CSD Cover Story: Keeping Retail Employees Safe

Jul 10, 2006
George Anderson

By John Lofstock, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Decisions

Through special arrangement with Convenience Store Decisions magazine, what follows is an excerpt of the current cover article, presented here for
discussion. Click to view the entire article: Designing a Security Strategy.

In the gas/c-store channel, Western U.S.-based Tesoro Corp. has undergone a transformation through the years from a small local refiner to a multi-state marketer that’s willing to take risks to grow the business.

As Tesoro continues to expand, security is playing a bigger role in its success. Regarded as an innovator in employee safety, the company spares no expense when it comes to protecting the perimeter. Ensuring the safety at 220 corporate stores and thousands of employees requires a Herculean effort by a group of skilled professionals.

Charged with leading this effort at Tesoro is Frank Coletta, manager of safety and loss prevention, who discussed his views on security and the strides the industry has made over the past 10 years to keep employees safe.

CSD: What are the first steps retailers should take when implementing a security strategy?

For starters, there are a number of robbery deterrents that have become standard in the industry such as ensuring clear visibility in and out of the store, good lighting, cash control and time control safes. They must be followed. But there are other factors, such as examining the entire lot and blocking off potential escape routes. It’s important to use obstacles like fencing as a deterrent.

CSD: How do you know these theories are effective?

Back in the 1970s, researcher Rosemary Erickson got a grant to do research on crime in convenience stores. She interviewed dozens of convicts in prison for robbing c-stores and found out precisely what they are looking for and she ranked them in order. What she learned was that the amount of cash available in the register was the primary driver of convenience store crime.

Over the years she refreshed her study and found that escape routes has become the most important factor, followed by cash levels and a crook’s ability to pull off a crime and remain anonymous. So it’s important to train your employees to make eye contact with everyone that walks through the door even if it’s just for a few seconds.

CSD: What steps should clerks take if they do get robbed?

One thing we do is adhere to a strict no resistance policy. This means if we get robbed, we don’t resist; we give them the money. People are more important than property. In cases where there is resistance, employees are far more likely to get injured, not only in a robbery situation, but also in other types of crimes.

CSD: Doesn’t that encourage crime?

Not really because the theory is that if you manage cash control, crooks will realize the store isn’t worth the effort. There’s a network of communication among the bad guys. If one of them goes to a Tesoro and they get $250, word of that score is going to spread. That store is going to be a target and it increases the odds of being robbed again. But if they go in and get less than $50, they might go and try to find some place better.

CSD: Have employees ever violated the no resistance policy?

Sure. We have terminated people for resisting. We had a guy who intervened in a robbery when he shouldn’t have and he tied a would-be thief up with Scotch tape. The employee thought he was doing the right thing and, to be honest, we gave him another chance, but he acted similarly in another situation and we decided his behavior could not be tolerated. He put himself and other employees at risk and, as a result, the guy doesn’t work for us any more.

CSD: What are the benefits of interactive security? Does the sense of safety it provides help with recruiting for the difficult to staff overnight hours?

The employees like it. They get a sense of security, especially if they work alone. The real benefit of interactive security is that it doesn’t get in the way of customer service, and it’s always working. If there is ever a problem an employee simply pushes a button and somebody will look in on them.

But it also serves as a deterrent. Many times it discourages swarms of juveniles coming in at once. If a clerk feels overwhelmed, they can press a button and a live person looks in the store and can make a security announcement. It is very impressive and can discourage shoplifting and other crimes.

Moderator’s Comment: Has real progress been made making consumers feel safer when shopping in c-stores? What can small store operators in other channels
learn from the advancements made in gas/c-store security?

Having a program that gives employees confidence in their own safety is bound to be a big plus with regard to employee retention (a huge issue for retailers
of all striped). But the benefits multiply exponentially if customers can feel better about walking into stand-alone store locations at night without getting the heebie-jeebies.

– George Anderson – Moderator

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2 Comments on "CSD Cover Story: Keeping Retail Employees Safe"

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Mark Lilien
14 years 7 months ago

FBI statistics show that convenience stores aren’t safer, when compared to other places. (See “Crime in the U.S. 2004”)

In the past 5 years, convenience store robberies declined 4.1% while robberies overall declined 5.7%. Convenience stores face a major recruiting problem: potential employees fear hold-ups. The fear is certainly rational. In comparison, gas station robberies declined 10.1%. This shows that even though the industry is trying to reduce robberies, it’s actually falling further behind.

Perry Cheatham
Perry Cheatham
14 years 7 months ago

Mark, in reference to your statistics, that is true. But what you omitted was the fact that the FBI breaks out Gas Stations and Convenience stores into two separate categories. Gas Station robberies are down 10.1% since 2000. I would bet if you combined those two categories, I bet they would be less than the 5.7% decrease. It is also interesting that bank robberies are up 25.1% since 2000. Based on those statistics I think that convenience stores are making an impact.


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