Video security helps retailer cut losses by 50 percent
The old adage about never judging a book by its cover is uniquely appropriate in the case of Stella & Rose's Books in Monmouthshire, Wales.
Book-lovers wandering through its doors might soon find themselves infused with a feeling of old-world charm. Not only would they be surrounded by the sights and smells of thousands of books - many of them rare or out of print - but they would receive the kind of one-to-one service many consider to be a vanishing art.
Few people would suspect that cutting edge technology at work behind the scenes has helped make Stella & Rose's one of the leading, second-hand book-dealers in the United Kingdom.
The small business actually comprises two bookshops: Stella Books, located in the historic village of Tintern, and Rose's Books, situated in beautiful Hay-on-Wye. For years, staffs have communicated easily across the 40-mile distance over the company's network, which also connects one owner's home. In addition, they enjoy the freedom of in-store wireless communication, thanks to wireless local area networks set up at each location.
While roughly 40 percent of Stella & Rose's business is conducted through the bookshops and via mail order, the majority of its sales are done over the Internet.
In fact, says co-owner Chris Tomaszewski, the company's first foray into video surveillance and monitoring was sparked by the launch of the online business in 1998.
"It was only when we went onto the Internet and started trying to fulfil a large number of orders for books we thought we had in stock but couldn't find, that we realized the extent to which we'd been losing inventory in the shops. We decided at that time to get a small camera system for Stella Books."
While that CCTV system did seem to deter some theft, Tomaszewski attributes most of its success to signage she posted informing customers that video surveillance was in use. The system itself was laborious to use and only supported six cameras. Incidents were often not recorded because the equipment cycled through all the cameras one at a time and occasionally a member of staff forgot to insert new videotape at the beginning of the day.
By 2003, when the company was preparing to expand their retail space at both locations, IT manager Steve Goddard began looking for a digital video system that would better meet their requirements.
"I knew I wanted a system that would allow viewing on a PC screen, would plug into the networks that we already had, and would allow any computer on that network - whether connected via cable or wirelessly - instantly to pull up a camera and view both live and recorded data."
"I also wanted the ability to record at least a week's worth of video data and to record all video streams simultaneously," he adds. "After researching several different DVR systems, we decided that the March Networks digital video products best met all of our criteria."
Rose's Books now has a March Networks 3000 Series DVR recording store activities from eight cameras, while Stella Books is using a 4000 Series DVR to support its need for as many as 16 cameras once its expansion is complete.
Since the DVRs are providing more than the required seven days of internal storage, Goddard has configured them to record video around the clock rather than setting filters to record only on alarm, when motion is detected or during opening hours.
Both shops display live video on computer monitors at their front desks so staff can watch activities during the business day. Rose's Books also runs a second display on a monitor in the back office.
According to Tomaszewski, the networked systems make it easier for staff to do their jobs.
"Everyone agrees that the benefits of the systems are numerous. We can see all the rooms at once on the same screen, whereas before it was just one room at a time. We can display as many, or as few, camera views as we like and we now have more cameras, and therefore a better view of each room."
"Another thing we like is the feature that lets us display the video in black and white and only show movement in colour," Tomaszewski continues. "When you've got 10 windows to view all at once, it's quite difficult to see where people are at a glance, so that makes it very easy - you can immediately see where there's movement in the shop."
The ability to access live or archived video remotely is another advantage, says Tomaszewski, because it allows other staff members to keep an eye on things if the person at the desk is busy with a customer.
"And if there's a problem during the night - if the burglar alarm goes off for example - we can just switch the system on and say, ‘Well, is there anybody in the shop? Do we get someone there immediately?' I think it's excellent from that point of view."
Stella & Rose's Books have only had to search archived video on a few occasions since the DVRs were installed. In one case, they used a DVR to locate inventory that had been misplaced, while a second incident enabled them to trace missing funds.
"In both incidents, the system was invaluable in proving the missing items hadn't been stolen," says Goddard. "We were quite concerned they had been."
While there are no plans at present to use the DVRs to capture audio or integrate recorded video with Stella & Rose's point-of-sale transaction data, Goddard says it's good to know that the options are there for the future.
Overall, adds Tomaszewski, upgrading to the networked DVR systems was simply a good business decision.
"I believe that there is a return on investment over the long term. Our write-offs have been reduced by 50 percent since we introduced video surveillance," she says, "so clearly we're losing a much smaller percentage now than we used to."
"One day it will be a £5,000 book that will go missing, which is a lot of money to us, so investing in a system like this to prevent that sort of thing is definitely worthwhile."