The forecourt can be a tempting place for all the wrong reasons: valuable fuel; a big supply on-shelf of fast-moving easy-to-pinch goods, like cigarettes; a till full of money; an ATM with even more money
And so you face drive-offs, people with no means to pay, bulk fuel theft, hold-ups, break-ins, shoplifters, even staff helping themselves.
Clearly, you need a defence plan. A good place to start is with Payment Watch, the recovery scheme launched by BOSS (the British Oil Security Syndicate) to tackle those people with such bad memories that they forget to bring their wallet to pay for the fuel.
The No Means of Payment scheme celebrated £1m in recoveries earlier this year since its launch in 2011.
But, as BOSS executive director Kevin Eastwood pointed out recently: "This amazing amount of monies recovered doesn’t take account of the deterrent effect of the scheme. This means the majority of people either find a way to pay or settle up within seven days."
Other recent successes include the Crown Prosecution Service issuing new guidance to police forces to prosecute serial offenders (after much lobbying).
As Eastwood drily observes, some customers not only have come out wearing the wrong trousers, but they also can’t remember exactly where they live.
Therefore he also strongly recommends, that when a customer says he’ll come back to pay, to check via www.royalmail.com/find-a-postcode to validate a customer’s address electronically. Or log onto webuyanycar.com to check the registration, make, model or colour on their smartphone, ipad, tablet or computer.
Payment Watch, which currently has circa 1,700 members, costs £180 per site. You have to ask yourself how much did you lose last year via customers not having the means to pay about their person and then not coming back?
Lights, camera, action
If you can afford the latest in equipment there is much you can do to deter and to prevent crime. And it has got ever so sophisticated lately.
Since 2011 Washtec has partnered with leading forecourt security provider BigBrother to bring its PumpWatch forecourt security, control and business intelligence system to the UK market.
"While traditional CCTV equipment is a familiar sight in fuel stations across the UK, there is scant evidence they offer much practical value to site management," says Richard Sweet, security system product manager at WashTec.
"When an event has occurred, the task of searching for the relevant footage and accumulating evidence that can be referred to the police can be prohibitive."
Whereas most CCTV systems record images, PumpWatch records events. This means that it takes an intelligent approach by using traditional CCTV equipment and, importantly, adds layers of intelligence by connecting automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology to pumps, epos and car washing equipment on site to deliver ’event-based’ security.
This gives site management peace of mind that a record of all vehicles fuelling at the site is stored within the system linking all of the images associated with the customer/vehicle visit. This means that details of the vehicle, the person at the pump and the person at the cash desk, a record of the vehicle licence plate, pump number, fuel type, amount of fuel purchased, other items purchased in store, car wash or jet wash purchases are all stored by PumpWatch.
The system also features a ’drive-off’ and ’no means of payment’ management tool which alerts staff when a vehicle which has previously driven off from the site without payment visits the site again.
"The system generates a record of the event which can be presented to the customer, which includes images of the drive-off and is often enough to settle the outstanding money owed there and then," says Sweet.
Nick Fraser from Top 50 Indie Fraser Retail, recently installed a system at his busy site in Reading. "Within days of its installation, PumpWatch had allowed us to recover money owed to us from vehicles that had previously driven off without paying," he observes.
Twice as useful
Event-based security monitoring offers opportunities to better understand how customers use the services of a forecourt site. The PumpWatch Business Intelligence software turns what is essentially a security product into a sales and marketing tool by providing an analysis of how customers use the site’s services and provides pointers towards how to encourage them to increase their purchases. The software segments customers as either new, known or loyal, providing a breakdown of litres of fuel sold, car washing purchases, and other important metrics across the categories.
Installing an event-based monitoring system should not involve a complete re-installation of all CCTV components. Sweet says: "We understand the need to keep investments to a minimum and the hybrid nature of the system means that PumpWatch can work with both new and existing cameras.
This allows us to place the right cameras at the critical points which traditionally attract shoplifters... for example, high definition cameras for the alcohol or ready meals displays."
Keeping an eye on things
Then there is the Tokheim Eye forecourt security and retail analytics system, which brings pumps, payment and imagery equipment together, which has been enhanced with the introduction of an IP Connectivity module.
