One of the things that has disappointed me the most over the years is the amount of theft that you need to deal with as a business owner. Even more disheartening is the fact that most of the theft I have had to deal with has been employee theft; either acting alone, or in collusion with a customer or supplier.

Most people who haven't owned or managed a business think of theft as break-ins or shoplifting. My experience is that those types of thefts are the least of your worries. That type of theft normally doesn't add up to a lot of money. Employee theft or collusion can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions.

That doesn't mean that you don't need to guard against break-ins and shoplifting, you do. My experience has taught me that's the easiest type of theft to prevent. Here are a few tips to help stop shoplifting and break-ins:

  • Exterior lighting. Nothing deters break-ins like a lot of lights. Most criminals avoid businesses that are well lit. Don't skimp on exterior lighting, especially around doors and windows. If a criminal sees that his attempted break-in will be visible to police officers on patrol or neighbors, they will normally move on to an easier target.
  • Security cameras. I think security cameras are more effective as a crime deterrent than they are for identifying criminals. Again, most criminals case a business before they break-in and if they see a lot of security cameras they tend to move on. Our business has both exterior and interior security cameras and not all of them are real. You should supplement real cameras with a lot of fake cameras that you can buy at a lot of warehouse stores. The good ones even have blinking red lights so they look real. We have not only used our cameras to find out who stole materials from one of our locations but once we even used a recording to prove to a city where we are located that a city garbage truck backed through one of our fences and the driver got out of the truck, looked around, and took off. When we first asked the city to pay for a new fence they said that we couldn't prove that one of their drivers damaged our fence. A city supervisor came to our store, viewed the recording, and blew his top. We got a new fence for free.
  • Security locks. It's amazing to me when I visit businesses and see locks that I can open with a credit card. Invest in the best quality security locks you can afford. Don't make it tempting and easy for a criminal to break into your business.
  • Monitored alarm systems. All of our locations have monitored alarm systems for both break-ins and fire. Most security companies will install an alarm system for free if you'll sign a multiyear monitoring contract. Most contracts are extremely affordable. Tip: have the alarm company put signs all around the exterior of your building and on your windows saying that you have a monitored alarm system. Again, most times criminals will see these signs and look for an easier target.
  • Warning signs. We have warning signs inside and outside all of our locations in both Spanish and English that let potential criminals know that we prosecute shoplifters to the fullest extent of the law. (You don't want to have too many of these signs as it isn't conducive to a pleasant shopping environment but you need at least a few signs so that thieves get scared off and move on to another business.)
  • Fences. Depending on the type of business you are in you may or may not want a fence around your business. We are in the building supply business and a lot of our products are stored outside so we have fences around all of our locations. If you are in a particularly bad part of town you may also want to put concertina wire or barbed wire on the top of the fence.
  • Dogs. If your business is fenced in, and is in a bad part of town, and you may also want to have a couple of security dogs if local laws allow this. Research has proven that one of the biggest fears of criminals is an attack dog. Again, if criminals are casing your business for a possible theft and see that there are two mean looking dogs roaming around your property at night I bet they move on.
  • Gate guards. For certain types of businesses such as lumberyards, plumbing wholesalers, electrical wholesalers, and similar businesses where there are a lot of customer pickups as well as deliveries on your own trucks, a gate guard can be a wise investment. Gate guards are an especially effective deterrent against truck drivers who are in collusion with a customer and load extra materials on the truck or hide things such as power tools under or behind truck seats. Being a gate guard is usually a great job for an elderly employee who doesn't want to have all of the stress and pressure of working behind the sales counter anymore. Experienced employees like these know what all of your products look like so they even stop a lot of legitimate mistakes from happening.
  • GPS systems in your trucks. If you have delivery trucks there are a lot of inexpensive GPS systems available that give you many benefits. Not only can you see the average speed for each truck but you can see if a driver is deviating from his appointed route to drop materials off to a customer with whom he is in collusion. You also can find your truck if it is stolen or if the driver decides to stop for a few beers instead of making a crucial delivery a customer is counting on.
  • Don't leave keys or gas cards in trucks at night. I learned both of these lessons the hard way. One of our drivers left the keys in one of our big trucks at the end of the day. During the night someone hopped our fence, used the truck mounted forklift to load the truck with materials, and barreled through our front gate. We got the truck back but had to pay for repairs to both the truck and the gate. After that we required that keys be locked in the branch each night but not gas cards. On another recent night someone jumped the fence again, broke into one of our locked trucks, stole the gas card from the glove box and bought gas for everyone he knew. We now lock the gas cards with the keys at night inside the branch.

What other things do you due to protect your physical premises? Comment below so other readers can benefit from your experience. Jim Sobeck is president of New South Construction Supply, West Columbia, S.C. This article originally was posted on Sobeck's Biz 101 blog. Copyright 2011 by Jim Sobeck. All rights reserved. This information may be reproduced as long as full credit is given to the author.