TAMPA, Fla. — Protecting your coin laundry usually means balancing a combination of concerns — deciding on security-friendly design features, considering what type of security equipment/systems are necessary, etc.
Jim Rogers is in a unique position to address these concerns. He has been a commercial laundry equipment distributor for 18 years and has also been in the security business for 33 years. He owns a security company that deals with commercial security applications.
Rogers is “alarmed” at what he sees when he walks into a typical coin laundry. “The first thing I see is a lack of security. It starts with the store’s design. When older stores were designed, little thought was given to security; there are dead areas attendants can’t see and bill-changer machines mounted on outside walls.
“When we build a new store, we spend a lot of time thinking about security — visibility, changers on inside walls, etc. With antiquated designs on some older stores, you really can’t do much.”
Rogers also believes that security may not be stressed at some older stores because the ownership has changed several times and the newest owner may not have had problems and doesn’t realize the importance of security.
THE UNATTENDED WORLD
There are three things to focus on when it comes to “securing” an unattended laundry:
• physical considerations: high-security locks, various locks and bars, solid-steel doors and anti-stringing validators in the changers
• electronic security: burglar alarms and camera surveillance, and
• behavioral things: how to be aware of your surroundings when making collections, realizing if anyone is watching you and being sure your pickup times are varied.
Can signage be a part of the security equation? “Signage has value, especially when it comes to litigation. If you have warning signs in the laundry, and a bad event happens, the signage would help in the litigation. Signage can prevent an event from happening.
“Signage is also important because it can let people know that you have electronic security. It’s a warning to thieves and it provides a comfort level to customers. Safety is important to your customers. They feel better if they are being recorded. It’s only the bad guys that don’t like to be recorded.”
If you put in a security device in your laundry, make it obvious, Rogers advises. For example, use signage to inform people that cameras are present.
With security cameras or devices you need to anticipate the possibility of people tampering with or destroying them. “It’s quite common for burglar alarms to be tied to a central station by telephone lines. A burglar may cut the telephone line and attack the store. Have a back-up method where an alarm can contact a central station by cellular telephone.
“The same thing goes for cameras. An owner needs to stay up to date on technology. They now have cameras that memorize the scene they are looking at. A typical way to get by a camera is for a burglar to sneak underneath the camera and point it to another scene. The technology now is that a camera can memorize the scene, such as a change machine, and if that scene is changed because a burglar points that camera in a different direction or covers it with a piece of cardboard, that actually signals the owner that there is a problem and a security breach in the store. That’s pretty advanced technology, and it’s changing all the time. Check with your security company every couple of years to see if anything is advantageous to your store.”
Rogers says a pretty comprehensive alarm system, installed, will run you about $1,500. If you prefer a surveillance system, Rogers recommends a color system with digital recording and at least four to five cameras to cover, on average, a 2,500-square-foot store. “This would run you between $5,000 and $8,000, depending on the number of cameras and storage.”
While it’s easier to address security issues while a laundry is being built, older stores can be improved.
“Once the store has been built, the first thing to do is pay attention to the physical aspects — change locks, replace hollow, wooden doors leading to an office area with a solid metal door, put high-security locks and anti-string validators on the changers and maybe even use a pull-down gate, one that you can see through, in front of the glass. After that you can think about surveillance. Surveillance can also help you to avoid the fake slip-and-fall events because the cameras can be focused on the aisle ways. In unattended stores, surveillance is still the No. 1 weapon to avoid problems of security and litigation.”
As for overrated security ideas, Rogers is against using false or fake cameras or even signage indicating that there are burglar alarms where none exist. “People casing the store will pick up on this.”
Rogers endorses personal pendants — devices that an attendant/owner can carry when they enter the store. The pendant is a push-button, battery-operated device worn on a belt or carried in a purse that signals an alarm system when activated. A silent call to a station and the police follows.
While some may not consider smoke detectors security items, Rogers believes you should have them in front of or behind the dryers.
Don’t discount common-sense tactics such as building a relationship with the local police. Distributing wash coupons to the police can lead to extra laundry visits.
“I’ve seen customers offer police free service or a reduced rate for their uniforms, especially if they have drop-off drycleaning.”
Some of the security tips for unattended stores apply to attended stores, but there is one major difference — attendant safety.
“In my opinion, with the attended store, the No. 1 things should be using the ‘holdup’ pendant. Robbery becomes the factor in attended stores. In addition to the pendant, the surveillance system can focus on the faces of the people walking in the front door and to the service counter.
“The nature of the crime [gives it] a different name. In an unattended store, it’s vandalism and tampering. In an attended store, it’s called robbery.”
Some operators may have a tendency to forgo certain security practices because the store is attended. An attendant, Rogers believes, can help reduce incidents of tampering and vandalism. “But don’t forget that you have to take care of this person. Having security systems can do this and also give customers a feeling of safety when they are in your laundry.”
Some attended laundries offer extra services (and thus have different equipment) and more cash on hand. Securing the services/equipment, Rogers says, is simply a matter of slightly modifying the system you have. “The security concepts are basically the same with extra services.”
If you are a security-conscious owner, you probably try to keep up with the latest security technology. That’s quite a challenge, Rogers notes.
“Technology changes so fast that it’s hard to keep up with. Five years ago, there was scene-change detection and advance-motion detection. Digital recording over video-tape recording was a huge improvement. Validators are always improving.
THE FUTURE IS HERE
If you are waiting for the next wave of technological innovation before you act, you may be missing the boat.
“The security coverage is here right now, although the expense may bother some. With new store construction this is not a problem. People want it and will finance it in the package. In older stores, there can be a reluctance to reach into your pocket and pay for it.”
Eight to 10 years down the line, Rogers sees larger and more modern laundries. He also believes that security will be of the utmost importance to these operators.
“These stores will be more open and visible. Attendants will be located at the front of the store.” Having open stores will raise other issues.
“Operators will be balancing equipment needs and open space. Your classic distributor mistake is to overcrowd the store with equipment. That’s self-serving. The classic owner mistake is to try and get revenue from every square inch of the store.
“A good case in point are folding tables. They don’t bring in revenue yet they bring in customers, so they really bring in revenue. You always need comfort areas built into a store. With larger areas, though, you may need another surveillance camera.”
In the end, Rogers believes security concepts won’t really change because human nature isn’t changing. “Human nature will always be here and security really guards against the dark side of human nature.”