By Tony Gallo
In Colorado, thieves have used everything from bear spray to circular saws to rob cannabis stores in recent months.
In California, dispensaries have been the targets of several attempted robberies, including one in San Diego that ended in a shootout. And in Washington State, multiple shots were fired during an armed robbery at a medical marijuana dispensary last fall.
While incidents like these are still relatively rare, the threat of armed robberies is very real for dispensaries and retail cannabis stores – as it is for other cash-heavy businesses, too.
Cannabis dispensareis are attractive targets, as they often have thousands of dollars in cash on hand and sell a coveted product that can be resold at a premium in other areas of the country. While most dispensary robberies involve the theft of money, sometimes the thieves also take marijuana and related products.
As the industry continues to grow, so will the need for having well-defined robbery prevention and awareness programs. The good news is you don’t have to reinvent the wheel – you can apply strategies that have existed in the retail industry for years.
There are many proactive steps an owner can take to prevent armed robberies, such as locating in a safe area and installing security signage and cameras.
But of all the robbery prevention strategies available, the top technique is simply to provide good customer service.
As most experience retail leaders know, the quickest way to earn more money is by properly greeting your customers. What isn’t as well-known is that it’s also the single most effective step you can take to reduce serious problems in your store.
By using an effective greeting you make the undesirable person in your store aware that you can identify them. Remember, robbers do not want recognition, and by providing good customer service it forces people to think twice before they decide to commit any kind of crime.
When potential robbers choose their targets they look for easy ones that will allow them to get in and out quickly with very low risk of being caught.
To be effective, the customer greeting needs to be sincere, consistently delivered by all employees and rendered immediately upon the customer entering the store. The best way to ensure exceptional customer greetings and service is to have a company philosophy that places customer care at the core of your business practices, and to be certain employees understand it.
There are many effective ways to greet customers.
Employees should observe greetings at other business establishments that they respect and choose a greeting they feel comfortable delivering. Once you find a greeting you are comfortable with, you should practice it on friends and family until it becomes second nature.
Some sample greetings:
- “Good morning/afternoon/evening. May I help you?” (This forces the customer to verbally respond.)
- “Thank you for coming in today. I have a (shirt, blouse, slacks, etc.) just like what you are wearing. What may I show you today?” (This greeting lets the customer know you can identify them and forces them to verbally respond.)
Another strong deterrent to crime is good lighting in and out of your dispensary. You need to ensure that all indoor and outdoor lights are operational and used. You should check your lights at least once a day to ensure that they are working and that non-working bulbs are replaced as quickly as possible.
Lastly, you need to ensure that the inside and outside of your dispensary is cleaned and ready for business every day. A dispensary that present a poor appearance to customers faces an increased risk of robberies compared to a well-run dispensary.
During non-business hours people may have dropped trash in your parking lot, so make certain trash is picked up and properly disposed of each morning. A minute or two spent each day cleaning up the outside of your store will greatly reduce the potential for an undesirable person to enter.
A messy parking lot not only indicates you don’t care about your place of business, it also invites potential criminals.
The inside of your dispensary should also always be spotless. Floors should be swept and mopped daily to ensure they keep a just-cleaned appearance. Trash should be disposed of in appropriate receptacles and placed in the dumpster daily. When trash is removed from the store use the front door if possible and always take out the trash during daylight hours. The back and side doors of your store should only be used for emergencies.
These are just a few examples of what should be in your robbery prevention and awareness plan.
The key is to actually have such a plan in place and then share it with employees so they know what they can do to help reduce the chances of the store being robbed.
As a dispensary owner or operator, your customers’ and employees’ safety should always be your number one priority, followed closely by protecting the store’s assets.
Tony Gallo is the senior director of Sapphire Protection LLC and has more than 30 years of experience in loss prevention, audits, safety and risk/emergency management fields.