How to cultivate zero tolerance on crime in garden centres

With retail crime expected to soar in the run-up to Christmas, securing at-risk products can help stymie thefts, Matthew Appleby finds.

Christmas is a boom time for shoplifters, particularly in times of economic difficulty. But garden centres can protect themselves against the surge in thefts through some simple measures.

According to the 2009 Global Retail Theft Barometer, shoplifting surged during the economic downturn, increasing by nearly 20 per cent across the UK high street, reaching a record £4.88 billion.

HTA security advisor Jeremy Davies, who works with all of the Garden Retail top 10 highest-turnover garden centres, says this Christmas more people per household will be unemployed than for years, and with government cuts to boot, people who had never considered stealing might take the plunge into criminality.

Christmas trees are the most stolen item at this time of year. Davies says they are easy to sell and the impact on garden centres is "huge" because customers go elsewhere - and make their associated purchases of baubles there, too. He recommends extra lighting, CCTV and leaving the trees away from a place where they can be easily loaded - ie, not in the car park.

Yankee candles are another item that is high on shoplifters' wish lists. Davies says some garden centres are losing more than they sell. He says Yankee is now including security tags in the wax.

Davies says he is receiving a couple of calls a week on the HTA security advice line (07775 765798; email:, which is "fairly high". He said a typical call was about a theft and a garden centre did not know how to protect their products. He said he had received calls about staff being threatened, credit card fraud, staff pilfering and straight theft.

Davies added that staff pilfering was as big an issue as customer theft, even if it was just coffee shop staff eating cakes. "It's all off the bottom line," he adds.

But he warned that staff feel victimised in some businesses where they are sacked for pilfering, while there is no clear policy on whether to prosecute customers caught stealing.

Davies recommends security tagging, and says that some centres need refresher courses on how to work systems they have left idle. He has recently visited two Garden & Leisure stores to relaunch tagging systems.

Retail security company Checkpoint Systems manages shrink management at B&Qs across the UK.

A survey for the company by the Centre for Retail Research found that shoplifters add up to £180 to the average annual shopping bill of every family. The annual report, compiled from 42,000 shops across Europe, revealed that retailers lost stock worth £4.4 billion to shoplifters and thieving employees last year. The most stolen items were branded clothing, accessories, children's wear, lingerie, meat, cheese, alcohol and even seafood.

The total figure, £12,054,794 every day on average, was recorded in the 12 months to 30 June. The report also found theft has fallen by 5.8 per cent from £4.7 billion in the previous 12 months, but long-term trends indicate it is likely to continue rising.

Checkpoint Systems senior national account manager Laurie Cole says: "Our customers tell us that the ever-increasing shrinkage that high-street retailers have experienced for many years is now transcending to UK garden centres, as they continue to diversify and increase their range of product offering.

"This is further exacerbated by the fact that many retailers have increased the protection on their most stolen lines to reduce loss, which has pushed thieves towards retailers they perceive to be easier targets.

"Having spoken to a number of UK retailers, we believe the products hardest hit have been unusual in some cases, but follow a pattern. And, while some of them are seasonal, these include watering products, lanterns, fairy lights, secateurs, high-value gardening gloves, Wellington boots and wax jackets.

"UK garden centres want to increase the variety of products that they sell, but also now know that they need to be protected from loss, which represents a double-edged sword. However, Checkpoint Systems is working closely with garden centres to identify the most vulnerable products and, as a result, we have helped to reduce loss through consumer theft. Coupled with the installation of Electronic Article Surveillance, and other security solutions, a clear message is being sent to those who wish to steal."

Poplars Garden Centre managing director David Little has warned garden centre owners to be more vigilant after he was the victim of an aggravated burglary in March. Little was tied up and robbed by three intruders when at home with his two children in Bedfordshire on Mother's Day.

He says: "Garden centres are perceived as soft targets as burglars migrate away from attacks on high-street stores. They are moving to out-of-town targets like garden centres in rural locations."

Little does not live on site but suggests that he may have been targeted because he is a businessman. Police believe this may be one of a series of attacks on retailers. "If this gets a warning out there and gets people to undertake security reviews, that's a good thing. You can get lax in your habits with things like till lifts and not banking," he says.

HTA security advisor Jeremy Davies says you should plot from the moment you receive a £20 note where a thief would try and steal it. If it's the till, get a drop box under the till. If it is between the till and the office safe, get a Metal Mickey wheeled safe to take between the two. If it is when taking the cash to the bank, bring in a security company such as GS4 or Securitas to collect.

Workplace equipment provider Slingsby is warning retailers that store cash and valuables in security safes to contact their insurance company to ensure the contents are covered by their policy.

- Christmas trees
- Gifts
- Lights
- Yankee candles
- Decorations
- Seeds
- Hozelock
- Hand tools
- Secateurs
- Clothing


- Reduce risk - display five packets of one type of seeds, not 20.

- Make sure that CCTV is working - every garden centre has it but can the staff pick off images?

- Conduct a security audit - you have a trading plan for Christmas, but do you have a security/loss prevention plan?

- Attend a HTA security workshop - the next is at Barton Grange near Preston on 16 November and another series begins in January 2011.

- Give the police free tea and cake - having their cars in the car park is a deterrent.

- Ask the police to park in your car park when their weekly fuel allowance runs out.

- Make sure that tagging is working.


For more on Crime affecting horticultural businesses see our Big Issues section.

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