Why physical crime prevention must still be the main focus for small business owners

Despite a brightening economic outlook, finances remain incredibly tight for most start-up organisations in the UK. When you’re already up against it, the last thing you need is to become the victim of commercial crime. Official figures from the Home Office show that crimes against businesses dropped between 2013 and 2014, and more recent statistics from individual police forces also paint an encouraging picture. Cheshire Police, for example, revealed that 984 offences of burglary against commercial properties were recorded throughout the county in 2015 – a 5% decline on the previous year. Most impressively, “business robbery” incidents dropped by an eye-catching 49% during the same period. However, this is certainly no time for small businesses to rest on their laurels. Business crime is still a big problem While crimes against businesses are down on average, it’s clear that companies in some sectors are affected more than others. Having looked at the British Retail Consortium’s 2015 Retail Crime Survey, it’s apparent that merchants are having a particularly tough time of things. The direct cost of crime to the UK retail industry stood at £613 million in 2014/15 – up by 2% on the previous year. Statistics also showed that burglaries were up by 13%, with the average cost per crime coming in at £2,008. There was a 4% upturn in criminal damage to commercial premises in the retail sector, with each incident costing £802 on average. These are not insignificant sums of money for smaller traders. It’s not just retail businesses that are being blighted by criminals. The Home Office confirmed in its Commercial Victimisation Survey (CVS) in 2015 that just under 40% of premises from across six industry sectors (wholesale and retail, accommodation and food, agriculture, forestry and fishing, arts, entertainment and recreation, transportation and storage, and manufacturing) were targeted by criminals over the course of a year. Combined estimates from the 2012 to 2014 CVS showed that a staggering 5.5 million crimes were reported within these sectors, which account for approximately 40% of all businesses in England and Wales. Is the rise of cybercrime diverting small business owners’ focus?  There’s no doubt that cybercrime has given small business owners new security issues to think about. This report from Detica and the Cabinet Office showed that cybercrime costs the UK economy in the region of £27 billion each year, and businesses are unsurprisingly the biggest victims. Indeed, online crime results in an excruciatingly-high £21 billion estimated collective annual loss for UK companies. A separate report published at the end of February 2016 by PwC suggested that cybercrime losses are rising as a result of organisations’ “passive approach to economic crime”. The research found that 36% of organisations across 115 countries experienced economic crime in the last two years, with 32% being specifically affected by cybercrime. Although there are rich pickings to be had by targeting multi-million pound corporations, cybercriminals are fully aware that their success rate will be higher when focusing on vulnerable smaller businesses that cannot afford sophisticated cyber security measures. It’s easy to see why the owners of small enterprises have become preoccupied by online criminals, but has this taken their attention away from physical security? One Stop Fencing ran a quick survey to gauge the public’s opinions, and it showed that 62% of respondents are still most concerned about physical crime. This shows that although cybercrime is an increasingly pressing issue that cannot be ignored, the majority of us are still more concerned about criminals who will target our physical possessions. Where should small business owners be spending their security budgets?  How you use your security budget will very much depend on the line of business you’re in. Naturally, if your company has a strong digital focus, you’ll need to commit more funds to advanced cyber security measures. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, small enterprises lose an average of £4,000 a year to cybercrime. On the flipside, if you’re a small manufacturer or tradesperson with a warehouse full of expensive tools, equipment and machinery, you’ll be far more concerned about the threat posed by burglars and vandals. When safeguarding your premises against intruders, the first step is to assess where your weaknesses lie. Gavin Parks, Director of GPS Installations Ltd explained: “In order to ascertain how best to protect your business premises from crime it is essential that a security risk assessment is carried out. A security specialist can highlight all vulnerable areas and the risks associated with the property in question and then design a system that will provide the correct level of protection. “We now consider Intruder Alarms and CCTV as an essential element of commercial security, there is one CCTV camera for every 11 people living in the UK and one in every six in the City of London.” With cost being such an important factor when creating a security plan, it’s vital that small business owners make every penny count. But how do we know which security measures provide the best value for money? One Stop Fencing conducted another survey to gauge people’s opinions on the best, most cost-effective ways to protect a building overnight, and the results were as follows. Why long-term thinking is critical A combination of all of these measures will give you peace of mind that your treasured possessions will remain safe while your business is closed, but how do these really stack up on the costs front? Judging by the survey results, the public certainly undervalue the benefits of security fences, which could be attributed to a lack of awareness. As this buyers’ guide to palisade fencing shows, you can buy a highly secure fence for just £23.99 per metre (for a 1.8-metre-tall fence). If your business premises has a 100-metre perimeter, for argument’s sake, it’d cost £2,399 to buy a steel palisade fence that protects the boundary. By comparison, hiring a security guard – which just under 15% of our survey respondents felt was the best, most cost-effective option – will cost you somewhere between £12,702 and £21,677 a year, according to Payscale.com. Granted, this is a really rough guide, but it demonstrates one particularly important point… Always weigh up the long-term costs of securing your business, and don’t be immediately put off by upfront costs. Darren Griffiths, owner of One Stop Fencing, said that small businesses owners must look at least 12 months (ideally 24 months) ahead when mapping out where their security budgets are going to be spent. “Cash flow is always a big concern for small businesses, so it’s understandable that your average owner will be wary of incurring big one-off costs. However, you have to play the long game and weigh up how much you’re likely to spend in the future,” he commented. “While a £2,000 or £3,000 bill for a steel fence or some motion-sending floodlights obviously won’t appeal, you have to factor in maintenance costs, which will be really low in this instance. On the other hand, forking out for a security guard month on month, or paying to run sophisticated CCTV equipment 24/7 can be a major drain on a small company’s finances in the longer term.” Always remember that prevention is better than cure, and you need as many visible deterrents as possible in order to ward off criminals. And while the threat of cybercrime is becoming more pronounced, it’s crucial that small business owners don’t take the physical security of their premises for granted.