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Makinf criminals feel unwanted.

IT'S 8:00 AM WEDNESDAY MORNING when the phone rings. One of your company's field representatives tells you the police are in the midst of an investigation. Your store was found with no sales people on the premises.

Every security or operations manager dreads such a scenario. The possibilities run through your head: Maybe the clerk went home and forgot to lock up; or took off with the money; or was chased out of the store in a robbery; or, even worse, was attacked.

What went wrong? What precautions could have been taken? Are incidents like this preventable?

Anyone in security or loss prevention, including those who work for convenience stores, can attest that many hours are devoted to evaluating and testing ways to prevent crime, employee theft, injuries, and property damage. The safety of employees and customers is a top priority when choosing security programs.

But even the most carefully thought-out and properly executed security plan cannot guarantee 100 percent loss prevention because it depends on people's behavior, and no one can predict how people will react.

Each company must assess itself honestly and recognize those safety and security issues that concern employees and the business. The company can use these issues as a framework to develop a security philosophy and reasonable security policies and practices.

At White Hen Pantry Inc., the philosophy is to make each store attractive to customers and unattractive to criminals. While this may appear contradictory, it is possible to develop strategies that address both issues. Attention must be given to environment, training, service, policies, and equipment to make this philosophy work.

Preventive measures take many forms, most of which are not apparent to the casual observer. Let's consider the five keys to developing a retail store security plan:

* An attractive environment. Well-lighted buildings, parking lots that are cleaned regularly, low stock profiles with neat product displays, shelves that have been dusted, and bright, clean floors--do these measures prevent incidents? Try it out yourself with a simple experiment.

Select two stores in similar areas with shoplifting problems. For one inventory period, have one store pay special attention to its candy, magazine, and health and beauty aids sections, straightening these at least four times a day. Have the other store straighten them only periodically.

Usually incidents of theft will decline in the store where the sections are straightened frequently. Shoplifters are reluctant to steal items from a neat, well tended section because it is obvious when something is missing. A neat external environment is critical for the same reason--when something is out of place, it shows.

* An educated employee. Employees should be trained in maintaining friendly, efficient, and safe store operations.

In the convenience store business, it is important to teach employees how to make a sandwich, ring sales on the register, mop floors, and operate the lottery terminal. But do we educate them in crime prevention? Even young school children are taught about "stranger danger," yet many of us do not want to talk to our store employees about robberies and argumentative customers.

Employees must deal with all types of people on the job, and they deserve training in how to properly react to and prevent incidents. In addition to initial training, videos about security issues or information bulletins should be available to them.

Adding to the current security programs, in 1990, our company began a continuing employee education program titled "You're Important to Us!" Bulletins are issued each month to let employees know the whys and hows of dealing with sensitive situations, such as rowdy customers, robberies, shoplifters, violence, and con artists.

* Customer service. "Hi, may I help you?" are the best words a customer can hear--and among the last words a criminal wants to hear. Greeting each customer may not seem to have much in common with preventing crime, but people with criminal intentions do not want the attention that comes with good customer service.

These individuals would rather go to a store where an employee is leaning on the counter, chewing gum, and reading a magazine than one staffed by a neatly groomed, uniformed person who looks them straight in the eye and says, "Good evening, how may I help you?"

Staffing the store with two people can be a morale booster and effective protection against internal theft. It may also pay dividends in improved customer service and work production.

* Policies. Develop and communicate a clear, simple set of guidelines applicable to your business and necessary to create a safe work environment. What we may think are common sense issues cannot be taken for granted--they still need to be stated clearly.

Policies should spell out your company's requirements for keeping only small amounts of cash on hand, restrictions on the sale of alcohol and tobacco, and penalties for policy violations. Let employees know you are serious about your policies by having them sign a statement acknowledging they have read and understand the policies.

For example, in our company policies, a statement is included that lets employees know the company does not want them jeopardizing their personal safety by challenging a robber or shoplifter, nor does the company want weapons available to employees to defend the store or its products.

For policies to be effective, management must accept responsibility for enforcing them and making sure they are applied fairly and consistently. When policy violations occur, the employee's explanation of the incident should be noted, but it is not a substitute for complying with the policy.

Many store employees are young people who have limited experience in the working world. It may be difficult for them to understand concern for safety measures--another reason our program emphasizes employees playing an active role in prevention rather than simply relying on cameras and alarms.

One last item to include in the policy statement: reporting requirements. Any investigator--whether from the police, the corporate office, or an insurance agency--needs all the facts to build a clear picture of any incident. History is essential to evaluating a location, and complete reporting is the only way to build a history.

* Security equipment. Certain equipment and services--from safes to security officers or patrols--may apply in a particular situation. Today's improved technology has also added to the variety of equipment available. Drop safes, door announcers, and, where used, alarms and cameras are all examples of useful security technologies.

But can one place too much reliance on security equipment? Absolutely! The main concern is that employees may feel so secure they neglect other preventive measures.

The appropriate security equipment, properly used, has its place in convenience stores. Many of the products or services commonly available on the market can be beneficial, but no one has shown that equipment alone prevents crimes. Cameras may record a robbery in progress and alarms may summon help, but the goal is to prevent robbers from entering stores in the first place.

Unfortunately, there is no way to measure how many incidents are prevented by following sound security practices, yet experience has shown that they do work.

Being prepared is essential, but the job is not finished once security measures are in place. Prevention requires constant monitoring, evaluating, and adjusting to be sure the plan is meeting your objectives.

If, despite all precautions, a serious incident does occur, you will be called on to analyze, explain, and modify procedures to prevent recurrences. You'll be ready if you continually audit and improve your program and if you are confident that your security plan is in the best interests of all employees. It's important to learn from experience--even though you would rather not have an experience from which to learn.

Jim Grevenites is director of loss prevention for White Hen Pantry Inc. in Elmhurst, IL.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Retail Security
Author:Grevenites, Jim
Publication:Security Management
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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