Convenience store chain finds rapid ROI with camera system

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Sprint Food Stores recently invested in an advanced video surveillance system from i3 International that captured images so clear that, when installed outside one store, the license plate and company name on a truck that sheared the roof off a Sprint Food storage shed were clearly visible.

In another incident, a camera captured images of a truck driving over a fuel price sign and then pulling away. The clarity of those images helped Sprint Food identify the truck and its license plate. “That was another big recovery,” says Todd Harrison, IT director of the Augusta, Ga.-based chain of 30 convenience stores, adding that the system paid for itself after just five major incidents such as these.

The cameras also make it possible to monitor pumps that are not easily seen from inside the store, which prevents people from filling up and driving off without paying. And more than once, monitors at the checkout counter have caught images of customers drinking beer inside the walk-in coolers that Harrison calls “beer caves,” as well as people stuffing beer into purses and knapsacks.

Harrison credits ERC, an i3 system integrator/installer, for helping him choose i3. Chad Fell, southeast regional manager for ERC, says ERC’s relationship with i3 “goes back about 15 years. When we find something we like, we don’t try to change. That’s one of the things that Todd liked — that we didn’t just grab a product that would fit his market. We knew the product would fit him. And if he should have any problems, there was just one phone number to call.”

Fell and other ERC installers went with Harrison to every store to make sure they would be placing cameras in the best locations for each of those stores. “It’s one thing to think all stores are identical but they’re not,” Fell says, “so one set of cameras is not going to be right for all locations.”

STORE-LEVEL DATA

The i3 software that ERC installed gave Sprint Food’s corporate loss prevention personnel access to store-level point-of-sale transactional sales data for the first time; Sprint Food had been working with five different video surveillance and software systems, most about 10 years old, as a result of acquiring stores over the years.

The old surveillance systems in place also meant training problems: There were different processes for keeping videos at stores, and most cameras weren’t positioned properly, creating blind spots and not capturing all the information that loss prevention needed to protect the company’s assets.

Harrison says ERC guided Sprint Food through the selection of replacement cameras that would work best, identified where the cameras should be set up both inside and outside its stores, trained employees on how to use the system and remotely connected store-level videos to loss prevention personnel based at corporate headquarters.

By integrating the surveillance system’s software with POS transaction logs in stores, Sprint Food can capture transactional data with time stamps. Instead of having to watch a video of all that happened at the POS where an incident occurred, the i3 system calls up just the necessary transactions as they happened in the stores, reducing the time necessary to scroll through videos to find the specific incidents that need to be surveyed.

Since there are a lot of “key triggers” within the POS data, Harrison says, loss prevention can automatically pull up videos relevant to vulnerable processes such as returns and refunds. District managers can now go to stores and “pull up videos of no-sales so if we are missing items when there were no-sales, we can see exactly what happened during those transactions.”

Additionally, Sprint Food can now make copies of videos at corporate versus having to do that in the stores; besides saving time for store employees, Harrison says, it avoids letting employees know if videos are being reviewed.

MAINTENANCE CHECKS

With the older surveillance system, Sprint Food wouldn’t know if a camera system was broken until they tried to call up a video. “But now, every day Todd and his staff get an email, a health check, saying this is what’s going on in all your locations,” Fell says. “If there’s a camera down, they know it right way.”

After an initial three-month pilot installation in 2017, Sprint Food began a total rollout which ended in December 2017. As new stores come online, the system is automatically installed.

On average, there are about 16 cameras per store covering inside and outside as well as a full 360-degree camera which covers the entire store. Harrison says all Sprint Food had to do was transfer its POS transaction data to ERC, which handled the integration. The whole implementation process typically takes less than a day, he says, most during the store’s off hours.

Sprint Food’s only additional cost is a software licensing fee.

The return on investment Sprint Food achieved from resolving the five major incidents the cameras caught shortly after installation represented “recoveries we would not have had before since we didn’t have these cameras,” Harrison says. “The system paid for itself pretty quickly and it’s easy to say that I’m very satisfied with i3 and ERC.”

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

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