Closed-Circuit TV Not Just For Security

The author owns Susan Eisen Fine Jewelry in El Paso, Tex.

Ask any jeweler about the most important aspect of the business and you’re virtually guaranteed the same answer: security. Day in and day out, our eyes are always open for suspicious characters within or outside of our stores.

When I opened my first store, I had no previous retail jewelry experience to guide me. Fortunately, friends and other professionals warned me to take security very seriously, ensuring maximum safety for myself, my employees and my store’s valuable contents.

Consequently, I didn’t hesitate to install all security measures required by my insurance company. Later, I decided to keep a video camera running in the front showroom all day, allowing me to see what goes on even when I’m in the back office. I’m convinced the video camera has been an important deterrent to anyone considering my store for future robbery.

While the video camera more than met my initial expectations, I soon found it could be put to even more important uses. Being able to hear what’s going on has turned out to be one of its most valuable benefits. More specifically, I realized that simply seeing but not hearing the audio conversations was very stifling. So I continued videotaping and added an audio-recording device. I also began to save the tapes for future reference. I’ve referred back to them many times and firmly believe the video/audio devices equal my alarm system in their ability to keep my store secure.

The combination video-audio security has afforded another important benefit: increased customer service. For example, after a recent emerald promotion where many new customers viewed our large selection of loose gems, one of my staff found an expensive emerald and diamond ring near the showcase. We searched records trying to find the customer’s name, but it was her first time in the store and she didn’t sign our guest book. Finally, we reached for the videotape and replayed the entire day. Voila! One of my salespeople recognized her and, after some more detective work, we tracked her down. It turns out the ring had been a gift from her deceased husband and she was devastated without it. Our combination video-audio system made a lasting difference in her life!

Advantages: There are many important reasons to seriously consider having a closed-circuit video-audio recording system in your own store, including:

1. Security. This is the primary and most obvious reason. Actually seeing a burglar on tape greatly enhances chances of early apprehension. It also provides an accurate record of the person’s actions, including any violence. Additionally, the system will record any theft committed by customers or employees within camera range. If the camera pans your front door, it can record cars and their license numbers.

2. Sales training. Like football replays used to improve a player’s performance, this feature is very important in demonstrating to your staff the most effective selling techniques. These “real live” tapes can be used to point out strengths and weaknesses of various selling strategies, to acquaint new employees with customers’ objections and to train employees how to deal with those objections. Salespeople’s interactions with your customers, body language and selling styles are all recorded for later review. With a speaker extension at your desk, you can even hear the presentations; if there are difficulties, you can get out and try to save the sale!

3. Research. When trying to remember what a customer asked you to look for or who came into the store that day, it’s simple to just replay the tape and find out.

4. Liability protection. The age of litigation is upon us. Situations such as a customer accusing a jeweler of switching a stone or a customer forgetting what the salesperson actually said happen more often than we would like to admit. If proper take-in procedures are followed, it’s very easy to review the facts with the customer just by replaying the tape. This can protect you from potentially explosive situations that threaten your reputation.

5. Retail espionage. If you live in a community where your competitor’s tactics may include inquisitive “shoppers,” recording their “shoppers” on tape is a good way to defend your position. If your competitors wrongly accuse you to your suppliers of discounting or other inappropriate practices, the tape will prove your position. “Secret shoppers” who know they will be recorded may avoid your store in the first place.

6. Marketing. Ever wonder how many customers come into your store each day, which days of the week are busiest and which areas of your store are the most profitable? Answer these questions fast by watching a videotape of action in your store. Knowing which showcases are most profitable, which areas of the store go unnoticed and which displays attract the most attention are crucial to the success of your business.

7. Keeping track of the market. Upset by overzealous discounting? This past holiday season, customers reported that my competitors were selling a particular brand of watch at 32% below retail. Of course, the manufacturer frowns on discounting. Just play the tape for the manufacturer and your own credibility goes unquestioned. How you handle the customer’s request for discounting is your best weapon for arguing your position.

8. Store surveillance. Knowing what goes on in your store at all times ensures your customers will always receive the highest quality product and service. Your audio-videotapes also can alert you to any employees who are acting irresponsibly or abusing company policies.

Important procedures: To ensure you receive the many benefits possible from using an audio-videotaping system in your store, you must be aware of several important procedures.

First and foremost, plan to keep at least three to five months of backup tapes on file. Keep them in a locked cabinet to which only you have access. Any confidential conversations you may have with customers or employees should be kept secure. Mark any tapes you know may have potentially controversial content. Store them for later research.

Check the video recorder each day to ensure it’s working. Assign two people to be responsible for turning the equipment on and off. Most importantly, put a highly visible sign in your store stating it’s being monitored with video and audio equipment. It would be wise to check with your own state laws concerning these specific procedures.

If you already own a closed-circuit video system, check with a specialist about adding sound. If you’re buying an entire system for the first time, do your own research and thoroughly understand the features each unit offers. Not taking time to do this is like buying a computer and finding out later it lacks the memory needed to operate and grow. Here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Closed-circuit video cameras. A variety of manufacturers offer products with different kinds of features. The newest camera technology is digital, offering a superior picture in a much smaller unit. Cameras are available in black and white or color. They can be used in the dark and can be stationary or revolving.

2. Video recorder. Commercial video recorders are best to use in recording your store’s daily operation. They record time and date, can be programmed for automatic operation and can be set to activate during an alarm. Some video records use a slow-playing option, allowing you to use regular videotape to record for eight hours. Other video recorders have “time lapse,” a feature that slows down the tape speed, offering you up to 24-48 hours of recording on a single tape! Many of these units have a jack for a microphone so you can tape sound, as well.

3. Microphones. You can attach a variety of microphones to your video set-up. Most commercially made microphones are large and bulky, but some are small enough to be mounted on the ceiling or behind a showcase. If you don’t want to spend a lot for extra wiring, find the wireless microphones available at Radio Shack. Be sure to remember that all sounds will be picked up, including telephones, music and heating and cooling systems.

4. Expertise needed. Effective use of this kind of electronic equipment requires the knowledge of a trained expert. Call a closed-circuit television company in your area for help or contact manufacturers. They will refer you to someone in your community. Hitachi, JVC, Sony and Panasonic all make units that will work for your jewelry store, and their customer service staffs will be happy to help you.

This kind of surveillance has become a necessary part of every jeweler’s concern. By using these technologies, you will know what’s going on in your store, increase your staff’s efficiency and enhance your overall professional reputation. What a small price to pay for this kind of protection!