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Business Operations

Lock up your carwash

October 11, 2010
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When you’re fighting for every dollar you can earn, you don’t want to see a single penny unfairly lost to theft, fraud or vandalism. It only makes sense that as the recession continues to beat down on our carwash and detail businesses, operators will become more aware of the importance of risk management and implement new methods for crime and fraud prevention.

Professional Carwashing & Detailing gathered a group of security and insurance experts to help determine the easiest and most effective methods for protecting your carwash business. Follow their advice to safeguard your carwash business, as well as protect employees and customers with new technology and advancements in locks, cameras, alarms and insurance plans.

Be proactive
The first step in your plan is recognizing the importance of prevention. Your preparation starts with a proactive approach to stopping crime and fraud before it can happen at your carwash.

For starters, David Price, president of R. A. Lock Company, Inc., said many carwash operations could benefit from the addition of a secondary locking system.

“It's a pretty well-known fact that most thieves don't like to work hard,” Price said. Instead, these lazy crooks look for easy targets when committing their crimes.

Price said there are now several electronic locking options available, but these can become very costly to incorporate into securing your carwash. A more affordable option is the secondary locking system, which is as simple as adding a padlock to cover up another lock, “causing any would-be thief to have to defeat two locks instead of just one,” Price explained.

Make sure somebody is watching
David Ly is the president and CEO of Iveda Solutions, a wholly owned subsidiary of Iveda Corporation, a publicly traded company. The company, based in Mesa, AZ, specializes in IP (Internet Protocol) video hosting and real-time remote surveillance services utilizing the power of cloud computing.

Ly told PC&D that it is unrealistic to expect every carwash business to be able to hire a full-time employee during business hours, and using a security guard during non-business hours is cost-prohibitive. Instead, implementing a good video surveillance system is the next best thing.

“With the advent of new camera technology, these systems can be accessed via the Internet. As an owner or manager of the facility, remote live access to these cameras 24/7 is critical,” Ly explained. “Hosted video is even more ideal for owners of multiple carwashes. Centralized management of cameras from various locations where the cameras can be displayed and controlled under one login and one dashboard are key.”

Not only does hosted video provide security, it also saves the owner a trip to the business location for random checks, Ly explained, and a hosted network of cameras can be better accessed and managed by owners/managers at any random time for more awareness of what goes on at their properties at any given time.

If surveying your property still requires too much time from you, as the operator, then live surveillance can be outsourced to companies like Iveda Solutions. These services are not necessarily cost-effective to have performed 24/7, but can normally be used during critical hours when the owner deems necessary.

Avoid common mistakes
According to Allen Spears, a carwash owner and chief engineer at (a division of Rugged CCTV), there are a few common pitfalls that most operators fall victim to when installing a security system. The most likely are:

  • Not enough cameras to adequately cover areas;
  • Cameras that are mounted too high when covering doors or cash points;
  • Installing a camera where lights are glaring into the picture;
  • Buying a DVR that will only record at low resolutions (ex: 320 x 240);
  • Buying bargain-priced equipment that is hard to understand and is prone to malfunctions with no factory support structure in place.

Simply check your existing security system or plans for surveillance equipment against this list to ensure you’re preventing crime, not aiding it.

Protect your employees
These ‘virtual guards’ can also be on the lookout for the safety and well-being of your staff. Whether you out-source or perform the checks yourself, real-time surveillance offers the opportunity for the security observer to call police for immediate dispatch the moment the cameras turn up suspicious activity, Ly said.

Ly cautioned operators who choose to out-source this service to make sure they choose a company which truly offers live surveillance. Many security companies will wait for an alarm to be triggered, then log onto the cameras. Instead, find a provider who will use real-time surveillance “by humans with common sense,” Ly suggested.

Advancements in technology
Perhaps the most important benefit of advancements in security technology has been the cost. According to Ly, Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) systems used to be very expensive to deploy with expensive coaxle cables and one monitor for each camera. “Today, with wireless technologies and the Internet, they have become cheaper and more useful,” Ly explained.

Spears also pointed out some advancements which are making life easier for carwash operators; among them:

  • High-definition cameras and displays;
  • IP Megapixel cameras; and
  • Smarter, more feature-rich software controlling the DVRs.

Simple advice from your insurance agent
One of the best sources of information when it comes to security and crime prevention is your carwash insurance agent. These men and women are trained to spot trouble areas and aid you in risk management that can help manage your insurance premiums and reduce claims for your business.

For example, Mike Benmosche, carwash program manager for Mang Insurance Agency, suggested operators invest in a sensor for their automated teller. This sensor should use both a local alarm and a central station alarm to alert local authorities to a potential theft or vandalism.

“What often happens in these situations is that the damage to the equipment is much more than the loss of any dollars or cents within the pay station,” Benmosche explained. “The loss of the money can typically be contained below $3,000, but the damage is probably over $10,000.”

With more sophisticated automated teller technology, the cost grows even higher. “I know one of our operators is out $25,000 for an automated teller and it doesn't take much before they're damaged beyond repair.”

Benmosche stressed that any sensor connected to the automated teller should use both a local alarm, to scare away the crooks, as well as a central station alarm to make sure the police department is dispatched.

“Professional thieves aren’t really the ones targeting carwashes,” Benmosche said. “It’s usually someone very desperate who thinks they can get their hands on some quick cash. A loud-sounding alarm is probably the last thing they want to hear.”

Scott Brothers, president and CEO of The Insurancenter, agreed, adding that a well-lit carwash will also scare off thieves who don’t want to attract attention to themselves. “They’re more likely to abandon your wash and hit up the guy down the street if they are scared off by an alarm or can see there isn’t much room to hide at the wash,” Brothers explained. “Usually they’re younger … and desperate.”

Make nice with the local police
In addition to setting up a sensor on your auto-teller, Benmosche also suggested that operators should cozy up with the local authorities. “Ask your department for a few extra drive-bys,” he suggested, and make sure that you maintain a good relationship with the local community.

  • Leave your cash drawers empty, open and visible;
  • Use a light inside to make sure the interior of your offices and lobby can be seen from the outside at night;
  • Secure the entry doors to your equipment room and office with dead-bolt locks, padlocks and high-quality bars;
  • Use as much signage as possible to indicate your acceptance of tokens, loyalty cards and credit/debit;
  • If possible, install your automated tellers and change machines in such a way that thieves can’t get crow-bars or chains around it;
  • Make daily deposits, especially on the weekends;
  • Take a different route for every deposit; and
  • Don’t use the same employee to make deposits, it encourages temptation and also familiarity.

Check your limits
According to Benmosche, many operators make the mistake of thinking they are adequately protected, but when the time comes to submit a claim, they may find there are severe limits on their coverage when it comes to theft and vandalism.

“A lot of times I go through the coverage with the operator, and I ask him if he has crime coverage,” Benmosche stated. “He might think he’s got it down, but when the time comes that he needs it he might find he’s capped at $2,000.”

Call your insurance representative today to discuss your limits and premiums on claims related to crime. Make sure to let him know if you are taking preventive measures, such as using a security system or locking system, which can help manage your premiums or at least make you a more appealing candidate.