How to Safeguard Your Laundry Business from Theft
It’s 4 a.m., a brick just crashed through your store window… and you’re out of town.
Do you really feel comfortable having your spouse go to the store alone?
This is the type of question many people ask themselves before buying a self-service laundry. So, you drive around the neighborhood, and you talk with people on the street, as well as with the local business owners. However, the problem is that you’ll likely get conflicting information, and you don’t necessarily fancy yourself to be Sherlock Holmes.
Fortunately, in today’s digital age, you don’t need to be. Getting the answers to your questions is easier than ever – and one of the best tools I’ve discovered is a website called crimemapping.com.
Using police crime data, this site gathers all of the raw statistics and runs them through the proverbial ringer. The result is an easy-to-view, simple-to-navigate website. Just type in your address and that’s it. You get an accurate account of what’s happening in your area without an advanced degree in criminology. You can search by crime type, address and dates. The site’s charting feature even lets you find out exactly how many incidents of each crime type occurred in a given place and time. This no doubt comes in handy when comparing one laundry location to another.
While “what’s trending” may be all the rage on Twitter, by using the trending feature on crimemapping.com you can learn what days of the week most robberies occur; thus, you can plan your collections accordingly.
Once you’ve done your online homework and feel confident moving forward with a store location, another great resource is your local police department. Most departments have a community outreach officer who will come to your store (for free) and offer tips on how to keep yourself, your staff, your customers and your business safe.
Of course, the officer will probably suggest many of the basics you most likely already know:
• Install security cameras.
• Keep your windows unobstructed.
• Install an alarm system.
• Leave your cash draw empty at night.
However, you will also pick up some ideas you might not have thought about. In fact, during such a store review, the officer asked me if I had considered “partitioning” my alarm. Partitioning, in essence, turns one alarm into two – for no addition cost. Let’s say your laundry is attended. During business hours, you want customers in the store, but you still want your office and coin boxes alarmed. No problem. You simply install two separate keypads, each with different codes.
Over the years, store owners have shared some other great tips when it comes to setting up alarm systems. For example, during the installation of your alarm, label each zone. Put the zone labels as a note on your phone, maybe under your contacts. Now, when you get that 3:43 a.m. call to let you know that the Zone 4 alarm has been set off, you can tell the difference between someone breaking down your front door or your A/C simply blowing one of your hanging signs, causing the motion sensor to go off.
This is more important than you may think, because a history of false alarms can cause a delayed response from the police. You don’t want your store to be “the boy who cried wolf.” An easy way to avoid this is to have the alarm company call you before sending officers. Of course, if they can’t reach you, they will still send an officer.
Next, try placing an alarm sensor inside your changer. This will prevent theft; however, perhaps more importantly, when you try to set the office alarm, it’s a great reminder if you left the changer door open. Don’t laugh – I’m sure many of you have left your changers open, just like me.
Once you’re comfortable with your location and your alarm/security system, the next consideration for many of you will be how to carry all of those quarters to the bank. Before owning my first store, I thought I would be physically bringing quarters to the bank. That’s what most criminals are thinking, too.
The reality is that you buy quarters from the bank, because customers are taking un-spent quarters out of the store. So, thieves never see the big heavy bag of quarters they are looking for.
A veteran owner shared the following story: “Every time I visit the store, I go in and leave with the same backpack. Most days, it’s empty; on collection days, it has cash, but the cash is light enough that it doesn’t weigh down the bag.” Therefore, anyone who may be watching has no clue when the bag has money.
While sharing this idea with Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officer Jason Palmer, he suggested, “Before you collect or take money out of the store, do a perimeter check. Walk around your entire building to see if anyone or anything looks suspicious.”
Officer Palmer shared some other great ideas as well:
• With coin-operated stores, always start your collection as far away from your office as possible. This way, as your coin bucket starts filling up with money, you are closer to your office.
• Use plywood to line the walls of your office and your in-wall changers. There are some great videos floating around of bad guys using sledgehammers to try to break the drywall around the changers. Watching them strike the wall only to have the sledgehammer bounce back and hit them in the head is priceless.
• Although most store owners are good about securing their stores, their biggest problem is assuming what they have done is enough. Develop your “situational awareness,” which is just a fancy term for keeping an eye on what’s happening around you. Criminals are looking for the low-hanging fruit – make sure you’re not it.
The last bit of advice offered by Officer Palmer – who, by the way, is also a laundry owner – was this: “If your store is unattended, give the local police a trespass authorization; this allows the police to keep someone out of your store without you being on location. While you’re at it, make the police your friend.”
Also, make friends with your customers and business neighbors. If they know you have their back, they will have yours.
Of course, despite the best-laid plans, theft sometimes does occur – which brings us back to that 4:00 a.m. brick through the window…
Let’s say that the thieves got into your changers and wiped you out. You get to the laundry before the police, and your initial reaction is to rush into the store and find out what happened.
Don’t do it!
Stay outside until the police arrive and let you know that it’s OK to go in. After all, if the burglars are still there, you’re putting your life at risk for a few dollars. And, if the thieves have left, your stuff left with them. What’s more, anything you do inside the store will contaminate the crime scene; even if you just walk around to see what happened, you’re lowering the chances of the police being able to get usable footprints.
When you go inside, check your camera system and burn a copy of the video for the police. Officers report that, if they don’t get the video on site at the time of the incident, more than half the time the store owners won’t bother sending in the clips later.
After the police have lifted all of the fingerprints and taken statements, be sure to call your fellow laundry owners to let them know to keep an eye on their stores, and to call the police if they notice anything suspicious.
Clearly, nothing is completely safe. Your goal is to make your laundry business as safe as possible and, if thieves strike, to slow them down so that the police to have time to help. Above all, make sure you’re prepared and vigilant.
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