A Sense of Security

The fourth-quarter holiday season is when jewelers earn most of their annual revenues. It’s also when they face the greatest security risks, say industry security and insurance experts.

A third (34%) of all robberies of jewelers occur in October, November, and December, according to the Jewelers’ Security Alliance (JSA), but other types of theft increase, too. There is a significant rise in shoplifting, grab-and-run theft, credit card fraud, bad checks, sneak theft, and attempted burglaries.

Why the higher crime risk? Some reasons are obvious. All retailers increase their inventories for the holidays and do more advertising to promote the increased inventory—both of which are noted by thieves. “There also are more gangs operating at holiday time, going from city to city and state to state,” says Hugh Mitchell, director of security for Samuel Gordon Jewelers, Oklahoma City, Okla. “They know jewelers have more inventory, and that stores are busier and more crowded, making it easier for the thieves to blend in and do what they want.”

Slacking off. But a major reason for higher crime risks during holidays is that too many jewelers let down their guard. “Store owners and their salespeople are so concerned with selling jewelry, they put security on the back burner,” says Mitchell.

“Because stores are more crowded, and proprietors and employees more rushed than usual, they tend to deviate from normal security procedures,” notes JSA president John J. Kennedy. These lapses in security include:

  • remaining open later than usual to accommodate a customer;

  • bypassing normal approval procedures for a credit card purchase because getting authorization can take longer during holidays;

  • taking checks without close scrutiny or checking with the banks involved;

  • not giving seasonal employees the security training they need before putting them to work, even though criminals target inexperienced personnel when planning to shoplift or commit credit card fraud;

  • hiring seasonal workers without careful scrutiny—which means possibly hiring a thief;

  • leaving a showcase open or merchandise on a counter while working with customers.

“These kinds of lapses can cause real trouble—and losses—for the jeweler,” says Kennedy.

Proactive. The best defense against crime during holidays, say the experts, is prevention. “Jewelers must be proactive rather than reactive,” urges Mitchell. “Don’t wait until after a crime has happened. Be proactive 365 days a year. Staying at a high level of alertness prevents crimes before they happen.” Mitchell asserts that Samuel Gordon Jewelers’ proactive security “has deterred many potential robberies” in the past 10 years, and he notes that during the only attempted burglary of the store, the thieves were caught and the merchandise recovered.

Here are several steps to make your store safer for the holidays.

On guard. Hire one or more security guards, preferably off-duty policemen if permitted by your municipality, suggests JSA’s Kennedy. In some towns or cities, policemen working as retail security guards are allowed to wear their uniforms and even park their police cars outside the stores. “A policeman deters crime in a store just by being there,” says Kennedy, “and his presence makes both customers and staff feel safer.”

Say hello. Put a greeter at the door to welcome each customer who enters—and to watch for suspicious individuals. You can assign this to your security guard or off-duty policeman, in uniform or plain clothes, relieving the staff of watching who enters.

On camera. Be sure your video surveillance system is working. A visible camera often can deter crime, notes JSA, and its video can help identify those who do commit a crime or who seem to be casing your store.

On notice. Have an “alert system” in place—i.e., a code word or phrase among employees—to inform the staff when someone suspicious enters, a suspicious situation arises, or as Mitchell puts it, “anything out of the ordinary occurs.” Every employee—including part-time and seasonal help—should know the code and what to do when it’s used.

At Samuel Gordon Jewelers, for example, “if anyone senses something is wrong, the code phrase is passed quietly from one employee to next,” says Mitchell. “Then, our security people go into a planned mode of action, covering all vulnerable points, such as cash register, diamonds, the entrance and exit, to ‘lock down’ the store and be ready for anything.

“Thieves don’t want to get caught, so they’re alert [to what’s happening in a store],” he continues. “If they hear a phrase being passed by employees, see all eyes turned on them, and see the store mobilizing, they leave.”

No solos. Never open or close the store by yourself. Use at least two staff members; three is better, depending on store and staff size, and one should be a store security person. Have another employee close by or in a nearby parking lot watching with cell phone in hand to call 911 if needed. Likewise, never let a stranger in before or after business hours, and check IDs of all delivery personnel.

Lock step. Keep all wall and display cases and show windows locked, except when removing or returning merchandise. Never keep keys in plain sight or on a hook or shelf.

Off-limits. Never for any reason let customers or non-employees go behind the counter or into your work area, safe area, rest room, stock room, or other parts of your store outside the sales floor. Remember, crooks want access to your merchandise or to case your store for a future crime. Likewise, be sure there are no “blind spots” in your store—places where visibility from any part of the selling floor is obstructed.

Dynamic duos. Always have at least two employees on the floor at all times. The possibility of robbery rises sharply if only one person is on the sales floor.

Less is more. Limit how much merchandise you show a customer at any one time. Samuel Gordon Jewelers, for example, shows no more than four items to a customer at one time. Other jewelers limit it to one at a time and post signs saying it’s required by their insurance carrier. “Many salespeople worry about offending customers, but most people accept it if you say store policy prohibits showing any more,” says Mitchell.

Avoid excess. Don’t bring entire trays of merchandise or a diamond wallet to the counter when waiting on a customer. “[Exposing] too much value leaves you vulnerable to a grab-and-run theft,” says Kennedy. Likewise, don’t display a “significant amount of top goods, such as high-end watches or diamonds, outside their cases. That’s too tempting for criminals.”

Eyes front. Never leave a customer alone with merchandise or turn your back, even if only to get a set of tweezers. The holidays are “a very confusing time,” says Kennedy. “So much is happening and so much stuff is going in and out, that a jeweler may not realize things are missing until he does his post-Christmas inventory check.”

Likewise, after a customer handles an item, examine it to be sure it’s the same one you took from the showcase. Never allow a customer to return an item to a tray.

Insured. Have enough insurance to cover your inventory. What you bring in for the holidays may be more than you anticipated when you did your insurance planning.