Safe and Sound

A break-in, a shoplifter pocketing product, an employee skimming from the cash drawer
... we don't realize how vulnerable we are to theft until it happens at our store.

by Roseann Meehan Kermes, Rosebud's Cottage, White Bear Lake, Minnesota

Craft and Hobby Association

Sadly, I've been a victim of theft and the experience taught me a lot. Awareness beforehand can help lessen the devastation when it occurs. Here are some steps to consider as you evaluate your store's insecurities.

Step 1: Secure the Outside of Your Building
The dusting powder police use for collecting fingerprints is hard to remove. To avoid having to deal with that issue, start by securing the perimeter of your building and then work your way inside. Do everything you can to discourage unwanted visitors.

Keep Your Store Well-Lit
Most break-ins occur when it's dark, so lighting the outside of your store helps to make it burglar-proof. If you're concerned about electrical costs, have an electrician set the lights to come on with a timer. Use motion-detector lights to illuminate back doors and side entrances. Floodlights on a sensor will surprise thieves by literally shining a spotlight on them.

Secure Your Doors
Most burglars can open a door in five seconds. Make it harder for them by discussing your options with a locksmith before a break-in happens. He or she can provide you with a number of options to fit your budget. The type of lock you have on your door is important. Deadbolt locks make doors more difficult to open by sliding a tool between the door jam and door. It's essential for the bolt to go deep into the door frame to prevent someone from getting inside. If you have a glass door or a window next to the door, avoid a lock that is controlled by a handle. The glass can be broken, allowing a burglar to reach inside to open it.

Use a door guard. It's a metal plate that exposes the key hole but seals the space where the door jam and door meet. A locksmith can install a heavy guard that is suitable for your style of door. The plate is screwed into the frame of the door, making it difficult to remove. It covers a substantial area and extends well past the frame of your door. The locksmith fits it to your door and allows only the key hole to show. It's a good solution if you have a deadbolt that won't go into the frame deep enough, or as a secondary precaution. Install guards on all exterior doors.

Criminals love back doors because they are hidden and often in the shadows. Use a door bar to prevent the door from being pushed in. If there's a window next to the door, block it. Resist propping a back door open during the day. Not only is it an easy entrance, but you also might forget to shut it at the end of the day.

Step 2: Take Preventative Measures Inside Your Store
Invest in an Alarm System
Criminals aren't deterred by sound alerts; a siren merely notifies them that they need to work faster. The best system silently calls for police backup and sends you a message. There are many types of detection systems--motion detectors, photo beams and door sensors. An alarm company will be able to tell which works best for your type of buiIding. A word of caution--never go to your store alone to investigate an alarm. Call the police and ask them to meet you.

Keep Some Lights On
Inside your store set several lights on timers.

Police patrols wilI be able to see suspicious people easily if they notice someone inside during your closed hours. Do you light your windows for the holidays? Leave the lights up all year long to create one more layer of lighting.

Protect Your Cash
At the end of the day empty the cash register. Leave the key in and the drawer open. Take large amounts of cash away from the store each day, especially if you are having an event. Store your daily cash in a safe. Experts agree that it's better to have a safe that is out in the open instead of hidden. Anchor it to the floor or the wall so it can't be carried away. Keep the door to your office locked, even when you're in the building.

Keep Employees Informed
Make sure your employee handbook clearly defines how you want your staff to handle break-ins or robbery.

Theft prevention during special events

If you have a display or booth at a community event ...
  • Plan your layout so there is only one entrance and exit.
  • Reduce the number of supply bins, expensive kits and tool out in the open. Leave a few on display and keep the remainder at your counter.
  • Keep the least valuable items near the exit or in the front of your booth.
  • Hire extra staff.
  • Create a system that helps you identify paid items--use clear shopping bags or staple the receipt to the front of the customer's bag.
For in-store events ...
  • Have a second cash register.
  • Place someone at the door to monitor people as they leave.
  • Watch the bathrooms. Shoplifters have ingenious methods for hiding and redistributing merchandise in the restroom.

Step 3: Establish a Relationship with Local Law Enforcement
Keep Your Store Well-Lit
Forming a partnership with your local police department can be a great asset to your business. The police can provide guidance on security systems, robbery prevention and more. Ask your local police department for an analysis of your store. Have a police officer walk through your store to point out issues you wouldn't normally consider, and have him/her suggest solutions for the weaknesses they discover. This is especially crucial when you are changing locations.

