The number one thing thieves look for when targeting a carwash, according to Thomas McLain of A-OK Equipment and Supply Co., Inc., is its location. They’re looking to see if “it is out of a busy area, or whether it doesn’t have an attendant working, as well as how well lit it is at night,” said McLain.
McLain knows about safety and security because he not only owns a six-bay self-serve carwash, but he has also worked at A-OK, which manufactures self-serve and in-bay automatic carwash equipment, since he was a teenager. McLain is now the vice president of Minneapolis-based A-OK, which was founded by his father Douglas in 1979.
Keep money offsite
When talking safety, McLain said it’s important to know your surroundings, know your employees and to not, under any circumstances, keep money on the premises.
“Money should never, ever be kept onsite,” McLain emphasized. “A good operator will tell you that he or she will remove the cash every day. If you do not remove the cash on a daily basis you are asking for trouble either from an employee or from an outside thief.”
He also said that it is important to change up your daily routine, because a good thief will usually stake out a place as well as the owner/operator to learn their schedule and become familiar with their operations.
“The owner should not keep the same routine for their daily removal of the days’ receipts,” he said. “A good thief will watch the carwash and figure out the routine of the owner/operator, making him or her vulnerable to theft when they are taking the cash from the ACW or the coin/bay meter box.”
Also, a carwash that is open 24 hours a day should have a good camera system that is able to read license plates, McLain explained, and the cameras should be hidden or out of reach to the public so they can’t be disabled or stolen.
Be sure to really know your employees
It’s unfortunate, but owners and operators need to be aware of and yes, even skeptical, of their employees, no matter how nice they are or how hard they work.
“The first problem in security is in the owner’s labor force,” said McLain. “Most owners had good intentions when they hired an attendant or manager, however with all the cash that is at hand, the urge to pocket a few quarters here or there becomes overwhelming and the employee may think that the carwash owner will not miss a few dollars.”
McLain said it can go on for a long time, where an employee will take a little at a time and go unnoticed. “Most times the owner will not notice the pinching until it has gone on for some time,” McLain explained.
To avoid being taken advantage of, owners need to be more hands-on with their carwash to get a feel for what the daily take should be and see if it fluctuates from that point, McLain suggested. “Owners need to really take good inventory of their cash intake,” to prevent employees from having the opportunity to steal.
Money drawers and floor safes
Money should always be kept in a money drawer or floor safe, even it is not a large amount, and cash register drawers should have only a little amount so that change can be made — but that’s all. They should not be used for storing money, McLain cautioned, and only the owner and/or operator should have the keys and the codes.
“The owner should always keep track of the keys that access the money and only the owner or operator should be allowed to hold said keys,” McLain said. “This is tough to do since most carwash owners have another job and have to rely on an attendant to make change or refund cash; in this case the owner should have a method that will tell them that the attendant was in the cash area of the carwash.”
A camera watching the cash is a good idea, too. To boost security at your site, have a camera installed where the cash is, “and also have a way that the key is checked in or out,” McLain suggested.
But what if a thief steals the safe?
It could happen, but it’s unlikely that a thief could take off with an entire floor safe, according to McLain.
“Carwashes normally have a floor-based safe. These are mudded in the wall with cement and secured with some type of security device in the wall so they can’t be torn out, however it does not stop a thief from trying,” McLain said. With enough power and know-how it could be done, but it would take a lot of effort, and with security cameras in place, chances are they will either be deterred or caught.
To be safe you should make sure you clear out the cash on a daily basis, McLain said, and if in the chance a thief does get in the safe, the day’s money may be gone, but that’s it. And the thief, hopefully, will not be back.