Commercial Burglary Prevention Tips for Retail Businesses | Northwest Safe

Commercial Burglary Prevention Tips for Retail Businesses


Throughout the United States, commercial burglary has risen drastically since the beginning of 2020. The New York Times reported a 231% surge in commercial break-ins throughout New York City. Eugene, Oregon, retasked detectives to uncover the criminals targeting the cash machines of coffee stands and food carts. And in December of 2021, KOMO News reported the frustration Seattle business owners are facing due to repeated break-ins. 

Extensive damage and theft have cost business owners thousands of dollars. A variety of measures are often required for businesses to re-open, including:

  • Repairs to damaged property that keep the business closed.
  • Investigation.
  • Replacement of stolen assets.

strip mall during the day

Why Have Commercial Burglaries Increased?

It’s easy to sum up the increase in commercial burglaries by saying the world has gone crazy. We’ve experienced toilet paper shortages and folks fighting over hand sanitizer. But the rise in commercial burglary is more realistically linked to opportunity. 

Thieves are presented with the perfect storm of accessibility and lack of reparations. This makes it easier for theft to occur and less likely to be caught. These factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Less foot traffic (aka fewer witnesses)
  • Closed businesses (more time to complete the break-in)
  • Shorter operating hours (again, more time to complete the break-in)
  • Reduced law enforcement patrols (less chance of being caught)
  • Raised felony limits (less risk of prosecution)

There was also a substantial increase in restaurant burglaries when restaurants were closed for long periods of time. The primary target? Booze. Some thieves were breaking in, raiding the liquor shelf, and heading home. Others were staying, drinking, and causing even more destruction to the restaurant’s interior. 

What is Commercial Burglary?

Washington State defines burglary as anyone who enters a building “with intent to commit a crime against a person or property therein, he or she enters or remains unlawfully in a building.”

Criminals can commit burglary in both the first and second degree in Washington State. The two primary differences between burglary in the first degree and burglary in the second degree are the level of violence and the level of a felony: 

Depositing money in a cash safe

3 Common Types of Burglaries

Generally, commercial burglaries fall into one of the following three types of burglaries. 

1. Opportunistic Burglary

Opportunistic burglary is typically characterized as being a spontaneous act. It’s one that was not premeditated in any way.

In years past, opportunistic burglary was considered the most common type that plagued business — especially smaller retail locations. Entry points would often be an unsecured window or poorly locked door. 

While this type of theft is still a concern for businesses owners, there has been a drastic rise in the other two common types — especially sophisticated and organized theft. 

2. Smash-and-Grab Robberies

Smash-and-grab robberies are typically planned in advance. Thieves will have often scouted the business for items that could be easily grabbed and pre-determined their entry point.

Generally this point of entry is a window that can be broken. However, there are instances when burglars come to a smash-and-grab robbery with power tools. 

The result is that in addition to the loss of property incurred by the business owner, these types of robberies often result in substantial damage to the business’ structure. 

3. Sophisticated Burglaries (aka organized burglaries)

Sophisticated burglaries are highly organized. They typically involve an intricate plan, more than one assailant, and a high level of communication. Because these burglaries require such a high level of organization, they often target bigger dollar amounts — such as jewelry stores. 

However, high-end retail goods are not the only victims. In recent history we’ve seen an uptick in local businesses reporting organized break-ins of multiple stores hit simultaneously.

strip mall at night

9 Commercial Burglary Prevention Tips

It’s next to impossible to completely eliminate the potential for commercial burglary. However, there are some key steps a business can take to reduce its risk of being victimized. 

1. Use a Commercial Cash Safe (and install it discreetly)

Businesses that process high volumes of cash can be easy targets for criminals. Coffee stands are a prime example. Security is often minimal for the comparatively high number of cash transactions. 

According to Small Business Chron, coffee shops sell an average of 250 cups daily. If the average cup of coffee is $5 and 50% of the shop’s sales are in cash, the shop would collect $625 in cash daily. Plus, they will need additional cash on hand to make exact change. 

2. Keep Tempting Inventory Stored Securely

The loss of inventory can be a huge blow to retail stores, in particular. In order to reduce the temptation, don’t make it easy for a thief to grab high-value items. Keep these items stored in a locked casing or commercial grade safe.

Similarly, remove all high-risk window display items before the store is closed for the day. Move easily grabbed items as far away as possible from the doors and windows. And, consider adding security tags to high-value items, when possible. 

3. Install Security Devices

Alarm systems and security cameras can be effective deterrents for burglars. Being caught on camera significantly increases the chance of being convicted. Furthermore, alarm systems notify authorities, increasing response time, and reducing the amount of time criminals have access to a business. 

4. Prominently Display Your Security Signs

A good alarm company will provide a business (or a personal residence) with signage. You want to display these security signs in a prominent location. This can often deter any would-be criminals looking for an easy score. (This can be a good deterrent even if you don’t have an alarm system!)

5. Don’t Have Cash On-Site? Make It Known!

Whether your business had to temporarily close for a period of time or you don’t process any cash, make it known. Post a sign indicating to would-be burglars that there’s ‘No Cash On Premises’. Who wants to go through the effort and risk to break in, only to find nothing?

6. Lock Up

Sure, you already know to lock the doors and windows. But businesses in a high-risk area may want to take additional precautions. This could include:

  • Putting bars on the windows
  • Using a couple-cylinder deadlock. 
  • Closing in windows that are frequently targeted.

7. Keep the Lights On

A well-lit building is substantially less likely to be attacked. Thieves find security in the shadows. Remove the shadows and put them in the spotlight. 

8. Hire a Security Guard

Security personnel can be another highly effective way to deter a burglar. More eyes, means more chance of getting caught. 

9. Keep Your Business Clean

A clean space signals that your business is being visited often. Make sure all surfaces are clean, both inside and outside your business. Additionally, make sure all signage is up to date. 

depositing cash in a cash safe

What Makes a Business an Easy Target for Burglary?

When a burglar is casing a business, there are certain factors that make a job easier and more enticing:

  • Easy Access — A thief doesn’t want to have to work any harder than necessary. The easier it is to get into a building, the more likely they are to pick that building as a target. 
  • Limited Visibility — In the same way a thief doesn’t want to work hard to get in, they’d prefer not to be seen. Dimly lit stores and entry points with obstructed lines of sight can attract burglars. 
  • Lack of Security — From less monitoring a burglar sees, the more likely they are to attack.  

What to Look For in a Cash Safe

A traditional cash safe box is often little more than flimsy sheet metal and a simple key lock that can be jammed open with a screwdriver. A commercial grade cash safe — like American Security’s BWB3020FL — features a solid steel plate door, U.L. listed lock, and a front load depository for quickly dropping in large sums of cash without opening the safe.

Additionally, a high-security cash safe should be designed to protect against pry attacks and sledgehammer attacks. To reduce the risk of these attacks, it’s strongly recommended that your cash safe is bolted to the floor in a discrete location.

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