I recently had the realization that I effectively own a jewelry store. How did I find that out? Last month, a professional crew of thieves climbed a ladder, cut a hole in the roof and shimmied down the wall and into my stockroom.
My store, Midwest Photo, has specialized in providing high-end camera gear to photographers for more than 20 years. Professional camera gear is a valuable commodity that happens to be easily sold on the black market.
After breaking into the stockroom, the thieves cherry-picked the exact goods they wanted, which were items that are mass produced and traceable only by serial numbers. That means they didn’t steal Nikon D5 or Canon C100 cameras or 300mm f/2.8 lenses. Instead they nabbed 80D, D500 and D7100 cameras, as well as 70–200mm, 24–70mm and 18–300mm lenses, for instance.
The majority of the equipment that was stolen were smaller, mass-produced products with high worldwide demand. The burglars were found on our security camera footage casing the shop during business hours, and they didn’t seem to care about being filmed. During the burglary, they didn’t wear masks nor care about setting off alarms.
We are seeing a rash of these burglaries in our industry at the moment. Within a two-week period, this same crew hit at least one store in Illinois, our store in Columbus, Ohio, and another in the Washington, DC, area. This year alone, I have found eight stores that have been hit in similar fashion.
When we moved Midwest Photo into our new location, I built my sales floor to be a fortress. We used filled, hollow metal, hinge-less doors; bulletproof glass; double-sided keyed locks; the thickest metal window shutters I’ve ever seen; 32 interior and exterior networked cameras; glass-break sensors and much more.
There are some in our industry who understand the dangers of this kind of thievery—Joe Dumic from B&C Camera and David Rivera from George’s Camera, to name two. When they spoke together at the PRO convention a couple of years back, we listened. But I for one didn’t go far enough to secure the premises.
Thieves are coming for us, and they are coming fast. From state to state, they are working around the country in seemingly random order. The fact is, we are all much more vulnerable than we think.
The worse news is that criminals may get into our stores no matter what we do. We’ve seen the stories of thieves driving through walls, breaking through cinder blocks with sledgehammers, pulling doors off of hinges and cutting through roofs.
So what is the good news? The good news is that we can keep criminals from doing significant damage once they get in! My top recommendation is to make a friend in the jewelry business and get their advice on how to secure your location. Hire their security company and their contractors.
I’m not going into all the details of what we are doing to secure our location. I can tell you, however, that the next time they make an attempt, there won’t be anything accessible that is worth stealing, and a big surprise will meet them on the scene sooner than they expect.
In the meantime, we continue to shore up our position. I’ve got overnight security from the minute I close to the minute I open, and I can’t recommend doing that enough!
Let’s Prevent Anymore Loss
Please do yourself and our industry a favor and get to work now on preventing any more loss. We can all learn from the past and work together to prevent further losses for our industry. Through shared communication with other retailers, law enforcement as well as security experts, we can build a united front. We can show would-be criminals that we understand our vulnerabilities in the retail sector and are always vigilant to stop any theft or loss, be it shoplifting or cat burglary.
I am extremely thankful to the Imaging Alliance. It has offered to help us track incidents to provide a comprehensive list with extensive details we can learn from and with which we can assist law enforcement in their investigations. If you have had an incident at your store, please e-mail Michelle Tramantano (email@example.com), who will keep a running list to hopefully help law enforcement solve these crimes.
Moishe Appelbaum is the owner of Midwest Photo, a Columbus, Ohio-based photo specialty retailer. Appelbaum grew up in the industry, learning from his father, who grew Midwest from a home-based business into a thriving photo specialty store. Moishe took over in 2014. He has worked to bring the company to the next level by concentrating on the customer’s experience. Appelbaum is active in the industry as a member of PRO and the Imaging Alliance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-827-9824.