It’s a Risky Business – So Watch It!

business in today’s economy involves risk of one sort or another. When a person decides to venture out on that proverbial limb to start or to take bestbusinesscommunity over an existing business for themselves they should perform their due diligence, research, ask questions, etc. What business owner or aspiring entrepreneur would not?

If you are a business owner and you deal in cash or have high value equipment associated with your business, you can bet that you can add a few more considerations to your list of worries than say an accountant or someone who has started a medical transcription business.

My wife and I own and operate a small retail business in western Tennessee. The thought of being robbed of either cash or merchandise does not sit well with me, nor does the thought of our establishment being burglarized. But the thought that my wife may be injured or worse at the hands of a criminal who thinks he has the right to take what does not belong to him or her infuriates me!

Because we are in a small town, many of our neighbors and fellow citizens do not consider robbery or burglary a major threat. I will admit that I myself do not sit and dwell on the subject to the point that it interferes with my day to day life. But experience has taught me well. One of those lessons is that while the likelihood of a particular incident may be low…the possibility is 100%…every day…every minute of the day.

It should take nothing more than a quick search on the internet to see that the threat of being a victim of crime is part of doing business. Not just violent crime, though I tend to consider all crime a form of assault. I know the legal eagles will disagree with me, but I take a pretty simple and basic stance on most things. Someone who lies to you assaults your trust while a person who steals from you assaults your trust and financial stability.

Every business is a potential target whether it is actual assault in the form of robbery or burglary. It could take the form of shoplifting, check forgery, credit or computer fraud, identity theft or internal theft by employees.

According the National Sheriff’s Association at least 30 percent of all small business failures are the result of losses from crime.While retail business seem to take the brunt of the storm statistics show that ALL small businesses suffer devastating effects from many types of crime.

Law enforcement agencies in general do a terrific job in my opinion. But they cannot be everywhere all the time. As a business owner, it is ultimately your responsibility to ensure the security of your business as well as the safety of your employees and your customers, guests and clients. But what can you do to alleviate some of the risks, enhance the security and lessen the likelihood of your establishment being targeted?

The National Sheriff’s Association in cooperation with most local law enforcement agencies sponsors a program called “Business Watch” similar to the very popular and very successful “Neighborhood Watch” program. The “Business Watch” program uses many of the same principles and practices that neighborhoods use to prevent and detect crime and apply it to businesses and business districts.

This program is sponsored by the NSA, not operated. The operational aspect is up to people like you and I, the business owners. It will require some leg work and coordination among business neighbors to get it started and keep it effective, but if you have concerns about crime or have seen an up rise in criminal activity, you cannot afford to not consider initiating this program.

With this program neighboring businesses working with local law enforcement agencies can establish and support a network that is very effective and has been proven to work in some of the most high crime areas. This will make YOUR business community an attractive and safe place to work and shop and make people want to visit your establishment.

Neighbors helping neighbors is a very old concept and when businesses works together it allows business owners to take control of what happens in their business community, and lessens your chances of becoming a victim or your establishment from becoming a target. Through “Business Watch” you will be making crimes against yourself and your fellow business neighbors as difficult as possible by raising the risk to the criminal while at the same time lowering their expected reward. Over time it will be noticed and a smart criminal will likely move on to a softer, more vulnerable target.

All aspects of the program are extremely beneficial, but a few of the most impressive include teaching merchants to crime-proof their own properties and to watch over neighboring businesses and report any suspicious activity to authorities, developing a telephone tree system for quick dissemination of information regarding criminal activity in the area and a potential life saving practice of developing a “duress code” or set of signals to activate in adjacent businesses when someone needs help.

So how do you go about forming a Business Watch program in your area? First I would recommend contacting your business neighbors and let them know your idea. Ideally you would be able to call a meeting so everyone would have input to voice their concerns and ask questions. You should consider inviting a crime prevention consultant or professional to attend so that he or she could answer security related questions in a detailed manner.

Once it is decided that this a course of action worthy of pursuit, contact your local law enforcement agency and tell them what you plan to do. Most agencies have a crime prevention officer who may very likely have the Business Watch starter packet on hand which will guide you through all the formalities and allow you to obtain professional Business Watch signage.

Meetings should continue and be scheduled on a regular basis as well as soon as possible after any major criminal activity that happens to occur, especially violent crimes and continue to invite guest speakers to your meetings and ask them to emphasize certain but different aspects of security. It is highly recommended that the subject of internal/employee theft be covered early in the program.

In the meantime take protective measures now. Always ensure that you secure all obvious (and not so obvious) points of entry to your business. DON’T FORGET THE ROOFTOP! Put yourself in the shoes of a criminal… stand outside of your store and plan how you would get in. Then install high security locks on all doors and windows. Remember… a cheap lock can be jimmied with a knife or plastic card, so use sturdy deadbolts on doors with glass panels. As far as locks go, there are more bargains at $100 than there are at $10.

Some other immediate crime prevention measures you can take include:

  • Avoid displaying valuable goods in store-front windows, and install tempered or laminated glass or impact resistant plastic windows.
  • Brightly illuminate all entrances with vandal-proof fixtures.
  • Leave empty cash drawers open after hours.
  • Keep all shrubbery and debris away from windows and doors. Don’t provide concealment or climbing platforms for the burglar.
  • Lock up all ladders, ropes, and tools that could help a burglar gain entry.
  • Install an alarm system, and check it regularly for failure.
  • Make frequent bank deposits at varied times. Use an armored car if feasible.
  • Teach employees to be aware of persons who are loitering or behaving in a suspicious manner. Such persons may be casing the premises for burglary, robbery, or shoplifting.
  • Advertise a policy of prosecuting all shoplifters, and stick to it.
  • Establish effective shoplifting deterrents within your business. First, heighten shoplifters’ feelings of being watched. Second, minimize shoplifters’ access to merchandise without inconveniencing customers more than is necessary.
  • Deter bad check artists by establishing a check-cashing policy. Make sure employees know and adhere to store policy.
  • In pinpointing sources of losses, do not overlook the possibility of internal theft. Surveys indicate that employee theft accounts for the biggest chunk of dollar losses to crime by businesses.

The above list is certainly not complete, but these are some very low or no cost steps you can take today to lessen your likelihood of loss. Consider contacting a consultant to conduct a security risk assessment of your establishment. Not only will he or she identify areas for improvement, but they can recommend “how” to improve the deficiencies.

Most crimes against small businesses are crimes of opportunity. If the criminal has the chance and feels the reward is worth the risk…they take it. Make it hard for them to hurt you.

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