‘Barking’ Up Right IP Video Tree
A growing specialty retail firm sought a unique business solution for their security needs. The system had to interface one day with point-of-sale (POS), had to be a Web-based application that also allowed for remote viewing and management help but would not be Windows-based.
It turned out that Petland was barking up the right tree.
Whether your best friend is furry or feathered, or even if its best feature is colorful scales, there is a good chance that you adopted it at a retail pet store. Maintaining the health and well-being of live animals thus presents a very different challenge than in most retail facilities, which only deal in non-living inventory.
One of the more renowned pet stores in North America is Petland, Inc., a privately held Ohio corporation founded in 1967. In the early 1970s, it began franchising pet stores, and a decade later, expanded its presence into Canada and beyond.
Today, Petland has 120 stores in the United States and 55 in foreign markets, including Canada, Japan, France, Chile and South Africa. Petland Superstores, based in Calgary, Canada, owns 18 of those franchises.
“Since we have live animals in our stores we are very concerned about their safety,” said Trevor Brown, director of IT for Petland Superstores, “as well that of our customers and staff. We wanted to be able to provide a level of security to them as well as provide a level of loss prevention.” Brown manages the IT for all locations in Central and Western Canada, from Winnipeg to Vancouver Island.
“Originally, each store had VHS tapes recording eight black and white cameras,” he said. “The security video system was not at all effective, as the systems were designed basically for residential surveillance.” When Brown came on board, he was asked to take over the process of establishing a viable security system for the stores. He began by educating himself on the vast array of products available on the security solutions market. He talked to local vendors, researched the Web and traveled to ISC West in Las Vegas, one of the largest security industry trade shows in the United States.
“It was overwhelming,” Brown said. “When I thought I was half way through the show, I realized just how big it was. You glaze over after a while.”
Because he had done extensive research, Brown’s level of criteria for a security video solution was detailed.
“Most clients aren’t hands-on,” he said. “I have a strong electronics, networking and computer background, and a good comfort level with technology. Since I do my own service and support, I needed to find manufacturers who I could contact directly.” Brown wanted a Web-based application that was not Windows-based. It had to be a closed system at the store level that also provided remote viewing and management via the Internet. Price point was a big issue, as was the size and stability of the company and product quality.
“I wanted the ability to interface with the POS equipment, even though we haven’t done it yet,” said Brown. “When it becomes prudent, I can have it. Scalability was one of the biggest things I had to watch for.”
Petland Superstores looked at three solutions, but chose one based on Dedicated Micros’ Server for Enterprise Systems, recording a mix of Bosch and Sanyo fixed, color cameras, and several Panasonic fixed color cameras. Chubb Security monitors the alarms for fire, police and security for Petland Superstores. The fire and intrusion systems are linked through Chubb, but the security video units are monitored separately. Bosch monitors were installed at the entrance to each store, so that customers can see that they are being observed as they enter.
“In Canada,” Brown said, “that is the best way to ‘legally negate the illegality’ of recording customers.” Brown has used Anchor Control, based in Calgary, as one of his hardware sources for cameras and the IP security video, and they have done some of the cabling installations, depending on the location of the install. “Because I manage so many stores,” he said, “having a system that can alert me to a problem – such as a camera that’s down – via e-mail or text message on your cell phone is great. Few products can do that, and I find it very effective.”
Vendor-provided training “was structured,” said Brown, “but tailored to our specific needs. I was the only end user there who was planning to install my own systems. I needed to learn all of its functionality, as well as the Internet side of it, such as how to set up, maintain and manipulate the system. I spent part of my training days setting up my first system remotely for our Deerfoot Meadow’s location.”
Later, Brown hired a local electrician to run the cabling in the Courtenay location on Vancouver Island, and Brown set up the system remotely from the main office in Calgary.
Currently, Petland Superstores has installed 16-camera units with 320GB of internal storage in stores in Deerfoot Meadows, West Hills, Crowfoot, Market Mall and Sunridge, all in Calgary, in Red Deer (north of Calgary), and in Courtenay on Vancouver Island. The remaining stores are being scheduled for retrofits.
Brown has determined that 12 to 14 cameras are sufficient, but he allows for future growth.
“I even have them in the kennel rooms,” he said, “so I can see what goes on behind the scenes.”
Management is trained on monitor viewing in each store, while the head office maintains remote viewing and management capabilities for all stores with the new security video technology. As about half of the stores were new construction and half were retrofit projects, Brown worked with his installer to lay out the cameras and put in service loops (extra cabling in the ceiling) for future moves.
“The initial placement is not always going to be correct,” said Brown. “Camera placement is planned to monitor the heaviest customer traffic flow entering and exiting the door, and in the primary POS lanes – those lanes that are used 95 percent of the time. At any time, though, merchandise can be moved, blocking a camera view, primary POS lanes change, or I misjudge the location, regardless if it is brand new or a retrofit.”
MAKING WAY FOR THE BUSINESS
“The biggest retrofit challenge in installation is physically maneuvering a man lift around everything going on in the store as you install the cabling and equipment,” Brown said. “The stores are open from nine a.m. to nine p.m., so they have to work before and after hours, or working during slow times, mainly mornings or late evenings. Cabling is ultimately the biggest installation issue. The cameras may eventually become completely wireless, but they still require power. You might as well run a data cable, and save the expense of the wireless, when you have to run power anyway,” Brown advised.
Monitoring and maintenance are done on the Internet via DSL, which, in Canada, is less expensive and easier to obtain. “It is very inexpensive, extremely fast, very reliable, and accessible anywhere in Calgary,” said Brown. “We rely on it for our connection to our POS system as well, with less than six use hours a year in total downtime.”
Brown tailored the system to work with the company’s existing networks and infrastructure, and has discovered a bonus benefit in his networked security system.
“The remote capabilities for monitoring the output with Netvu Observer software have been used with great success,” said Brown. “Our operations and merchandising teams have even used the cameras to plan the locations of products for specials and special events without having to travel to stores.”
The ROI (return on investment) is theft reduction in the stores, both by deterrence and by event, and the new security video system has been used to retrieve both live and product merchandise.
“If you have an anti-theft device on your car, a thief walks by and instead picks a car with no device,” explained Brown. “When potential shoplifter sees the surveillance in your store, they’ll pick another store, so it is a deterrent. We’ve had multiple incidents, but all we have to do is tell the person that we’ve caught them on video, and they return the merchandise or money, so it never goes to trial.”