Invite the police to attend merchant meetings to talk about the best ways to keep businesses safe. Set up a network to spread the word about criminal activity, and create a phone tree with neighboring businesses to alert them to suspicious customers or events.
Step 4: Define Your Policy on Keys
Make sure you have a key policy and be ready to enforce it. You want to be the one person responsible for making keys, not your employees. Decide how you want to handle lost keys, or deal with an employee who duplicates a key. Account for keys when an employee leaves, and rekey if necessary.

Protect Your Samples
In creative businesses, samples make the sale. Nothing is more discouraging than having them taken. Not only does it prevent you from selling a pattern and supplies, it also deprives the designer of an income. In the quilting industry, samples aren't easy to replace. We go to extraordinary methods to protect them.

Secure samples and display items to make them harder to take. Fold the tops of quilts or linens over a rod, then clip them to the rod, and secure them with safety secure totes, pillows and other small items. Place samples high and behind tables or counters. Hang things from the ceiling, too, if you have room.

Step 5: Develop Strategies to Prevent Shoplifting
As discouraging as a burglary is, shoplifting is more personal. The worst feeling as a shop owner is realizing customers are taking things from your store. We can't believe they would do that to us!

Good Customer Service is the Best Deterrent
Greeting customers and talking to them as they roam your store allows you to be friendly, yet vigilant. In order to be successful, shoplifters need privacy and if you're engaged with them, they have less opportunity.

Think Like a Thief
Tour your store and imagine where you'd stand if you wanted to take something. Look at sightlines and visibility to see where you are vulnerable. Place your shorter displays closer to the cash register and larger displays near the wall. Take photos of your store from various angles--both high and low--for a new perspective.

Keep Your Store Neat and Tidy
Stealing from a messy store is easier than stealing from an orderly store because it's harder for you to tell if items are out of place or missing. Straightening displays is a great way to keep your eye on customers without being too obvious, so direct your employees to tidy up when customers are present. Arrange your store so there are fewer hiding places and corners, and keep the more expensive products closest to your cash register or in a locked display.

Use Affordable Theft Prevention Tools
Install security mirrors so you can see into hidden corners and halls. A real video camera with a monitor is more expensive than a fake one, but worth the money if you have chronic shoplifting problems. If you have a backroom, attach a remote door chime in the rear of your store so you can hear if someone comes in or goes out.

Learn to Identify Thieves
Most shoplifters look like the people you see every day. They come in all ages and walks of life. Shoplifters often work in teams because it's harder for a store employee to keep his or her eyes on separate individuals. Don't be surprised to see them walking around in different directions. Some groups will have one or two people pointing out samples or products while one person steals items. Pay attention to shoppers who are sending you around the store in search of various products. Strollers, coats and large bags are handy places to hide products. Offer to watch them in a controlled area.

Have a Shoplifting Policy Ready
Your shoplifting policy should be established before you need it. Be ready to enforce it. If you suspect people of shoplifting, don't be confrontational. Resist grabbing or touching them. Ask if they changed their mind about something they were looking at. Be nonchalant and friendly.

Spread the Word
Try to remember details about a suspected shoplifter, including facial features, hair and manner of speech. Call the police even if you think the value of what was taken is low. Many retailers think they shouldn't bother the police, but law enforcement needs to be aware to prevent attempts at other businesses. Talk to other shop owners about suspicious individuals, and compare notes to protect each other. Don't be afraid to use social media to talk about shoplifting incidents and what actions you have taken. Doing so puts everyone on notice that you are aware and won't tolerate stealing.

Step 6: Establish Procedures to Deal with Employee Theft (it's one of the hardest thefts to deal with)
Screen Job Candidates Thoroughly
When hiring new employees, ask for references and check them.

Review Your Checkout Policies
Be selective about who is allowed to checkout employees and their relatives. Discourage laying away purchases for later. Adopt the policy of chain retailers and implement purse checks when people leave shifts or take breaks.

Be A Great Place to Work
Don't let thieves take the fun out of your store. Planning ahead to keep your products-and profits-secure will go a long way toward allowing you to enjoy the customers who aren't trying to rip you off!