This enables service station owners/managers to exploit a variety of fresh operational opportunities, according to Tokheim’s sales director Adrian Beeby, who explains that the IP connectivity software allows forecourt managers the flexibility to move CCTV cameras quickly, easily and inexpensively around the site to suit changing requirements.
"This module turns cameras into plug-and-play equipment, meaning you can redeploy them if the site configuration changes, security threats change, or you’re reacting to seasonal factors.
"For example, you could combine security and safety by monitoring LPG gas bottles being sold as part of barbecue sets during the summer months and then switch the surveillance locations to cover other items in different parts of the shop and exterior site locations at alternative times of the year."
By using power over ethernet (PoE) cabling, IP-enabled cameras can be positioned and connected over long cable lengths, without the need for an electrician. Uninterruptible power supply battery back-up for PoE systems also ensures there is no interruption in the operation of the cameras, forecourt shop tills or back-office software in the event of a mains power outage.
"The IP Connectivity module additionally offers forecourts a way to enhance their use of interfacing equipment, such as Tokheim Eye’s Drive-Off Detection system, by optimising the positioning of HD surveillance cameras," Beeby adds. "PoE cabling means cameras can be linked to audio interfaces, too, providing communication with customers at unmanned sites, for instance."
On watch by night
In January, Forecourt Trader reported briefly on fuel thieves caught in the act attempting to steal diesel from Carleton Filling Station in Carlisle, owned by Top 50 Indie Hills of Corby. The site is equipped with a Fairbanks fuel management system which alerted the director of the company about the dropping fuel levels and the police attended, thwarting the theft.
So, if you happen to use Fairbanks’ wet-stock data management system (ibank) which spots leaks and manages stock control, there is a nifty upgrade for just a fiver a month. This extra layer of security watches your pumps at night and alerts you to any unusual activity via mobile, email or text. In other words, it prevents major bulk fuel theft.
"We are seeing around one incident per month," says Gareth Jenkins, business account manager at Fairbanks.
There are interesting pieces of information connected to this type of theft. "Once a site has been targeted, it is likely to be targeted again," says Jenkins, "and the diesel is sold off very quickly and often locally. Often the buyers don’t know where it comes from it’s just a bit cheaper."
So it never goes far, and it’s always diesel because petrol is too volatile.
Of course, you can claim for the lossbut it then puts your premium up.
The bright side of going dark
All shops will have to change the way they sell tobacco by next April when displays go ’dark’. But look on the bright side, says Ian Hughes, affinity development manager for specialist insurance brokers Bluefin which, as a group, is the largest insurer of independent forecourts. "We’re trying to convince retailers to think beyond cigarette sales it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to upgrade their security," he says. His reasoning goes far beyond the piddling shoplifting that could go on while you have your back turned to the customer while you rummage around in a half-shuttered gantry.
"In terms of retail, the major theft you get is tobacco. If you are ram raided, which will typically do £12,000-worth of damage to the building, they can be in and out in seconds, scooping £1,500-worth of cigarettes into a bin bag which is light enough to run away with."
So you should think about the various ways you ’cover up’. Hughes suggests that, if you can afford a single dispense unit, only one pack at a time can be accessed and that goes for the crooks too, who will be there all night trying to pinch the goods. So overnight security is vastly improved.
Bluefin is currently in negotiations with insurers to reduce premiums for those who take such measures.
The hands-on approach
Brother and sister team Craig Cunningham and Abbie Houston have run Abbiecraig Services in Cupar, Fife, for the past couple of years. They are living proof that you don’t have to go too high tech to keep secure (although they can log onto the store via their mobiles at any time so they keep watch).
It’s a 24-hour site and Abbie says that is largely for the sake of security rather than demand for fuel. "Security is managed through the staff. We care about them and so they care about us. They keep an eye on things. They know if we lose money they may lose their jobs."
The most common problem is shoplifting and there have been occasions of staff stealing, but the epos system is quick at revealing ’shrinkage’ and other staff members have been quick to point fingers so it has been dealt with rapidly.
The site has 12 cameras, six outside and six inside, plus floodlighting and a silent emergency button. Both the police and the garden centre behind the forecourt rely on the site’s CCTV footage; the former because the filling station is on a main road and the latter because it gets robbed a lot.
Although so far they haven’t joined any scheme, Craig says: "We have BP and Mace meetings where I learned about BOSS Forecourt Watch."
They are considering joining the scheme because, like everyone else, they do suffer from drive-offs.