Protecting the Co-op Starts with Focus on Systems

From July-August 2015

Central Co-op
Seattle, Washington

Year founded:  1978
Equity requirement:  $60
Number of members:  13,000
Number of staff:  117
Retail square feet:  11,500

At one of the busiest crossroads in Washington State sits Central Co-op in Seattle.  Situated on Capitol Hill, it is the intersection of all that’s stimulating in an urban environment.  People from all walks of life congregate at the co-op to shop and hang out and every day has the potential to deliver a unique retail experience.

Doug Peterson is the co-op’s floor manager, and he said that the Capitol Hill neighborhood is constantly in flux, and it is the most densely populated neighborhood in the city.  There are people all along the economic and social spectrum, and the co-op occasionally finds itself challenged to provide a safe shopping environment for everyone.  Crime is not exclusive to urban areas, but population density often brings with it more of everything positive and negative about city life.  “We’re always working hard to meet the needs of a wide variety of people,” Peterson said.  “We wanted to find the most respectful way to protect the assets of the co-op.”

"We wanted to find the most respectful way to protect the assets of the co-op."

Doug Peterson, floor manager, Central Co-op, Seattle, Wash.

When the current general manager, Dan Arnett, came to the co-op three years ago, he wanted to institute a culture of safety at the co-op.  With Peterson’s assistance, Central Co-op sought ways to bring those issues to the forefront of operations.  Paul and Mike Feiner from CDS Consulting Co-op did an assessment, and the co-op has been implementing new policies and procedures to address problem areas.

“One of the things we realized is that nobody at the co-op had any experience in loss protection.  We made things up as we went along.  Our safety processes had arisen organically as needed,” Peterson said.  “It was great to talk to Paul Feiner and get his professional viewpoint on security.”  It has benefit the co-op tremendously, he said.

The first thing Central Co-op focused on after the assessment was developing systems that would focus a five-person store team on safety and security, and empower them to feel confident that they could carry out the necessary work in the store with staff.  “We realized that we had a lot of verbal and unwritten communication about store safety, so we had to take this body of knowledge and pass it on,” Peterson said.

With Feiner’s assistance, they created new documents and checklists that have helped make the information more accessible and to create a legacy of safety and security procedures.  “The most notable benefit is the confidence and feeling of safety that the staff has seeing a team responding to issues before there’s a problem.  It makes people feel safe and more confident to be at work,” Peterson said.

Peterson also said that they more closely evaluated their money-handling procedures, and developed privileged access areas to protect back stock and provide more clarity regarding the relationship with store staff and vendors.  “For instance, vendors stocking product can cause customer service perception issues,” Peterson noted.  “We also needed more control over deliveries to ensure that we were protecting assets that are normally out of sight.”

The co-op was also challenged by sometimes dangerous, but mostly perplexing behaviors carried out by certain patrons.  The co-op was concerned that people and populations not be stigmatized while minimizing negative impacts on operations.  This led them to collaborate with a local mental health services organization to find out the best way to handle issues appropriately and respectfully.  It’s been a very positive relationship for the co-op and a great resource.

At one point, the co-op had hired a uniformed guard to be on duty, but they found that a subtler behind-the-scenes approach—being better prepared for situations and strange incidents—was more effective.  “Our customers could see how easily we escorted people causing trouble out and they felt our co-op was a safe place to be,” Peterson said.  They also instituted video surveillance cameras, and some staff initially felt uneasy about it.  “We emphasized that it was for safety in the store,” he said.  When they had video evidence they could give to law enforcement of an abusive customer who they feared may become violent, staff realized that the cameras would be a useful tool to help keep them safe and prevent problems and theft.  “We need to put personal reluctance aside and remind people what the safest thing is,” he said.

Now that the co-op has addressed some of its most pressing security issues, Central Co-op will be developing their emergency preparedness plan in addition to continuing their work on safety and security.  They’ve experienced power outages, but their co-op’s biggest fear is a natural disaster like an earthquake.  “We need to create systems and refresh people on disaster preparedness, make it clear, and disseminate it,” Peterson said.  “Safety is an ongoing conversation.”

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