Your store shelves might be fully stocked with the newest innovation and your foodservice program could be top-notch, but if your store isn’t safe for your employees or your customers, you’re missing out on a major pillar of successful retailing.
Sean Sportun is the manager of security and loss prevention for Mac’s Convenience Stores, and also the vice chair of Toronto Crime Stoppers. He knows a thing or two about creating a safe c-store environment.
“I share what we do and offer it to others in the c-store industry to take from it and learn because the safety of our employees as an industry is paramount,” says Sportun.
Sportun recommends understanding Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles, which are ways to deter criminal behaviour through design, including adequate lighting, clear sight lines, strategic fencing, and surveillance cameras.
In the end, it’s all about making your store a less attractive place to commit a crime, which, in turn, actually makes it a more attractive place for your customers to shop.
Here are 7 ways you can do that:
1. Light it up. “Some convenience stores, whether they’re in a plaza setting or a standalone store, do not have adequate lighting,” says Sportun. If the exterior is lit up like a Christmas tree, it’s going to discourage someone from thinking they can get away with criminal behaviour inside the store as they approach it. The interior lights are just as important, so keep the entire store well lit with adequate wattage, and replace burnt-out bulbs immediately.
2. Create a fishbowl effect. Are your windows cluttered with marketing materials and posters? If you answered ‘Yes’, you’re not alone (and that’s a problem!). “A good majority of independent operators plaster their store front windows with marketing materials. You could have a store at 12:00 noon on a sunny day with windows so covered up with posters, and if it were robbed, nobody would know what was happening inside. That’s very appealing to a bad guy,” says Sportun. Anywhere the customer is going to stand in relation to the cash register should always remain clearly visible to the outside. Passersby should be able to see into the store, and customers and employees should be able to see out.
3. Train, train, train. “I spoke at The Convenience U CARWACS Show in Toronto last year, and one of the first things I asked the audience of about 100 people was ‘Who here has an active security training program?’ and about three people put their hands up, which is really scary,” he says.
If employees aren’t trained on what to do in certain situations, they’re not going to know how to react, which is putting that employee’s life in a potentially dangerous situation, says Sportun. He recommends watching the SafeGuard Ontario video on the OPP website, as well as contacting your provincial convenience stores association and police service for additional training advice.
4. Maintain security cameras. A security camera is only as good as the footage it captures, so it’s essential to invest in a good system and maintain it. Sportun recommends a digital video recorder (DVR) with Internet Protocol (IP) cameras, which provides sharper images.
“Don’t put up dummy cameras, they are not effective. If you’re going to invest in cameras, make sure they’re working,” he says. “Test the equipment, keep it clean, because Murphy’s Law will kick in. You may not ever have an incident and then that one time something happens and you need that equipment, it’s going to fail if you haven’t maintained it.”
5. Control natural access points. Take a look around your store’s interior and exterior to see if there are any points of access, such as a back door that’s propped open. Keep that door closed and locked because a customer might see it as an opportunity and wonder what else is back there. Is there an office? Is there a safe they can access through that door?
What about your garbage bins outside? Does a wooden fence surround them, making it easy to hide behind? “A chain link fence is ideal, because although it’s an enclosure, you can see through it. It provides that natural access, but also natural surveillance, so that if there is someone hiding back there, they will be exposed,” says Sportun.
6. Reach out to your police service. If you’re looking for more information on CPTED principles, get in touch with your local police service. “Most major police services and provincial police services have a CPTED pamphlet or information, or they have the basics on what to do for robbery prevention,” says Sportun.
It’s also important to have a cooperative relationship with your police service. “When they’re asking for information about an incident, make sure you give them the video and make sure it’s video that can be used,” he says. “And that ties into the maintenance of the video equipment. You can’t catch the bad guys if we’re not working hand-in-hand with the police services in our communities.”
7. Focus on community. “Back in 2007, Mac’s started taking a different approach to our crime prevention initiatives,” says Sportun. “We created a new culture of crime prevention through community engagement and it has proven effective with a serious decline in crime at our locations and has enhanced an overall culture of safety within the many communities across Ontario.”
As an independent, you can draw on this idea and develop your own community engagement initiatives. For example, you can host an annual barbecue and invite neighbours, local police officers and other community members. This will help you solidify your role in the community and help you to develop positive, lasting relationships.