Tackling crime is a vital part of a retailer’s job. In his own words, Adam Hogwood of Morrison’s Budgens of Broadstairs in Kent describes the work he’s done to make his store a safer place.
It’s official - we are now an award-winning store! In March we won the Zero Tolerance Award for Crime Prevention at the Convenience Retail Awards, which is an amazing accolade to reward how we’ve reduced crime levels in the store.
To illustrate just how far we’ve come in our crime prevention efforts we only have to look at our A4 book dedicated to recording any incidents that may occur. A couple of years ago it was filled in weekly, now I’m looking at it and the last entry was two months ago. Prior to that there were two incidents in six months. A fantastic result, but one that has taken a lot of work to achieve.
The best way to explain what we’ve done is to tell you how bad it was. Two years ago the store was being targeted on an almost daily level, with the average theft being around the £30-£40 mark. Typically, thieves would target high-value goods that were easy to sell on, such as meat, cheese, deodorant cans and laundry liquitabs.
This is detrimental to staff morale at the best of times, but in smaller stores with closer-knit teams there is more of a sense of it being theft on a personal level.
We did have some early victories, though. One offender who was causing us a problem was put off when he came to his favourite section to find empty shelves and shelf barkers with his picture on them, saying ‘Hi, my name is ***** ***** and I REALLY like Ariel Gel’.
We did this only on a very quiet night when we were sure he’d be around, as it does give off a very negative message to customers. It did the trick for a few months, but he soon cropped up again. This time he was active all around the aisle, so after a conversation with our local force one friendly police officer had the all-clear to wait for him to arrive. He didn’t come that night, but we did pick up three more shoplifters just from watching the CCTV for a few hours.
It was when we spent some time looking at the CCTV footage that it hit home how far the problem went, so now and again we have an evening in the office, or viewing remotely, just watching CCTV and keeping an eye on things. We then feed any suspicious activity back to the police to follow up. Since doing this, we’ve noticed a big reduction in evening crime, proving that word has got around that we’re vigilant.
Thankfully, this was just the beginning of our journey towards cutting crime. We also looked at making our staff more aware of potential criminal activity - something that every store should be doing if they’re not already. One of the ways we did this was through putting pictures of any current offenders behind the till or in a staff area (data protection prevents us from placing them too publicly), with any notes of regularity such as time, clothes or behaviour that seems consistent in their shoplifting habits.
Having a staff presence on the shop floor is a great deterrent and one of the best tools that we have. If someone we suspect is spending a bit too long in one section, or if they’re a bit too interested in a high-value area, then a member of staff will usually appear to face up that section, or ask them if they’re okay or if they’d like a basket. This lets them know they’ve been noticed in a very passive way, and 99% of the time they leave the store straight away.
Placing staff on the shopfloor also means they will become more aware of gaps appearing in high-risk areas, and reporting these immediately gives us a much better chance of catching someone.
However, it’s also absolutely vital to remind every staff member that they are not to play the role of hero. Whatever someone can take from the shop is far less value than they are worth - so if in doubt, walk away. I make sure that any new staff members know that I don’t want them to put themselves in any situation in which they feel uncomfortable, and definitely no dangerous situations. If they suspect something, they know to report it if they feel unsafe to deal with the situation appropriately.
Such a situation arose two years ago when we had a regular shoplifter in. We stopped him outside, but in the fracas that followed I got scratched with a needle and it took a year of tests for me to get the eventual all-clear. If only I’d taken my own advice and remembered that we should not try to be heroes…
We found that another strong deterrent was to make stock useless - deodorants are a great example, simply remove the lids and keep them behind the till. Also, check if you can use dummy stock on shelves rather than the real thing. Diageo supplies display boxes for its spirits range, which makes it far easier to display in a more prominent place with no risk, while photocopies of deodorant cans laminated and wrapped around a soft drinks can works well with a ‘please ask at the till’ message on them.
We have a great CCTV system that provides clear images that we can print off. We like to move the cameras around occasionally to eliminate any permanent blind spots in the shop, and use mirrors to cover any hidden areas.
Now that crime has been reduced in the store, it’s important for us to keep it like that. We’re constantly looking at ways of deterring crime. I currently hold the position of director at a company called Thanet Safe. This initiative involves installing a radio in shops in the town, linking them directly to the local patrols, Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and council CCTV cameras. For the low fee it is invaluable, not only for that contact, especially in a 24-hour environment, but because we get issued with a booklet of mug shots of current offenders in the area every six months.
This system has been a tremendous help to us and it is well worth seeing if your local area runs such a scheme.
It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to suffer in isolation; there are people out there to help. The relationship that we have with our local PCSOs and police patrols is great: they can park their patrol car on the forecourt at night so they know it’s covered by our CCTV system and we get a great visual deterrent outside, too!
The police know they are welcome to use any of our facilities, and since the local station closed we have offered our tea room for their use, and our warehouse as a place to store their bikes and any other equipment.
Having this bond is great as a lot of the officers are regular customers now and when they come in they often ask if we have any offenders they want us to take a look at on the CCTV and try to identify.
We know that we can’t rest on our laurels so we’re looking at holding a drop-in session on site with the mobile police unit for locals to report any incidents, or put forward any ideas they have to the force. We’re also investigating a bike-marking scheme for schoolkids to help prevent bike theft.
Organising these initiatives does take up a lot of time and energy, but we hope that by keeping up the momentum we will help prevent crime both at our store and the surrounding area. Any deterrent we can put in place to stop the act of shoplifting has to be time well spent.
Zero Tolerance Award for Crime Prevention
It was the team’s proactive approach to tackling crime in their area, especially shoplifting, that impressed the judges at the 2014 Convenience Retail Awards. Budgens Broadstairs store manager Adam Hogwood has worked hard to build a relationship with local police officers, offering space to the force to use when out on patrol. The staff are seen as a big part of the solution and are given regular training on how to deal with and react to shoplifters, which has helped to cut incidents at the store dramatically. The team’s willingness to work with local authorities also helped them stand out as strong winners for this award.