Small northwest boutique chain improves security with system upgrade

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Jody Mallonee, an ex-police detective with nearly 15 years of service, is today the owner of two Swank Boutique specialty stores with, she says, an absolute “no tolerance policy” on shoplifting.

A petite woman, Mallonee once chased a shoplifter into the street while wearing six-inch heels. The two struggled, she says, with the woman battering Mallonee with her purse; a passing police officer stopped the fight and arrested the shoplifter.

In addition to selling moderately expensive fashion apparel such as Hudson Jeans, Swank Boutiques also carry value-priced jewelry, handbags, accessories and home décor items like candles — all items that can easily be slipped into a bag or hidden under a coat.

Apparel items are ink-tagged; the tags will burst if someone tries to remove them.

The stores, between 1,300 and 1,500 square feet and averaging between $600,000 and $800,000 in annual sales, are in high-traffic locations that range from a college/tourist neighborhood in Boise, Idaho, to a low-income area near the Spokane, Wash., store where Mallonee tussled with the shoplifter.

The resolution of the security cameras Mallonee was using at that time was so poor that viewers couldn’t see or tell what someone had in their hands, she says — it wasn’t good enough for any prosecution.

The system she is using now, from Axis Communications, has “more features than I know what to do with,” she says.

Small business suitability

The Axis Companion Dome V cameras, networked with Axis’s video management software, provide 1080-pixel high resolution, says Larry Chay, small business program manager for Axis. Their wide-angle view delivers very sharp detail through a 2.8-mm networked lens.

The cameras also have wide dynamic range which adjusts for light variations inside a store — bright light coming in through windows, for example, and dark shadows toward the back.

Axis invented the world’s first networked camera in 1996; the small business system that Mallonee is using launched last May.

Chay says Axis designed the Companion line, which consists of indoor vandal-resistant dome, cube (with built-in speaker and microphone), outdoor bullet and eye model cameras, to be a “complete, affordable and very versatile system for small business owners only needing 16 cameras or less.”

The recorders, which can store images up to 60 days, are also equipped with a USB port so video can easily be exported to a thumb drive and given to the police. They also power the cameras through one ethernet cable, using Axis’s Zipstream compression technology.

That “saves on storage and cuts down bandwidth by about 50 percent,” Chay says, “which does two things. It lengthens the amount of recording time and it won’t bog down a store’s network, slowing down transactions.”

“I can pop on and see what is happening in my stores, whether they’re full, what the employees are doing. In real time, I can zoom in and see in very good detail what’s happening.”

— Jody Mallonee, Swank Boutique

Real-time access

Mallonee says installation last year was “very easy.” Chay says a five-camera installation can typically be done in half a day or less.

Swank Boutique’s Boise location has three cameras; the Spokane store, six hours away, has five. All cameras monitor the checkouts, the doors and the corners of the stores, with a broad view of all displays. In conjunction with Axis’s free video management software, the networked Dome V cameras make it possible for Mallonee and her employees to “monitor and react to incidents, whether we’re on-site or off,” she says.

The system can be accessed by either Apple or Android devices.

“I can be getting out of a yoga class,” Mallonee says, “and if I want, I can pop on and see what is happening in my stores, whether they’re full, what the employees are doing. In real time, I can zoom in and see in very good detail what’s happening.

“If I notice something suspicious, I can text or call my staff and alert them and they can text or call me. Living in Arizona with stores in the northwest, this has been a key feature.”

The system also delivers operational benefits.

“When clerks at one store are busy helping customers, they can text or call me or the clerks in the other store and we can remotely monitor the store that’s busy,” she says. Mallonee can also check to be sure stores open on time and that displays are well stocked.

A third Swank store is scheduled to open this spring in Gilbert, Ariz., with the same Axis system.

High-quality images

Mallonee uses images from the Axis cameras to “persuade” shoplifters to pay for the goods they have stolen or are caught trying to steal, or to pay for the damage caused when the Sensormatic ink tags burst when shoplifters try to cut them off, ruining the products they were attached to.

“I tell them I will post those images on my Facebook page where I have over 13,000 followers, and give them to the police,” she says.

Mallonee says she feels as if her stores are her homes. “Being a former police officer, I don’t like to let anybody carry anything out of my stores without paying. It’s like someone coming into my house and taking something.”

If she doesn’t know the perpetrators because they escaped immediate detection, Mallonee posts their images on her Facebook page; most of the time, someone recognizes them and reveals their identity, “because the images are that good,” she says. “We usually have an ID within an hour.”

She then follows up with the thieves and persuades them to pay for what they have stolen.

Mallonee recently circulated images of a shoplifter sent to her by a fellow retailer to her stores; when one manager reported that this person had recently been in her store, Mallonee reviewed the video from the store and saw this woman, “slipping necklaces and other small items into her purse. We called her and she paid for the items in lieu of prosecution.”

She says that being able to show the images to shoplifters “is usually enough to gain restitution without having to prosecute. But the images are sharp enough to use in court if we have to.”

Mallonee describes her losses as a percent of sales as “extremely low,” crediting the Axis cameras and the diligence of her staff as primary reasons for that.

Before the Axis system was installed, she says she had a “very sophisticated credit card scam performed on me … . If I had this system then, I probably would have been able to help the police catch the perpetrators.”

Liz Parks is a Union City, N.J.-based writer with extensive experience reporting on retail, pharmacy and technology issues.

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