Securing the Convenience Store
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As theft at retail surges in bad economic times, retailers are warned to protect their assets. Security remains an ongoing concern for convenience store operators, but new technologies and approaches are offering some great help. And great help is a great asset, because there is a lot of work to be done.

Bad economic times mean increases in petty theft at retail. In fact, U.S. retailers lost $34.8 billion in stolen merchandise last year, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). To cover those costs, the group said, consumers pay an extra 1.5 cents per dollar at retail, or about $354 a year, in additional expense per household.

Innovations in safes, cash-handling systems and robbery deterrents are making c-stores safer and more profitable. Among the approaches retailers should consider:

Biometrics: Scot Lins, an independent consultant who served more than a decade as senior director of loss prevention at 7-Eleven, said biometrics offer an area where there is significant application potentials.

“It’s perfect for the c-store industry as it relates to age-restricted product sales,” Lins said. “That probably opens a whole other issue in terms of coordination with the various state alcohol and tobacco agencies. But to be able to use biometrics for the purposes of being able to identify whether or not a person is legal age to buy cigarettes or alcohol would be a great thing.”

Training alone isn’t always effective. “You can increase training for employees all you want, but people are human, and they make mistakes,” Lins said. “They may get fooled by a fake driver’s license or ID card, and then that application of biometrics could be pretty beneficial.”

Technology has improved quite a bit over the last five years, said Joe LaRocca, vice president of loss prevention for the National Retail Federation. “When it comes to safes, we have seen a lot of work done with biometrics.”

Systems that identify employees by their fingerprints can provide what LaRocca called “real, true individual authentication, and with some safes a lot of the auditing capabilities. Certainly a lot of work has been done to integrate the time lock and the combination process into some sort of central repository. We have seen it typically in banks, but now even the convenience store technology is becoming more readily available, and something you can connect to your network, your alarm system, etc.”

Of course there is a higher cost, but LaRocca added, “on the back end you’re getting that increased security, that increased audit capability and some level of individual authentication.”

Many counter that a biometric approach is too expensive. “For a small operator, perhaps,” LaRocca said. “But that technology is becoming more and more common. Six or seven years ago you would never have said that that there would be biometrics on your PC. Today, however, many personal computers and laptops have readers built in. Some, for example, let you just wave your finger over the reader to log in. The same is true with some multiple locks and safe technology we’re starting to see.”

7-Eleven was not looking at biometric systems, Lins said, but he believes it has come a long way as far as reliability, whether it includes fingerprints or retinal scanning.

“We just didn’t feel it was an application that we had an immediate use for it as it related to cache handling,” Lins said. “Down the road, however, that will change. I can see it in an application with cash handling. I could definitely see it integrated into a POS application, with employees who right now may sign on using the last four digits of their social security numbers.”

Lins also sees a role for a biometric application for signing on to the register, or time and attendance tracking.

“The safe world has not changed that much in the last 150 years,” said Corin Angel, marketing manager for The Modern Safe Co. in Dania, Fla. “You have digital locks today, and biometric systems now that read fingerprints. But the quality of safes and the thickness of the steel still works—those haven’t really changed much.”

Angel, however, has not seen an increase in the use of fingerprint readers in convenience stores. “Usually they don’t want to spend the money,” she said.

On the issue of affordability, Lins pointed out that while most people think of 7-Eleven as a giant that can afford nearly anything, it is also fast becoming a 100% franchise organization. “Yes, it’s the world’s largest convenience store retailer, but it’s made up of thousands of independent sole proprietors, and so affordability is an issue,” he said. “I think it’s going to be that way for a while because of the cost of labor and all the things that have put retailers under pressure these days.”

“Intelligent” Safes: While there haven’t been many advances in the construction of safes, there have been some significant breakthroughs in “intelligent” safe technology, said Edward McGunn, president and CEO of Corporate Safe Specialists. “Specific advances are centered around bill validating and bill accepting, right at the store level,” he said. “Employees basically take the money from the till and put it in an intelligent safe that counts it.”

Another development has been the ability of intelligent safes to transmit content reports directly to the storeowners’ bank. “It’s just like when you deposit money in your bank,” McGunn said. “You have to drive to the bank and process it with the clerk. Then it gets posted, but it’s not really posted that day. It takes some time, especially if it’s a check, to clear.”

When cash is in the store, retailers have that same problem. It’s usually a two- or three-day drag to get that cash. “The latest technology integrates the safe into the POS system,” said Lins, “thereby allowing the daily cash report to be automatically completed and the funds available much sooner.”

With this newer type of system, McGunn explained, the cash goes in the safe and that content report gets deposited electronically to their bank account that night, so it really helps cash management.

“It also really helps with the illumination of cash,” McGunn said. “If you have 10 or 15 stores and they are all reporting to your bank, then all you have to do is look at your bank deposit. That is a better way to illuminate what your actual cash position is. These intelligent safes are solving that cash management drag time.”

Ultimately, manufacturers need to help storeowners by reducing the time that managers need to participate in the cash-management portion of in-store operations. “If intelligent safe technology can be embedded in a self-service kiosk so that convenience store customers in the future would be able to scan their own items and pay for their own items—including using cash—that would really free up a lot of operational time,” McGunn said. “Right now, self-serve kiosks are not a good revenue driver for convenience stores.”

Safe and Secure: “There are obviously all sorts of drop safes,” said Angel. “There are tips always available to help make something more secure.”

There are also anti-bevel and what some call “anti-fish” baffles available on safes. “You have a depository mechanism, whether it is a rotary hopper, which would be top-loading, or front- or rear-loading,” Angel said. “The anti-fish baffle keeps them from going ‘fishing’ for the envelopes or the cash that are inside the site. It prevents them from being able to stick their hands, or a device, in and removing the contents.”

Obviously, bolting down the safe is going to increase the security as well, Angel said, “since not being able to walk out with it is the primary thing. Operators also want to take a look at how the safe is constructed. For convenience stores, more than likely they are looking for the depository type of safes, where they are able to just drop money in, and then the manager will be able to access that.”

Having a safe with a dual-key system is helpful, for the obvious reason: “There is a secondary person present in order to open the safe. Having a second set of eyeballs as a witness is always an additional preventative,” Angel said.

Sound Approach: Moving Sound Technologies Inc. in Vancouver, Canada, is marketing a unique security device, the Mosquito ultrasonic teenage deterrent, which it bills as “the solution to the eternal problem of unwanted gatherings of youths and teens.”

The device is essentially a sounder unit that emits a very high-frequency modulated tone (17.5–18.5 kHz) that is completely harmless even with long term use. The safe, non-confrontational anti-loitering device discourages anti-social youth or adults from gathering on or nearby your premises. Add-on features include remote control, motion sensor and timer. Further, the company says the device has a 90-100% success rate. It’s currently being used by Alimentation Couche-Tard’s Mac’s convenience stores in Canada.

“We refer to it as a crime-deterrent product,” said Mike Gibson, president of Moving Sound Technologies. “When they hear the sound they find it very annoying, and will move away from the area within a couple of minutes.”

The sound falls well within the hearing protection standards of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The firm’s latest advance, the Mosquito MK4 Multi-Age, can be set to 17KHz to disperse groups of troublesome teenagers, or to 8 KHz to disperse people of any age from areas where loitering can be an issue.

Preventing problems is better than solving them, good advice for retailers during economically stressful times.

By Howard Riell, Convenience Store Decisions

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