Minding the store – from anywhere

When Brian Smith informs business owners that nearly 50 percent of their inventory shrinkage can be attributed to internal theft, they listen.

Quoting findings from national studies, Smith – a self-proclaimed technogeek who developed a passion for digital surveillance while working for a friend’s company — offers frightening statistics with authority. According to him, 82 percent of inventory shrinkage in convenience stores is due to employee theft.

“It just boggled my mind when I first heard these numbers,” he said.

According to a National Retail Security Survey of 118 of the largest U.S. retail chains, conducted by experts at the University of Florida, retailers lose over $31 billion annually to inventory shrinkage. Employee theft accounts for 48.5 percent of this, or $15.1 billion. Shoplifting is attributable to an additional 32 percent, or $9.7 billion.

Now owner of Digital Surveillance Consultants, it’s Smith’s business to be aware of security concerns plaguing area business owners. It’s also his business to know how best to address those concerns.

“I just became very passionate about this and knew I could make this company work,” he said.

Smith’s understanding of surveillance needs, coupled with the ease of use, increased storage ability and surprising affordability of today’s digital surveillance equipment has attributed to the steady growth of the Windham-based company.

What began with an aggressive direct mail campaign two years ago has grown into a $1.5 million business with a staff of eight.

“I knew right away that this company would evolve into something special,” said Smith. “There’s a temptation to make this grow as quickly as possible, but I think I want to let it grow in a controlled manner.”

Other concerns

So far Smith’s instincts have been right on. From the beginning, DSC has been designing, installing and servicing digital surveillance equipment customized to meet the needs and concerns of his customers.

“We consult with business owners and find out what their areas of concerns are,” said Smith. “We ask a lot of questions. Where do you keep the cash? What entry do vendors use? Where are your highest shrinkage areas? Then we design a system.”

While it may be tempting to attribute DSC’s success to the rise in security awareness stemming from the September 11th attacks, Smith disagrees.

“This technology wasn’t readily available before 9/11,” Smith said. “Even now the increase in digital surveillance related to homeland security has really been limited to places like water treatment facilities, power plants or state border crossings.”

While Smith’s portfolio does include places like power plants and light industrial facilities, the majority – more than 75 percent – of his work is at retail operations. Business in four different states, ranging from car dealers to owners of mom-and-pop stores have enlisted his help.

“Anybody that has anything that can be pilfered or stolen are good candidates,” said Smith, who has been called in to assist local police departments and the FBI in investigating robberies and counterfeit operations.

While security may be foremost in the minds of potential DSC customers like Arthur Sordillo, owner of four gas station/convenience stores in Massachusetts, it isn’t the only issue addressed by today’s digital surveillance equipment. Uses are varied and include everything from instruction to motivation, according to Smith.

While Sordillo has had to deal with internal theft in the past, and has had one store robbed six times, he said he has come to appreciate the diversity of his DSC systems.

“Now I can check to see what’s happening at all my stores from any computer anywhere,” said Sordillo. “If you see an employee doing something great – giving directions or helping a customer locate something – you can call them and say, ‘Hey, you did a great job with that.’”

Although it’s easy to assume that employees may be bothered by being on camera, Sordillo said he has never had a complaint. He believes the existence of the surveillance equipment actually makes his employees feel safer.

Sordillo’s new systems also have been instrumental in identifying cars that have driven off without paying for gas – something he says is “usually accidental,” – and have assisted in criminal investigations with some footage actually appearing on an episode of the “America’s Most Wanted” TV program.

Protection against insurance fraud is another advantage of a digital system, according to Smith who illustrated his point with the story of a woman who tried to sue a business owner after claiming an oil spill had caused her to fall.

“We were able to go back on our recording and saw that the woman had come into the store earlier and punched a hole in an oil container causing the leak she later returned to and slipped on.”

Prices of a digital system are often below that of an old system, according to Smith, leaving little wonder why there is growing interest among retail business owners.

“Five to eight years ago a digital system would have been prohibitively expensive,” said Smith.

Today, however, a new system can run anywhere from $6,000 to $24,000, depending on a company’s needs. Installation can be completed in as quickly as a day and a half, said Smith.

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