Staying Safe in the Convenience Store

Handling cash is the bread and butter of convenience store operations, and the latest systems developed to make that process faster and safer do just that.

But not all quarters of the industry have been quick to embrace them by any means. For many operators, changes still lie in the future, and time-honored standard practices must suffice. For them, 2012 will see lots of training to ground employees in best practices and procedures.

Amir Wurzel, chief information officer for Dallas-based Southwest Convenience Stores, the largest licensee of 7-Eleven in the U.S. with more than 300 convenience stores in Texas and New Mexico, said he would like to see cash management practices advance to the next level at his company.

“We don’t do anything special today in our stores other than using the existing functionality of the point-of-sale (POS) system,” Wurzel said. Store safes are high quality, he added, but still not integrated into the POS.

Functionality Crucial
The ability to dispense bulk coins and notes is a plus for employees and for the operator who needs to keep close track. Smart safes typically offer this feature. Another feature of smart safe systems that many operators are eager to add is one that allows check cashing, but eliminates the need to keep hundreds of additional dollars sitting inside the cash drawer. The same reason can be applied to lottery payments, which in many states must be given to consumers, at least in part, on the spot. Keeping money in the till for these occasions makes the store more vulnerable to theft.

For now, Southwest store managers handle cash the old-fashioned way—they are responsible for making all cash deposits to their local bank branches. Safes are kept under the counter, said Wurzel, who does not share the feelings of those who like to put their safes on display in the hopes of dissuading a criminal element.

“I don’t think it will work because the people who want to get the cash will try to get the cash regardless. Actually, most of the cash loss that we have had in the past was more when store managers took it out of the store, not necessarily a robbery within the store.”

Keeping employees safe around the clock while handling cash involves a combination of factors, noted Pat Zelechoski, pricebook and category manager for NOCO Express in Tonawanda, N.Y., which operates 32 c-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,” she 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,” Zelechoski said. “But if they need to get into the bottom safe they can open it up and get larger bills that the cashier is responsible for.”

Dealing with Retail Theft

The estimated amount of theft and loss experienced by retailers annually is staggering, according to the National Retail Federation. Retailers collectively lose more than $37 billion each year to internal and external theft. An NRF survey of retailers in 2011 found that 89% of retailers reported they had been victimized by organized retail crime within the past year. Nearly 60% reported theft is on the rise. The survey also revealed:
• Retail shrinkage as a percentage of sales in 2010: 1.58%, up from 1.44% in 2009.
• Total retail losses to U.S. retailers in 2010: $37.1 billion, up from $33.5 billion in 2009.
• Source of most retail shrinkage in 2010: employee theft, which accounted for $16.2 billion or 43.7% of total losses.
• Losses due to administrative error: $4.8 billion or 12.9% of shrinkage.

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