’ve got these $80,000 fifth wheels where the guy who has a camper from 1975 can take a CH751 and open most of those locks.”
With the Keyed Alike system, the same key that opens the front door on the RV will be needed to open that cam lock protecting the gear. And with Bauer’s manufacturing process, there are 60 different key options, so it is extremely unlikely for two vehicles in one campground to have the same keys.
“With the advancement of coaches and kitchens and outdoor entertainment centers, now you’ve got a 42-inch flatscreen behind a 751 key, which is absolutely zero security,” McKinnon says. “If I walk out through a campground and I have a 751 key, I could access every RV in that camp- ground. And now you can’t.”
Dealer Profit Center
Keyed Alike found a much quicker acceptance among dealers when it came to aftermarket applications. Most dealers had heard the same complaints from consumers over the years about being loaded down with a lanyard full of keys or finding out their neighbor had the exact same baggage key they did.
But still, it takes some work to get a dealership onboard.
“You have to do it dealer by dealer by dealer,” says Tom Manning, president of AP Products, which represents Bauer in the aftermarket. “It’s not something you can just throw out there on a flier and expect everybody to buy in on the program and off it goes. It’s an education process.”
Manning says dealers not only need to learn the installation process, but need to know how to ask the right questions of a customer to get to the selling point.
Rather than just having a customer come in with a bad lock and replacing it, for example, he suggests finding out if the customer has an issue with carrying around so many keys or has concerns about security.
“We give them the philosophy to do it as well as the tools to be able to implement it,” he says.
AP Products currently is offering a counter card to catch the interest of consumers and offers an accompanying brochure to assist parts representatives in being able to quote out the job of replacing the locks.
Bacon says he had plenty of positive experiences with consumers to convince him the product would sell when Bauer first got into the RV market.
“We did some rallies over the summer and there would be ladies walking around with lanyards around their necks with five different keys for all the different applications,” he says. “I had somebody hug me because I keyed their trailer alike. They didn’t have to worry about getting in late to the campground and have to fumble around in the dark with a bunch of keys to figure out which one goes where.
“I was a guest of AP Products at the trade shows this year and I think I must’ve done 400 demonstrations on how to install lock cylinders to key trailers alike,” he adds. “There’s a tremendous amount of interest from the dealers because they see it as an excellent upgrade feature or add-on or just something to sell with their packages when they’re doing a dealer prep. Tom and his team have done very well at explaining it to people.”
Other Bauer Products
Although Bauer is relatively new to the RV industry, the company is a third- generation family owned business that has been making locking hardware since 1958.
Bacon runs the company along with his brother, president of operations; and cousin, Norm Sedelbauer, president of sales.
He says the company made its big push to get the Keyed Alike system into the RV industry at the 2014 National RV Trade Association show in Louisville, Ky., and has spent the past few years “getting smarter about what people want in this industry.”
In addition to the Keyed Alike system, Bauer’s keyless products also are proving popular. The keyless products have touch- pads to enter codes that unlock a vehicle.
Bacon says the company also is in development of a keyless system that works using Bluetooth capability. The system was demonstrated at the Louisville show this past fall. Eventually, Bauer has its eyes on a keyless system that could be operated by an App on a smartphone or tablet.
“How cool is that?” he says with a laugh. “We’re constantly working on new products and trying to come up with new and better things.”