The Retailer’s Perspective - And another thing...

I was recently asked to speak by the Minnesota/North Dakota Jewelers Association. I had several topics in mind before the economy melted and discussing that took up most of my allotted time. This was something I had planned to talk about and have decided to do it here instead. So, if you missed me in Minneapolis, here's what I meant to say....

What is it we all have, we all pay for, and we all hope to never use? No, I'm not talking about insurance. I'm talking about your holdup button. But, are you really getting what you pay for?

When you had your alarm system installed it would have been crazy not to add a silent holdup alarm button. The basics are simple. You push the button and about a minute later the police show up locked and loaded and ready for business. But, is that what will really happen?

Everyone in America is constantly bombarded with ads for $9.95 a month alarm monitoring. Sign a three year contract and the equipment and installation are free with a $29.95 a month monitoring agreement. Let us take over your monitoring and we'll pay you $50. I've seen a million of them. So beyond the equipment in your store and the monthly fee, have you ever given it another thought? Let's look a little closer at the monitoring industry.

Everyone in business knows that to grow you've got to sell to more customers. In the alarm business that means selling more monitoring contracts. If you own an alarm company this means the more people you can get to sign monitoring contracts the faster you can get rich and live happily ever after. The company that is monitoring your alarm system is probably trying to sell more contracts right now to grow their business. But it's what goes on behind the scenes that scares me.

Just because a company is selling more contracts and expanding their business doesn't mean they are hiring additional personnel behind the scenes to monitor those contracts. Have you ever asked your alarm company how many operators are on duty at any given time? Have you ever asked their company policy about the ratio of operators on duty to the number of systems being monitored? Have you ever wondered how those companies can sell alarm monitoring for $9.95 a month? Simple. Don't increase the operators, just increase the number of contracts. If the company needs employees they usually hire salespeople, not operators.

Have you ever thought about what would happen if you had to push your panic button... really thought about it? With a lot of alarm companies, just because you pushed your panic button doesn't mean the monitoring station is going to respond immediately. It's possible that you could be tenth or more in line before an operator finally gets to your emergency. Pretty scary, huh? So what are you going to do about it then?

For as long as I can remember I've been using something called Level One monitoring (L1). All United States nuclear facilities and federal treasuries have L1. Here's the basics. L1 is regulated by the federal government about how they do business. There is a federally mandated ratio of systems being monitored to operators on duty. All companies selling L1 know the exact point where, when they sell the next contract, that they have to add another operator, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

To be rated L1 you must be UL-Listed for Protective Signaling Services (i.e. Fire Alarm Systems) and UL-Listed for Defense Industrial Security. These are the certifications which tell them how much redundant equipment they must have, what type of back up generators are used, how often they are tested, and how much fuel they have on site.

There must be two redundant tandem central stations operating in separate states, with both having the ability to handle everything if the other suffers a catastrophic failure from a natural disaster, explosion or fire. They would need to call in additional staff to maintain their operator ratio, but there would be zero down time. If one failed, the other is already on line and receiving signals. The equipment would automatically sense a failure and begin processing all of station one's signals at station two.

Another advantage of L1 is the monitoring station itself. The monitoring facilities are a secure facility in and of themselves with armed guards 24/7 and the locations are a closely guarded secret. I'd tell you where mine is, but I don't know. The only thing I do know is it's a long way away in another state... or maybe not. So, how does this apply to you?

Let's say someone wanted to rob your store in the middle of the night. You've got a sticker on your front door proudly displaying the name of your alarm company. If someone really wanted to get in your store and spend a few hours, all they'd have to do is take over the alarm company which is probably listed in the phone book. What if they sent someone dressed as a pizza delivery person over to the alarm company, with a convincing story about a wrong address, and take over the station for a couple of hours. Who's gonna call the police to report your alarm going off? No one... that's who.

With L1 monitoring you have just spread a robbery attempt over several states which lessens the likelihood of an attempt like the one described above. If a robbery attempt such as the one discussed above was to be attempted it would probably fail. I don't think the fake pizza guy is going to be able to talk his way into an armed, secure facility, that monitors the nations nukes, and take it over.

Because of this, I know for a fact that if I ever need to ‘push the button,' the response will be exactly the response I expect and demand. And as far as cost, it's not really any more expensive than most commercial alarm contracts. You just have to know what to ask for. Call your alarm company and ask them their company policy on the ratio of operators on duty and the number of systems being monitored. You need to ask these questions now because if you have to push the button for real, you need to know that someone is coming and someone is coming NOW!

Now, speaking of the panic button, here's a new technological development that should be fully up and running in my store by the time you're reading this. I've been fortunate in my career to never have needed to push the button, or ever really been in a situation where I almost pushed it but didn't. It's got to be a scary thing debating in your mind whether to push it or not. You know something's wrong, but is it wrong enough to push the button and activate the system and have a dozen police cars cordon off the street in front of your store and come in with guns drawn only to find out you were wrong? Well, that's not the case anymore. Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce to you the "Suspicion Alert" system. This is sooo cool.

The suspicion alert was originally developed for the convenience store industry. If it's the middle of a hot July day and three people come in a convenience store wearing long coats, the clerk instantly knows something is terribly wrong with this picture. But since a crime has not been committed, pushing the holdup button is not really an option yet, but in about 30 seconds that's probably gonna change. This is exactly the scenario that the suspicion alert was made for. The clerk, sensing danger, discreetly pushes the button sending a message to the L1 monitoring station that the hair on the back of her neck is standing straight up and she needs some help - NOW! Here's what happens at a local convenience store in my area when the Suspicion Alert button is activated:

BEEP BEEP BEEP comes loudly over the store speaker system:

"This is store security calling in for your weekly security check. Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't check to see if you had customers first. I'll wait until the three gentlemen have finished their business then we'll get started with your weekly system check. Oh, by the way, Go Titans. They're going to go all the way to the Superbowl this year don't you think? I'll just wait here till you're finished ma'am."

What just happened was all of the cameras, speakers, microphones in the store were activated and are being viewed by one or more operators at a L1 facility hundreds of miles away. The operators follow a script that the company wrote pretending to be calling for a standard security check, and actually told the clerk how many customers they were seeing in the store. Then made a statement about something specific - one of the suspicious persons was wearing, in this case, a Titans hat. The operators have made it crystal clear to the clerk that they are watching everything and the bad guys are now fully aware they are being watched, but don't suspect the clerk had anything to do with it. Just bad timing. And damnit if that stupid beeping sound didn't make all three of them look directly into the camera. Sweet!

So now what do you think the bad guys are going to do? They haven't committed a crime yet, and probably won't because they know they are on camera being watched. So they are going to leave without incident and the clerk is safe. All of this without involving the police and all that follows from activating your panic button. Had the incident escalated the monitoring station would be sending live video feeds to the SWAT command truck who could look right into your building. Pretty cool, huh?

While you're asking your alarm company about their operator ratio, ask about this too. I'm excited to have it installed. If your store is in the middle Tennessee/Southern Kentucky area, the company that does my security is Provident Security Services, 615-736-5981.

Now as for the jewelry business, it's okay to sell all of the jewelry you have in stock this Christmas...we can make more.

Have a great holiday everyone and remember you can order a copy of my book "It's Supposed to be Funny" which is a compilation of every column I've written to date at Just type my last name in the search box. Let's go get 'em in 2009!

Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide. You can contact him at 615-354-6361, or send e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..