Securing the Convenience Store

Effective cash management solutions can be networked and integrated into existing POS systems to provide remote cash monitoring, further enabling a safer retail environment.

By Howard Riell, Associate Editor.

Retail success doesn’t just mean keeping money coming in, but preventing money from going out. And while normal business expenses are inevitable, theft is not.

Being smart in business means, first and foremost, being smart with money. State-of-the-art safes and cash management systems can bolster the bottom line and, in tight finacial times like these, help keep a business afloat.

“Integration is the key word,” said veteran security expert Ed McGunn, president of Corporate Safe Specialists (CSS) in Posen, Ill. “The latest projects we’ve been working on in the c-store industry have been to integrate the cash management solution into the point of sale (POS), and then further onto the armored car company and to the bank so that it closes that loop in the cash-management cycle.”

By doing that, McGunn explained, as soon as the register has accepted the money from a transaction the safe is ready to accept the deposit. “Once the safe gets the deposit, it reports back to the point of sale, and then dials that amount back out at the end of the day to the armored car company. The armored car company sends that file to the storeowner’s bank and the retailer is credited for all the cash inside his safe without the money actually moving to the bank.”

Solutions for All Sizes
That kind of integrated approach, while decidedly cutting edge, is still primarily for the industry’s bigger players. “It is complicated because we’re in the early stages of deployment, but the upside and need for a system such as this is huge,” McGunn said. “Even with smaller chains there is positive cash flow. The amount of cash that is being submitted through most of these chains is still significant.”

Most small operators continue to use traditional cash management solutions, though more seem to be gravitating toward bill validating inside their stores. “Instead of just depositing the money manually, they are depositing the cash in these bill validators. Then, at the end of the day, they are reconciling deposits and printing out a report of what the bill validators are saying,” McGunn said.

The validators themselves, McGunn explained, are very similar to what is widely used inside Las Vegas casinos. “You take a currency note and the bill validator accepts it, verifies the currency and authenticates the bill to see if it’s counterfeit or not. Then it puts it in a database so you know the time, the date and name of the clerk who deposited it. It really makes reconciliation a snap.”

C-store operators need to make certain that the technology they are investing in is supported by the more-important human component in the form of employee training. Training on these types of systems is usually not time consuming, but it’s extremely necessary.

“Most of us are used to putting a note inside a soda machine or a candy bar machine, so training is seamless,” McGunn said. “It’s very similar to the way convenience store retailers run their POS. In fact, they can use the same swipe cards and log ons, so training is very low and acceptance of this is very high.”

Cashiers, McGunn added, see it as an easier way of handling cash. “Before, they had to bundle their shift closer together, wait for a report and wait for their manager to check them out. Once you install these systems they have a big payoff because employees like them and the training is so quick. It’s very intuitive.”

Security Needs
Jeff Lenard, vice president of communications for NACS, invoked behavioral psychologist Abraham Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs to show what a core value physical security is for every individual.

“If you don’t have the basics in place nothing else matters. People won’t want to work in your stores, people won’t want to shop in your stores. Because of our convenience factor for customers, stores can also be convenient for potential mischief,” Lenard said. “In fact, that’s the way you want to treat robbers: just the way you would your best customers. You want to give them what they want and get them out of the store.”
Security, Lenard has found, tends to be back-of-mind for a lot of people. “The typical attitude is, ‘We’ve never had a problem. It only happens to the other guy,’” he said.

But the first step to security is making as certain as possible that the stage is never set for crime to occur.

“Cash management does prevent holdups,” Lenard insisted. “There are two factors in making your store a less likely target. One is maximizing the risk for potential thieves and the other is minimizing the reward. Clearly, minimizing the reward is where cash management fits in,” he said. “You’ve heard the old line, when they asked notorious safecracker Willie Sutton why he robbed banks and he said, ‘Because that’s where the money is.’ Make your store where the money isn’t.”

Drop safes and time-release safes are a perfect way to minimize the reward for criminals. “They know that there is no way to speed up these safes,” Lenard said. “They know there is no quicker way to get access to this money and time is the enemy of criminals. The longer they’re in a store, the longer they’re in the act of committing a crime, the more likely they’ll be caught—and they know that. So cash management and integrated systems to keep cash away from the criminals is a great way to increase security.”

Lenard agreed that no matter how advanced the technology, training will always be a vital component in the equation. “There is no point of buying equipment, whether it’s for security or elsewhere, if you don’t tell people how to use it,” he said. “You have to have training in place.”
Training in this case, however, has less to do with handling the technology itself and more with maintaining policies and procedures.

“You see stores that have signs reading, ‘We keep $40 or less in the till.’ It’s a hollow promise unless you have employees regularly practice it,” Lenard said. “It’s not that far off from what you see in the movies. Criminals literally will case the joint and if they see that you’re putting money in a drop safe, they’re not going to target you.”

Staying Focused
With these systems and procedures in place at so many stores, why are so many convenience store operators still struggling to control theft?
“The biggest mistake retailers make is that they put a lot of onus on having trustworthy employees,” McGunn suggested. “They tend to think, ‘Well, if I could just hire honest people then people wouldn’t steal money.’ That’s been the age-old belief. The thing of it is that cash, when it’s exposed, is at risk. And the longer you leave it in the register, or at any point before it gets deposited, bad things are going to happen to it.”

The amount of cash inside of convenience stores is greater than ever before, McGunn concluded. “We still need to be paying attention to reducing the exposure of that cash to those workers, because that will greatly reduce the amount of internal theft of cash.”

Lenard urged convenience store operators to keep their priorities straight, especially when it comes to security and their employees’ safety.
“A lot of capital expenditures go toward the ‘wow’ factor—how do you wow customers?” Lenard said. “Retailers need to spend some money on keeping their money. The more that you can discuss internally how to keep your stores safe a lot of the other problems are lessened or will go away altogether.”

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