Allen Hathaway had had enough. After a slew of break-ins at his Palm Desert, Calif., lumberyard, the Hathaway & Sons owner opted to fortify his security system. “I spent about $3,000 on razor wire and another $27,000 on cameras for the yard and warehouse,” he explains. “The razor wire was used to stop the scaling of a block wall and a chain-link fence. I also stacked pallets of stone in front of the fences to keep thieves from cutting through.” The cameras are trained on the yard and the sales counter. “I can watch from my laptop, and I make sure all the employees know that.”
Hathaway isn't an isolated victim of a random crime. Theft of building materials and equipment in the Gulf Coast alone rose 22 percent in the last 12 months, according to the National Equipment Register. Huge demand—fueled by massive rebuilding along the Gulf Coast, historically high development in certain regions, and the rising cost of construction materials—has created an environment that encourages stealing, notes Earl Gunnerson, executive director of the Construction Industry Crime Prevention Program of Southern California, a resource that helps contractors and dealers solve construction-related crimes.
But lumber and building materials dealers don't have to settle for losses. Combining a number of high- and low-tech tools and strategies can help deter criminals—both inside and outside your company—and increase the odds of catching thieves and recovering inventory.
The first step, Gunnerson says, is a security survey. “If you can pick out the vulnerable spots where someone could get to your inventory or equipment, you know darn well the crooks can do it.” Then take steps to strengthen those weak spots.
Organized Crime American retailers lose $31 billion annually from the theft of merchandise, according to the National Retail Security Survey. Most of the crimes are perpetrated by organized groups, some including employees who target certain materials and equipment or geographic regions.
That's why the first line of defense is talking to law enforcement officials and other merchants in your industry and area. In many communities, the police sponsor a network of retailers and other interested parties that meets regularly to discuss theft.
“Networking is huge,” says Keith Weiner, director of loss prevention, safety, and operations for Dill's Best in Brewster, N.Y., a six-location dealer serving New York's Duchess and Putnam Counties. “Dealers tend to get the same customer and employee base. These meetings facilitate a good exchange of information on theft or losses, or people who took advantage of you. After all, if they're coming to you, they're also going to your neighbor.”
Sharing information is important to single-unit J-Kay Independent Lumber in New Hartford, N.Y. “We're involved in a loss prevention coalition that works with other companies like grocery chains and clothing stores,” explains store manager Karen Gerace. “We talk about problems and possible solutions.” They also share data on suspect employees. “It helps us know who and what to look for.”
If there's no coalition in your area, visit the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention's Web site at www.shopliftingprevention.org for resources or start one of your own with other building material dealers in your community.
A Load Off Your Mind Another simple but very effective way to circumvent theft is load-checking, the process of reviewing items in a customer's cart or truck against purchase orders and sales receipts. Usually, at least one employee is stationed near the exit to manually check each item in a load, making sure that only merchandise that was paid for is leaving the yard or store.