Retailers are using smart safes and strict corporate policies to protect store employees against robbery attempts.
By Howard Riell, Associate Editor.
While theft attempts are inevitable for convenience stores, especially those operating 24 hours, losing hard-earned cash shouldn’t have to be. Since retail safes were introduced and combined with smarter money-handling practices, store owners have found a way to insulate themselves from big losses. Now, new safes are being developed by security and technology firms that are incorporating these best practices to prevent theft and even help weed out unsavory store clerks.
For example, police in Morehead, Ky., reported on Jan. 23, 2011, that cash was stolen from a convenience store by an armed robber wielding a stolen handgun. The very next day, Nevada State Police asked for the public’s assistance in tracking down a man who robbed a c-store after pistol whipping an innocent convenience store clerk.
These kinds of news items have been all too common, and with the economy still in the doldrums and unemployment high, more people than ever before are being tempted by the wrong side of the law, which means cash-handling procedures must be reviewed and, if necessary, revamped.
Like other industries, c-stores hope to stem the problem in-house. Case in point: city officials in Mesa, Ariz., have been looking at ways to reduce crime at convenience stores. According to NACS, a proposed ordinance in Mesa would call on c-stores that don’t already have them to install surveillance cameras, alarm systems and drop safes. The city’s 150 c-stores generated a large portion of the city’s police calls. Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh is in favor of requiring retailers to make changes. “It would save money and make workers safer. The goal of the ordinance is to lessen the chance for a crime,” Kavanaugh said.
Operators, however, don’t wish to be legislated. “They should just get the hell out of our business and stay the hell out,” said Shamoon Yousif, owner of the Fairway Market, in Mesa. “We own the business. Nobody should tell us how to run it on the inside. For some stores, this will cost a lot of money. Some people can’t afford it and you’ll see them closing down.”
Challenging For Everybody
Keeping employees safe around the clock while handling cash involves a combination of factors, according to Pat Zelechoski, pricebook and category manager for NOCO Express in Tonawanda, N.Y., which operates 32 convenience stores.
“For one thing, cashiers have a certain amount that they are allowed to keep in the register, and they’re not allowed to go over that amount. We carefully restrict them,” Zelechoski explained.
As far as the safes go, NOCO uses a pair of safes, top and bottom. “In the bottom safe they can have coins that they can use throughout their shift, and some singles and fives that they don’t want to keep in their drawer,” Zelechoski said. “But if they need to get into the bottom safe they can open it up and get maybe a hundred fives or something to that effect. We do have a limited amount in that bottom safe that the cashier is responsible for.”
NOCO also uses a system that utilizes tubes for cash drops. “If a clerk wants something from the safe they have to enter their password in and state exactly what they want from the safe, and it will be dispensed to them.”
Whether or not these procedures actually make employees safer—everyone is optimistic they do—remains a matter of conjecture. “I think opinions vary,” Zelechoski said. “There is a lot going on with the economy right now, even in your better neighborhoods. I think it’s challenging for everybody. But the important thing that this industry has done over the years is communicate to would-be criminals that we are not targets. Smart operators simply don’t keep a lot of money in the registers, and have bright lighting and visible security cameras in place. Criminals know if they try to rob a convenience store they will get caught and they will go to jail.”
Training regimens vary by company, but remain a crucial part of any safety program. “We talk to employees monthly to reinforce our safety standards, especially around the holidays,” Zelechoski said. “Plus our managers interact with clerks daily and area supervisors visit periodically throughout the week to see what they’re doing and make sure the policies are followed.”
Lou Linares, corporate security manager for Quick Chek Food Stores in Whitehouse Station, N.J., said his company’s cash-management systems are constantly evolving.
“We are always looking for new equipment and we always are talking to new companies. As a matter of fact, on the table now I’m speaking to Brinks, Garda and Tidel about new safes and new technology to protect cashiers,” said Linares, who oversees the security at Quick Chek’s 120 stores in the Northeast. “That way, an armored car can just come in and exchange canisters and there is no money that’s ever seen except by the armored car people.”
Before the most recent generation of safes all cash pick-ups were done by the managers. “The money would be counted up front and then dropped, and then it had to be verified again and then taken to the bank,” Linares said. “Now with the new safes the cashier is the only one actually touching the money until it gets to the armored car vault, where the money is taken out of a canister and verified by the banks.”
Quick Chek’s store personnel are taught principles of cash control and asked to follow the policies and procedures that the chain has in place. “Our cashiers are taught to make drops after a certain amount goes into their registers,” said Linares.
Observe, Follow up
Joe Correia, director of loss prevention for 80 Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes in Canastota, N.Y., said there haven’t been many changes in the way his company handles cash. His advice to colleagues across the country remains constant: “The one major step that should be taken is requiring management to come in off-shift and observe their cashiers. Make sure they are doing what they’re supposed to be doing—making their drops, not having so much money in drawers.”
For example, if corporate policy states you’re not supposed to have more than $200 in your drawers, managers need to be sure clerks are following those guidelines. If they are, as NOCO’s Zelechoski pointed out, customer will be conditioned to notice that registers just don’t carry that much money in the drawer.
“We have some old safes, where employees have to put the money in an envelope and drop it,” Correia said. “But we are adding newer safes that actually fold the money into a holder that management can’t get to. Only guys from the armored truck service who come in and take it to the bank can access it.”
More and more Nice N Easy stores are installing the new safes, and are opting to have armored car personnel do all the money handling and take all the risk. Eventually, all Nice N Easy stores will follow the same procedure, Correia said.