“The store was in an awful state when I took it on,” explains Andrew. “It had been hit by an armed robbery and had suffered a number of burglaries and till snatches. The level of shoplifting was the worst I’d ever seen. My predecessors had installed extremely cheap and cheerful CCTV which just wasn’t adequate for the type of store. It also sold drugs paraphernalia such as bongs which didn’t help its image!”
Andrew reported both burglaries to police – something he’s committed to doing after every single crime against his business. On both occasions bottles of Jack Daniels and packs of condoms were stolen, so it was more than likely the same people were to blame for both raids. And so it proved to be the case. One 18-year-old has just received a 14-week sentence for various crimes, including the raid on Andrew’s store, and another is awaiting his sentence.
The store is Andrew’s first self-owned business (he’d spent the previous 20 years in various retail roles) and he admits that after the second robbery he did have second thoughts. But the negativity didn’t last long as he realised the extent of the support he had from most of his customers. Instead of giving up, Andrew pushed ahead with turning things around. By implementing a range of high-tech security measures and by providing the local community with a store to be proud of, business is now booming and Andrew is winning the war against the bad guys.
He explains: “After the second break-in I was briefly put off continuing, but all my customers were so supportive and gave me loads of moral support. I decided I wasn’t going to be beaten and scared off by a couple of 18-year-old idiots. I still have the local newspaper article on the break-ins printed off in my office to remind me to stay determined.”
One of the first jobs was to remove the unsightly permanent grilles on the front windows of the store. “The grilles made the area look like a war zone,” says Andrew. “Customers felt threatened and it made it look as though the store was hiding something. I wanted to create a more pleasant shopping atmosphere so they were taken down and replaced with roll-down shutters which are closed only when the store is. They offer good protection.”
A new door with multiple bolt locks has ensured that this entry point is no longer an easy option. A high-tech system of CCTV and alarms has also been added and a refit, originally planned for 2009, was brought forward and completed in May. “After forking out to have the door boarded up on Christmas Day we had a far more secure front door fitted and paid for by the insurance,” says Andrew. “On top of that and the security shutters I’ve also got 10 cameras covering the inside and outside of the store. I’ve also had infrared beams put in the store and in the void above the shop ceiling.
“The CCTV system produces great images. I can also access it from home, which allows me to relax when I’m not at the store, and the alarms are linked to alert the police. I’ve also got movement-sensitive security lights around the exterior. I need the store to be secure but I don’t want it to look like a fortress.”
While Andrew doesn’t believe that CCTV will stop determined criminals, he’s a firm believer that if used correctly it can help to catch the culprits. “An alarm system is different,” he explains. “It can lead the police to catching the criminals in the act and ours is very loud! With the CCTV operating on a hard-drive system I can easily make copies of incidents and hand them to police, whether they need two minutes of footage or a whole day. A modern system makes both our lives easier.”
Andrew also belongs to the Suffolk Shop Watch scheme and is soon to be ratified under Raid Control’s security criteria. A grant of £1,000, he says, will certainly help offset a little of the £7,000 he’s spent on security.
Other measures introduced include instructing staff to never have more than £100 cash in the till. “Staff are encouraged to be sensible. They know they will face disciplinary action if they don’t follow the procedure,” he says. “The takings are banked every day and money is always secured. It’s all risk management. Unfortunately, crime is part of being a retailer, but it’s possible to reduce the risk of the worst case where someone gets hurt or a lot of money is taken.”
The measures have had proven success; shoplifting has fallen since he took over “We don’t have a huge problem with shoplifting now but, because I’m so passionate about the store, when it does happen it’s hard not to take it personally,” he says. “I have a zero tolerance approach to shoplifters and the police are always called. They do come out and they generally investigate everything. They don’t always prosecute, especially for youngsters, but having the police turn up to speak to their parents at the door often helps.”
Andrew believes shoplifting incidents have also fallen because of his attempts to get to know every one of his customers. “I know most of my customers by name,” he says. “Everyone gets a greeting when they walk in the store. It helps the genuine customers, but those who have ideas about shoplifting also know that they’ve been clocked on the way in. I was warned about a few troublemakers when I moved here but I made sure I got to know them and they’ve given me no problems at all.”
Andrew instructs his staff to do whatever is asked of them if they are confronted and threatened by a criminal in the store. This is something he admits is easier said than done when it comes to himself, though. He says: “I always tell my staff to do whatever the criminal demands if they are threatened. I find it harder to do myself, though, as I often feel the red mist coming down. I have to remind myself not to do anything silly. I count myself lucky after surviving two incidents as a BP regional manager when a gun was pointed at my face during a raid on a security van. I’ve learnt that you’ve got to be sensible.”
The next step
Andrew’s now looking forward to a bright future at the helm of Londis Newmarket. Sales were up 46% in the month following the refit and he’s got his eyes on other possible business ventures in the future. “I’m very positive and looking forward,” he says. “Over the next couple of years I’m looking to develop two or three more stores in the area. I’ll definitely have the same security measures there, too.” Another development Andrew would like to see is a greater commitment from government, local authorities and police to help tackle small business crime.
He explains: “I don’t think enough is being done to help c-store retailers. There are some good individual police officers out there who have helped me out, but I don’t believe business crime is treated as seriously as it should be. Retailers need more help.”