Almost half of garden centres and nurseries have seen an increase in crime as unemployment and recession have led to more break-ins and shoplifting this year. Retailers and growers are blaming the economy for the increase in criminal activity, which ranges from armed robbery to pilfering of seeds.
Barton Grange Garden Centre in Bolton and Buckingham Nurseries & Garden Centre have both been victims of hold-ups recently, while many other centres have reported more minor crimes.
The HTA's new crime survey, run with its security partner B to B Links, found:
- 70 per cent of respondents reported experiencing vandalism, break-in or burglary in the past 12 months.
- Average value of goods lost to burglary in the past 12 months - £500-£2,000.
- 40 per cent of the businesses surveyed reported an increase in criminal activity this year.
B to B Links director Jeremy Davies, who is an official adviser to HTA members, says: "We deal with garden centres on a daily basis and we're finding that in previous years theft was an acceptable cost but now it is becoming more prevalent. Theft is becoming violent because people are prepared to go further. The average loss is two per cent of turnover to theft but some centres are seeing up to five per cent losses."
He adds that security can be expensive but there are alternatives to spending a lot: "We're geared more to smaller independents. You might not want to put security in. At 24-hour retailers such as Sainsbury's or Tesco they have nightshifts shelf-stacking, so they have no burglary at night by default. It means you don't need a £20,000 CCTV system."
Theft by staff is as big a problem as shoplifting. Some supermarkets have a random approach to checking bags. Staff draw a number and have a strict access and leaving policy. They are not allowed products in the changing room. Davies says using tags and other security measures sends a clear message to people working in the business.
He adds that retailers should use existing resources such as trolley collectors to patrol car parks. HW's crime map (www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk/crime) shows the country's hot spots.
Garden centres say 50 to 100 people on average are caught a year. HTA members have reported a 70 per cent increase in vandalism and a 40 per cent increase in criminal acts in the past year.
The Government expects a nine per cent increase in crime in 2009. Customer theft accounts for 64 per cent of retail crime, with £69 of goods on average being stolen per theft.
Davies' HTA-organised profit protection workshops are focusing "not just on pilfering and burglary but where your car might get broken into in the car park". Customers may choose to go to Homebase instead of a garden centre, he suggests, if its car park seems more secure.
Norwich-based Taverham Garden & Crafts centre owner Stuart Clancy says: "It is a major issue. We're looking at a combination of options - a new tagging system, improved security cameras, simple things like greater vigilance, cut-out policemen, changes in customer flow and introducing a one-way turnstile.
"You can attribute the problem to a lack of deterrent in the legal process. People caught shoplifting are very, very difficult to get prosecuted. The police - the truth of the matter is they don't really want to know."
HTA Profit Protection Workshops take place on 12 January 2010. Call 0118 930 3132 for more information.
- Increased awareness
- Security guards
- Change customer flow
Potted Garden Nursery, based near Maidstone in Kent, has suffered from a recent serious break in at night. Owner Amanda Brookman says she knows pilfering happens too but "to catch them is different. We hope the CCTV will put them off. We know people steal seeds and certainly the older generation are the ones well-known for taking cuttings and fruit from fruit trees and don't see that as theft." Essex-based Thurrock Garden Centre owner John Walsham says thieves stole charity boxes in a recent break-in. He says the damage to the store cost more than the money lost, "but the charity got short-changed", he adds. "Now they're in a safe at night and we have fewer charity boxes. But it's a nuisance."
HTA crime advice line: 07775 765798