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Padlock salesman trades 30-pound sample case for 1.35-pound iPad

"My laptop stays at home permanently"

By , Network World
December 08, 2011 11:52 AM ET
Tway house

Network World - For William Tway, the really important number for the Apple iPad is 1.35. That's how much the 3G model weighs. And it weighs about 28.67 pounds less than the sample case of padlocks, not to mention the thick paper catalogs, he used to lug around as head of East Coast sales for the Wilson Bohannan Padlock Company.

To put that in perspective, heft a five-pound bag of sugar or flour, multiply by six, and imagine carrying that load to the airport and lifting it in and out of your rental car six or seven times a day.

The iPad is not only saving Tway's arms and legs, not to mention the time spent repeatedly unpacking and repacking the suitcase of samples for airport TSA inspectors. It's also changing his relationship with customers in several ways.

CASE STUDY: How the iPad is changing work, and working together

Using Tway's iPad, his customers now can interactively configure the type, style, color and other features of their padlock order, via an electronic catalog created with a Web-based authoring service called StoryDesk, and delivered on the iPad with StoryDesk's CatalogApp, from iTunes. And the tablet also is creating a subtle collaborative relationship between buyer and seller, as they stand side by side instead of confronting each other over a desk.

The company bought him an iPad 2 shortly after it was announced. It was a great fit for a tech enthusiast. "I was the first kid on my block to have a computer," he recalls. "But I wasn't really the 'geek.' I'm almost 50 years old now. I still enjoy electronics."

Tway is something like the company's unofficial "propeller head" in the field. "I'm trying to get other salesmen to use this," he says. "Once they see what I'm doing with it, I think I can convince them to use it."

Wilson Bohannan Padlock Co., was founded in 1860 in Brooklyn, N.Y., by, and named after, Tway's great grandfather. It's still family-owned. The company's motto is "Locks since Lincoln." Tway chose life on the road instead of the executive suite, and is clearly proud of the company and its history. "It's the oldest padlock company in the world still building padlocks," he says. And the only U.S. padlock company still building them in this country, now at a high-tech plant in Marion, Ohio, which makes possible what one writer dubbed "mass customization" of its padlock offerings.

Tway created an online photo collection of the company's locks, stretching back to the late 1800s.

SLIDESHOW: 8 piles of paper replaced by iPads

Unusually, the company's name is not in its main url, which is padlocks.com. Tway bought that domain for $75 in 1997, from a guy in a New Orleans bar. "That was one of the greatest things I ever did," he says with a laugh. "I wasn't married then. There was a girl involved and she worked in the hotel I was staying at. She knew this guy. His business was selling [Internet] domains, for InterNIC [the precursor to ICANN]. I was talking to him and he asked, 'how'd you like to have padlocks.com?' So I bought it."

Wilson Bohannan's niche is brass locks. "The [brass] lock will never rust or corrode, and it will last a lifetime," Tway says. It turns out there's a big market for such locks: it used to be the railroads, who bought them to secure boxcars and switching gear. Eventually, utility companies become a major market. "They have substations, pad-mounts, and green boxes everywhere with four to seven padlocks each," Tway says. Wilson Bohannon is one of the few padlock makers that sells directly to end users.

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