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4 Ways to Boost Crime Prevention at Your Service Business Almost a quarter of small business crime goes unreported. That's a big, big mistake.

By Cris Burnam Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Imagine that someone has broken into your home and rifled through your belongings, taking a few. No one is hurt, and no major damage has occurred. But you still feel upset at the thought of a stranger entering your home uninvited. You don't even think twice about reporting the theft -- it's the natural next step.

Related: 7 Easy Ways You Can Increase Safety On a Budget

Yet, according to new research from the Federation of Small Businesses, when similar crimes occur in the business world, they often go unreported. Of the small business owners surveyed, 24 percent said they had not reported crimes against their businesses. When asked why, nearly 40 percent of that group said they weren't confident that a prosecution would be successful, and 46 percent didn't think anything positive would come of it.

Clearly, those statistics highlight not only a lack of confidence in law enforcement, but also extreme apathy on business owners' part

And then there's this: Dismissing these crimes as occupational hazards may seem to you to be the easiest path to "get back to business." But the impact those crimes will have on your employees' morale, consumers' trust and your own peace of mind are going to be harder to replace than the items stolen.

How to respond to crimes

When crimes go unreported, crime statistics become skewed, meaning law enforcement can't accurately allocate its limited manpower. Worse, if no one speaks up, the person who committed the crime might become a repeat offender.

I'm a small business owner myself, in the self-storage industry. While such facilities are burglarized less than other types of real estate, they are not immune to crime. In my 20 years in the industry, we've had only one armed robbery.

But once was enough to motivate me to do everything I could to ensure this experience wouldn't happen again. Fortunately, we've managed to pinpoint several areas of improvement for our anti-theft procedures. Here are four tips we can suggest for a safer, more secure business:

1. Start with your staff.

Your employees deserve a safe, quality working environment. Perceived safety and employee-engagement levels go hand in hand; when employees are engaged, businesses have been shown to be 22 percent more productive.

Install panic buttons so employees always have an easy way to get help, which will do wonders for their peace of mind. Large cash transactions should be conducted by money order. Keep accurate records of everyone who visits your site. Just as hotels do, we copy each customer's driver's license for security purposes because it's important to know whom you are doing business with, should a problem arise.

Related: 5 HR Strategies To Promote Employee Health And Safety

2. Keep your storefront spotless.

Maintaining a run-down facility sends a message to the outside world: We really don't care about our business. It then becomes open season for crime.

Vandalism is one of the most common crimes committed against businesses. We deter vandals by maintaining an immaculately clean facility because of the "broken window" theory. In the late 1960s, Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo left an average car parked in a California neighborhood. After one week, he returned to the site and found it untouched. Then, Zimbardo moved the car to a similar neighborhood but broke one window. Within hours, the car had been stripped clean and destroyed.

We prove Zimbardo's "broken window" theory every day. Some of our most successful stores are in inner cities, where we're the best-kept business on the block.

3. Build relationships with public servants.

By having a strong relationship with law enforcement officers, you project the image of a business that takes safety seriously. If a criminal comes by to stake out your territory, he (or she) might be deterred by the presence of the police -- along with security cameras on a well-lit, gated property.

Stopping and preventing crime requires strong lines of communication between the police and the potential victim. By proactively establishing a relationship, you'll work together better from the get-go. We've worked with local law enforcement officers to train their canine units by letting officers hide contraband in one of our storage units for the dogs to sniff out.

4. Understand the red flags.

Running a business means you interact with people from every walk of life. Unfortunately, not all of them walk the straight and narrow: More than 8 million property crimes were reported in 2014 alone.

Knowing whom to trust can be difficult, so spotting red flags is critical. For example, if a tenant is in the middle of a move, we know his visits will be infrequent, at best. However, people making multiple visits to their units without bringing anything in and out late at night is a a dead giveaway for suspect activity.

Unfortunately, crime is part of our world, so having a crime-prevention plan is crucial to the safety of your employees and your customers. Your local law enforcement officers would be happy to critique your plan and make suggestions.

Related: A New Paradigm for Building Customer Trust

The bottom line? You've invested too much in your business to become an onlooker when it comes to crime prevention.

Cris Burnam

President of StorageMart

Cris Burnam has been working in the self-storage industry since 1987. He has served as president of StorageMart since founding the company with his brother, Mike Burnam, in 1999. Burnam grew StorageMart from a single self-storage facility into the world’s largest privately owned self-storage company with 149 locations across the U.S. and Canada. Burnam was named a 2014 EY Entrepreneur of the Year in the Services and Real Estate category (Central Midwest region) -- one of the highest honors an American entrepreneur can receive.

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