Protect and survive

For drinks shops in high crime areas, it may seem the only real protection is in security screens, but you don't have to turn your shop into Fort Knox. Emma Eversham looks at the options

With the number of physical attacks on shop workers rising in the past year and the loss of stock through shoplifting

a continuing problem, there has never been a more important time for drinks retailers to focus on in-store security to protect their business.

According to the British Retail Consortium's latest Crime Survey, there has been a 50 per cent increase in incidents of physical violence against shop workers in the past year and during the same period recorded threats of violence against staff have more than doubled.

Off-licence owners have a duty to protect their staff against violence under the Health & Safety Act and it is, of course, in the interest of the business to safeguard stock. But as Noel Walsh, head of workplace and safety at Weightmans Solicitors warns, putting them both behind plastic screens could have a "significant and detrimental effect" on turnover because customers might prefer to shop somewhere they feel safe.

So how can you secure your store without scaring customers off? The first piece of advice from the British Security Industry Association is to make sure the companies installing security systems are going to do a good job, because faulty equipment could be disastrous in the event of a raid.

"One of the most important factors when considering your business' security is ensuring that all your security measures have been sourced from professional companies that provide quality products and services," says BSIA technical director Alex Carmichael, who also lists measures such as installing quality locks, doors and safes and a simple alarm ­system as the very basics every shop should have.

"By ensuring that core security functions are in place, businesses can rest assured they have a comprehensive first layer of security protecting their premises and people.

"This can then be built upon if the level of risk that your business faces changes or if budgets allow for further layers of security to be added," he adds.

Reviewing a shop's layout can also have benefits. "Of lesser impact to the customer [than security screens] is to review the layout of the shop, the position of the counter, whether it is close to a lockable safe area such as a store or office. Does it provide a clear and unobstructed line of vision to the pavement?" asks Walsh.

Carmichael says CCTV systems are an "affordable" way to prevent loss, deter crime and detect incidents - so are simple access control systems which can be fitted to stock room doors or private areas to stop those who shouldn't be there from wandering in.

These "core" security features are also becoming more sophisticated. One company, ID Technology Group, has developed a CCTV system which not only records images but also sound. This is particularly useful if you are trying to prove that a customer has verbally abused a member of staff.

The system can also count the number of customers entering the store and can be linked

to an electronic article surveillance tagging system which triggers cameras to focus on a specific area when a security tag (attached to bottles or other products) is activated.

Alex Vincent, group business development manager at ID Technology Group, says systems need to be integrated and sophisticated to get results: "Doing so can improve employee satisfaction, decrease the level of crime, help in prosecutions and bring significant cost savings on a number of levels.

"Although security screens do have some benefits they give a negative impression to both staff and customers."

Another way retailers can protect their businesses without resorting to security screens is by signing up to Raid Control. Backed by the police and the BSIA, it is a crime prevention initiative that aims to raise security standards in shops.

To become part of it, retailers must show that they meet the required standards in five areas - robbery awareness training, cash management, time delays for safes, CCTV and a note marking system, which means a device is set off to stain cash if it is stolen.

"If you look at them, the first three are preventative, while the last two come into play if a robbery does take place," says Raid Control president Alan Townsend, who came up with the concept.

Once a store is certified, police issue the owner with a Raid Control sticker, which can be placed in the window to warn potential robbers that if they do attempt to raid the store, they won't get very far.

And it seems to be working: "We did an audit of nearly 200 shops that had adopted Raid Control and looked at the number of robberies that had happened in the premises in the previous 12 months and compared it with the next 12 months. We found there was a 92 per cent robbery reduction," says Townsend, who is well aware of the dangers off-licence workers face.

"Currently in London, off-licences are in the top four types of premises targeted for robbery, because they're open late, often with only one member of staff and they're a cash-rich organisation," he says.

"But with very little expenditure they can employ Raid Control to protect their staff and their estate, which has to be worth it."

Free forum

The Association of Convenience Stores is holding a free Crime Prevention forum on Oct 31 to give shop owners advice on how best to protect their business.

It includes talks by Mark Stevenson, loss prevention officer at Tates, Emmeline Taylor, research assistant at Perpetuity Research and Consultancy International and Trellicor Security Group, a company which specialises in retractable grilles, shutters and window screens.

The event will take place at the Walkers Stadium in Leicester from 9.30am to 3pm. To book a place call Sarah Johnson on 01252 515001.

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