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Protect Yourself: Retail Security Guide

“Making it physically impossible to break in is just not realistic in most situations,” says Michael Fraser, CEO of VDI Space, a professional services company with offices in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Seattle. The key, then, is making your retail store a less appealing target by deploying smart security solutions.

Begin by assessing your location. Request an audit from the police or sheriff’s office to identify security gaps and suggest solutions. Work with your property insurance agent to understand the risks associated with your enterprise and location and how to mitigate them. Then, for additional security, follow this expert advice:

Institute Best Practices

Some simple procedures are known to reduce break-ins and robberies. Make it as easy as possible for employees to do the right thing when locking up by deploying an automated door-locking system or a simple exit strategy, like they use at Locopops, a Durham, NC, frozen treat maker and retailer. “Employees lock the front door at close and exit through a rear self-locking door,” says Summer Bicknell, the owner.

Other advice: Don’t prepare bank deposits in the front of the store, and leave empty cash drawers open to show there’s nothing there. Make deposits nightly and with another person whenever possible. If you must leave cash on site, keep it in a safe. Likewise, secure any keys you keep on site in a safe or lockbox.

Start Small

“Nobody has to invest in buying everything the market has to offer,” says Sylvia Pacher, managing director of the Corvinus Consulting Group in Washington, DC. Use the insights from your audit to select the solutions that meet your specific needs.

“Putting up motion-activated lights inside the store and outside close to doors is an effective and cheap solution,” Pacher says. Invest in an automated system or timers to turn interior lights off and on to make it look like someone is on premises. An affordable alarm system can sound a siren to send criminals running; some even transmit an alert to you and the authorities.

For shops with high-end merchandise, it might make financial sense to pay a security company to monitor your enterprise during non-business hours. Most firms charge a reasonable quarterly fee, and if you’re located in a shopping area, other owners might share the cost with you.

Use Technology

Some retailers want to use higher-tech solutions, like surveillance cameras. “Decentralized cameras with onboard video-recording reduce the cost of ownership by not requiring recording servers and ridiculous wiring costs to get started,” Fraser says. “A single IP video camera is now a full security solution accessible from any Web browser or mobile device with the same SSL encryption used by banks and financial institutions. These types of cameras can be configured to notify responsible parties as it happens not after the damage has been done, and high-resolution video makes for quick identification with similar clarity to watching a Blu-ray movie.”

Remember Insurance

Another kind of protection is insurance. There are many types available to small business owners, and the exact combination depends on your operation and location (for instance, flood insurance). “It would be a mistake for a business to operate without a liability policy,” says Will Jeffords, an agent with Southeast Financial Property & Casualty in Durham, NC. “With a retail risk, probably commercial general liability for slip, trip and fall would be a necessity. These types of policies also include some coverage for business equipment and loss of use.”

Other coverages that can be added include employee dishonesty, and ‘drive other car’ coverage. This last one makes sense if your employees that use their personal vehicles for you, such as making deliveries or running errands. If they have an accident, your business can be liable.

Don't Gamble

You may think break-ins, robberies and other catastrophes are unlikely. And if you’re lucky, they are. But are you willing to gamble with your livelihood?

“Most people invest in a security camera or alarm system after they've had an incident,” Bicknell says. “Take security concerns seriously and consider options thoroughly. Even if it seems a bit like overkill, security systems will deter casual criminals and employees with ideas. There are no completely secure systems but investment in some deterrence will pay off, both in peace of mind and insurance costs.”

Margot Carmichael Lester is a freelance business journalist and consultant in Carrboro, NC. She grew up in a family-owned gourmet grocery and understands the special challenges of running a small business. Follow her on Google+.