Plan to Stay Safe

safeCash control programs and effective employee training will help minimize theft and ensure the well being of your employees.

By Howard Riell, Associate Editor.

Keeping theft at bay has always been a major concern for c-store retailers. While technology has come to the rescue in the form of safe and cash-management systems, the best way to prevent being victimized is to avoid being a target.

Security expert Chris McGoey, president of McGoey Security Consulting in Los Angeles and known widely as the ‘Crime Doctor,’ said the wide range of operations in the convenience store industry—from the large national chains to mom-and-pop stores—necessitates that each chain require its own tailor-made security plan.

“The large chains that have been in business for 30 years learned long ago what they need to do and they have evolved with the times,” McGoey said.
McGoey has extensive experience in c-store safety. He was among a small team of security experts to help develop the 7-Eleven robbery and employee safety program in the late 1970s. “Back then there were no smart safes,” he recalled. “There was a floor safe, or you kept cash in a cigar box.”

Smarter Security
Progress, for many mid- and small-sized chains, unfortunately, has been spotty. “I still investigate convenience store crime today, and I will still find stores reminiscent of the 1970s,” McGoey said. “Some of them are, in fact, old 7-Eleven stores that the company dumped long ago. An independent purchased it and now operates it much like you would see a store in a
foreign country.”

How do those stores protect their money and their people? “Not very well,” said McGoey. “Those are the ones we read about in the newspapers, where thieves can walk in and make off with $500-$1,000 in just a few seconds. It makes them a perpetual target.”

Operators such as these are still making many of the classic mistakes that should have gone the way of the cigar box safe. “I can still walk into these convenience stores and the cash drawer will be loaded with money,” McGoey said. “Or you’ll give them a $20 bill and see them lift up the coin tray and put the bill underneath—and there is a whole stack of them there. It’s the same store that will take $50 and $100 bills and offers to cash payroll checks for people.”

Don’t Be a Target
One of the easiest things to do in cash management is to ensure that associates at the register are taking cash out of the register drawer and putting it in the safe underneath once the drawer gets above a certain level,” said J.J. Westgate, of Wesco Inc., a locally-owned chain of convenience stores headquartered in Muskegon, Mich. “The way we keep abreast of this is by doing random cash audits on the registers and counting the money in the drawer. Ideally, the cash draw should never be above the threshold.”

According to McGoey, many convenience store operators large and small followed 7-Eleven’s lead. “There were other chains that watched us closely—Circle K and others—and they adopted our best practices. As we started developing new safe technologies like drop safes and money cash dispensers and time-lapse safes, many of the large corporate convenience store and gas station chains added them as well.”

Beyond those additions, there have been other companies that have developed safes and cash control systems that have allowed stores to operate with a minimal amount of money on hand.

“At 7-Eleven we got to the point where the store could be operated with as little as $30 in the drawer and with proper training you could use it to its greatest effectiveness,” McGoey said. For instance, when a customer gives the cashier a $20 bill, he will observe as the employee turns around, drops the $20 down the drop safe and pushes the vend button that will produce a few $5 bills for change. “The customer sees in practice that the money doesn’t go in the register anymore. The large bills go right in the safe, and that is the intent of it.”

Practice Safety
Interestingly, many operators seemed to lapse back into inefficiency when the business began to change. “Now, with stores generating higher sales, I’m finding that the amount of money in the drawers is going way, way back up again,” McGoey said. “I see that the training programs are not where they should be and that the safe systems are not being used as they are intended.”

What is the first thing a c-store operator who has been behind the curve should do to shore up cash handling and security? “It’s not what you think,” McGoey advised. “Step one is to do all the low-tech basics first. Hire the best people that you can, train them extensively and supervise them closely. When you get to the point where your employees are maximizing cash control and are following the policies closely, you will hit a wall. Your employees are now more efficient than your safe system is. That’s the time to go out and buy one of the brand new, shiny, high-tech devices that allows you to do even more and to become even more efficient and safer.”

For those retailers who are unable to get their employees under control—to follow policies, to drop money, to follow good safety policies—going out and buying a new safe is not going to accomplish much. “You’ve got to do people, procedures and training first,” McGoey said. “Then the equipment supports everything that you are trying to do.”

McGoey has seen c-store employees’ mindset shift over the years. “In the early days, when we tried to implement one manufacturers’ safe system, the employees believed that they shouldn’t be letting the customers see them dropping money in the safe,” he said. “They thought that if they saw then the robbers would come back and want to rob the safe.”

In fact, the reality is just the opposite. “You want the robbers to see there is no money in the register, and you want to train customers not to bring in large bills,” he said. “You want them to see that every bill is dropped immediately.”

A lot of robbers will come in and buy a pack of gum or cigarettes, and give the clerk $20 to see where the money goes. “If you open the drawer and they see this big wad, they will go outside and build up their courage, pull up their hood, and come right back in,” McGoey said.

Though hard to believe, there is apparently no shortage of convenience stores still doing all the things that security and industry experts warn against, such as putting money in a paper bag and hauling it to the bank at the same time each day.

“I could show you a photo of thousands of dollars that I found in five different drawers inside of a store,” said McGoey of one past client. “Then I go in the back room and unlock a door and here are boxes and boxes of quarters and rolled coins just sitting out open. This is a store that has been robbed something like 10 times. That’s why they hired me. They wanted to know, ‘Why are we being robbed so much?’”

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