Retail security can be one of the most challenging aspects of your operations. I won’t bore everyone with the many legal requirements, but I do want to bring us all to a common point of understanding around why security is so important and offer some strategies to ensure you achieve those challenging benchmarks for your store— safe, sustainable, and profitable.
Why is Security Important?
Let’s consider the “why” for security as this helps to inform the context as well as determine priorities around risk.
Your security is important because:
- The safety of your staff is your responsibility.
- Your family wants you to be safe!
- You have a significant investment in your business.
- This store is part of your future, and it must be sustainable.
It is your ethical and legal responsibility for appropriate measures to be implemented at your store.
Cannabis stores can be at higher risk than other retail stores for a myriad of reasons. It can often be assumed that there is significant cash on-site, product, or opportunities for high-return crimes that may attract offenders.
One of the biggest challenges that cannabis retailers recognize, painfully, is that perception does not always match reality. Sadly, this is like not carrying a wallet or valuables and assuming you won’t be robbed, forgetting that offenders don’t know you have nothing of value to steal. In a store robbery, this can actually create an elevated risk when they discover you don’t have anything during the robbery.
So, how do we not get carried away with security procedures and systems?
The first step should always be a proper risk assessment. This means developing a security program that includes determining the context for the site. Professionals consider the type of store, location, criminal activity in the area, socio-demographics, layout, staffing levels, and more. A good risk assessment can save you thousands of your hard sought investment dollars if done by a qualified professional.
In engaging this professional make sure they have actually and successfully worked on stores in your industry, or at least stores at a similar risk level. Not every security person knows how to conduct a proper site risk assessment or is familiar with retail operations. Be cautious of self-professed experts!
Another area that has a direct impact on the safe operations of your store is the application of robust and easily operational security procedures. These should include cash handling, opening and closing, key management, securing of product displays and storage containers, hiring/background checks, supervision, and the list goes on.
Physical Security Measures
Now let’s look at some of the physical security measures that tend to be common across cannabis stores in urban areas. Remember that the context of your site must drive the security program, so use these tips as a starting point and apply them as necessary.
Windows can be a challenge, often due to misguided regulations across the Canadian provinces. In a retail environment, we have long understood that sightlines are important to diminish the attractiveness of robbery. If possible, make sure there are clear sightlines into the space, although remember that product cannot be visible due to regulations across Canada and possibly in your area.
Keeping displays low and point-of-sale counters a little wider are great security tactics. This solves a couple of potential issues such as ensuring shoplifting of accessories is reduced, allowing potential offenders to feel that they are being observed and reducing the opportunity for “staging” or loitering in the anticipation of a good time to rob the store.
Research into the psychology of retail spaces says that a store that operates well in its intended purpose is a safer store than one that is not well laid out, clean, lit, or staffed appropriately. Simply put, the better a space works for its intended purpose, the less likely there is for a disruptive event or criminal incident.
Window treatments have come a long way and it is now possible to use decorative films that are also protective. It is a good idea to make sure that your security system includes glass break sensors to supplement any internal devices to allow for early warnings of an after-hours break-in.
It should go without saying that door hardware should be commercial grade and robust. Make sure that door hardware makes it more difficult to breach. This will often divert or displace would-be offenders to easier targets.
Lighting is another piece of the puzzle that requires consideration of context. In most cases, retail stores are on busy roadways so good lighting can be a great deterrent and improve natural surveillance while capitalizing on the “eyes on the street”. In the rear areas, there is value in considering whether keeping it dark would make someone with a flashlight be more obvious to potential observers that may call the authorities when spotted.
Let’s close with a discussion around security systems as this is often another moment of “sticker shock” for a retail operator when they are designing their store. As someone who reviews hundred of system designs, I can tell you that more is not always better and less is definitely not the safest way to go.
I have said it earlier and it is a critical point—context matters.
Based on the site risk assessment, you will be able to determine where your investment should be directed. If you are at high risk of a robbery (spoiler alert—not every store is at high risk!) you will need to prioritize systems and environmental strategies to protect your staff. If you are at higher risk of an after-hours break-in, there will need to be an adjustment to priorities to address that threat.
At the very least you will want to have good perimeter reporting systems, monitored by a reputable company with response protocols clearly in place.
Make sure you are utilizing a commercial-grade, professionally designed alarm/access control system—I cannot stress this enough. The cost of failure or incorrect configuration of a cheap or homemade system can be hundreds of thousands of dollars or worse. Do it right and you will be able to sleep well at night and your insurance company will be happier!
There is no one way to protect a retail store. Be smart, use the advice of experts, and spend your money wisely. Security is a critical piece of your business plan and ongoing success in cannabis retail, or any retail industry.
Barry Davidson is one of 21 globally certified crime prevention through environmental design practitioners. He has worked on more than 170 cannabis retail sites across Canada and has been working in the security advisory realm on high-risk locations for more than 25 years. He can be reached at his firm, Davidson Global Advisory Group by email at Barry@DavidsonGlobal.ca