Ferguson Enterprises, Inc., founded in 1953, is the largest plumbing supply company in the United States, and the second largest supplier of appliances and air conditioning units. Headquartered in Newport News, Virginia, with a satellite headquarters office in Pomona, California, the company has more than 19,000 employees and approximately 1,400 locations throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and Mexico.
It’s not surprising that, especially in these tough economic times, the company’s mantra for security expenditures is that they must be based on risk and must be cost effective.
The security function at Ferguson operates on two levels, says Scott Hewitt, CPP, director of corporate security for Ferguson. Hewitt and his team oversee corporate security, and they provide individual locations with a standardized security framework. After a location is up and running, the manager of the facility can make changes to security in consultation with the corporate function.
As Hewitt explains, this configuration emerged during a period of expansion. “Facilities were opening very quickly,” he says. “We wanted a cookie-cutter approach that we could start with.”
Under this program, each facility is outfitted with standard fire and burglar alarms to be monitored off-site by a national monitoring service. If any additional measures are needed, corporate security is called in.
Surveillance systems are considered additional measures, according to Hewitt. Only about 200 facilities have cameras. And in many of those locations, the cameras are installed in response to specific incidents. For example, early this year, copper theft was on the rise, so managers at one facility moved the copper piping from an outside lot to an inside location and installed two cameras.
Facility managers, who rarely have any security training, often come up with creative and cost-effective solutions, says Hewitt. For example, one location was experiencing a series of thefts. High-end water heaters valued at $1,000 each were going missing from the showroom area of the facility, which was open to the public. Managers at the facility suspected insider theft. It turned out to be opportunistic, professional thieves.
Instead of installing a standard security camera, which would have alerted employees and cost thousands of dollars, managers purchased an off-the-shelf “nanny cam” for $300. Two days after managers hid the camera on a rack of merchandise, three men walked into the store minutes after it opened. They brought appliance dollies, loaded up three water heaters, and left. The employees, who were in another area of the store preparing cash registers for the day, didn’t even see the robbery.
Store managers reported the incident to police and circulated photos of the thieves they had caught on camera. While the perpetrators have yet to be apprehended, Hewitt says the incident was valuable. “We really thought it was an inside job,” he says. “The camera proved otherwise.”
In another instance, a facility had a problem with vagrants jumping over one particular section of perimeter fence and sleeping on company property. The facility manager purchased a hunting camera for around $100. These cameras use motion sensors to snap photos of wildlife that hunters can then use to determine what sorts of animals are in the area. When vagrants tripped the motion sensor, the camera took a flash photo, startling the intruder. The activity stopped completely after the camera was installed.
While corporate security is always available to help if a manager’s plans don’t work out, Hewitt says that his department is careful not to dismiss a solution because it is temporary. “A band aid is not always a bad thing,” he notes.
For example, at one large facility, employees’ cars were being stolen from the parking lot. The facility already had a security camera trained on the area, but the thieves seemed to realize that they could steal cars from the back of the lot and avoid the camera. That gave police little evidence to go on for investigations. Workers were frustrated.
The manager knew that an access-controlled gate would be the optimal solution but it would be costly and would take time to implement. As a stop-gap measure, he suggested that they put a chain across the entrance to the parking lot and focus the security camera on that chain. It would require that the thieves stop, get out of the car, and unhook the chain—all in full view of the camera. The solution was both inexpensive and effective. The car thefts stopped completely after the chain was installed.
Hewitt anticipates that the company will see more creative solutions to security challenges as a response to the economic crisis. “We are always looking for low-cost solutions,” he says. “But, it doesn’t always have to be a typical solution.”