Safe keeping

Aug. 12, 2003

Delivery drivers are supposed to carry as little cash as possible, right?

And operators are supposed to set up cash management policies to ensure drivers "drop" their cash after each run, right?


Problem is, said J.W. Callahan, president of the Association of Pizza Delivery Drivers, there always are a few drivers who don't follow the rules, and operators lack the time to track drivers' cash drops during busy shifts. Sometimes the result is disaster, he said.

"I remember one driver who got robbed of more than $200 one night," said Callahan. "Not only was he not supposed to be carrying more than $20, he had a big gold chain on and a $300 Tommy Hilfiger jacket. Everything he did drew attention to himself."

Since the driver broke the company's $20-max rule, he was fired, plus, "to add insult to injury," Callahan continued, "the company's $200 was gone, so they kept his last paycheck."

Though robberies are inevitable, Callahan said, those crimes -- as well as in-store robberies -- shouldn't be profitable for burglars if proper cash management policies are followed.

The good news is the protection and management of cash has become vastly easier over the last few years with the development of high-tech safes. Pioneered, tested and proven in the convenience store industry, modern store safes accept bills mechanically, provide change if requested and produce a detailed audit trail of every employee transaction.

For managers and drivers -- in the currently small number of stores that use these safes -- the machines are a boon. End-of-shift check-out is a breeze for managers, and drivers don't have to worry about money loss or dishonesty issues that can occur with manually operated drop boxes.

"Everybody loves it, because it saves a lot of time and aggravation," said Nelson Hockert-Lotz, a three-store Domino's Pizza franchisee in New Bedford, Mass, who uses a bill-acceptor safe. "It makes it so easy."

Something old, something new

Callahan said he once used a similar bill accepting and dispensing safe 10 years ago in a Pizza Hut. Compared to modern units, the machine was a much lower-tech model.

At scheduled times, drivers sorted, rolled and placed their bills in small plastic tubes of predetermined denominations. They next inserted them into the safe and logged the deposit amount. The machine also could dispense whatever tubes were necessary to make change for the larger bills drivers put in.

The machine did its job, Callahan said, but it was slow and cumbersome -- far behind the newer bill accepting machines, which he has yet to see operate.

"One of those would be perfect, because it really would keep a handle on cash control; it would be something everybody would trust," he said. "But it doesn't sound like too many people are using them yet."

That's both frustrating and encouraging for manufacturers of bill-accepting safes. Getting pizza operators to spend $3,000 to $3,500 on such units has been tough, they say, but the minimal penetration into the pizza market also signals high sales potential.

"I'm actually amazed that the technology hasn't been adopted sooner in pizza," said Steve Aronson, director of marketing for the FKI Security Group in New Albany, Ind. While many c-store companies use his firm's safes, only a handful of Yum! Brands stores currently are testing FKI's products. "But that's just where the industry is right now."

Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Domino's currently is testing bill-accepting safes in a handful of its corporate stores, but some of its franchisees have used them for years. Those have won over the early-opters.

"It makes it so much easier for safety issues, for controlling cash, for counting money at the end of the night, everything is better with this," said Freddie Wehbe, a four-store Domino's franchisee in Gainesville, Fla. "It's new technology that can't go wrong."

In a pizza operation, the safes essentially work like this:

A driver returns from a run with $40. Knowing he should carry only $20, he goes to the safe, enters his own personal identification number (PIN), and feeds the bills necessary into the mechanical reader/acceptor to reduce his "bank" to $20. The machine then records that driver's deposit.

Should the driver's bank contain two $20 bills, he could feed in both bills and request change be dispensed in smaller bills.

Once his transactions are complete, he can print out a receipt, or wait until the end of his shift to print out a detailed report.

Counter workers also use the safe to reduce the amount of cash in the register drawers. On busy nights Hockert-Lotz instructs his counter workers to put all large bills into the safe twice an hour, a process that takes less than a minute.

According to John Angove, vice president of Indianapolis-based safe-maker AT Systems, the only potential hang-up in the deposit process is the rejection of torn, wrinkled or counterfeit bills. Those instances happen less all the time, he said, because of improvements in bill validators.

"These safes are using software that has a higher rate of bill acceptance than, say, a vending machine," Angove said. "But in an environment like pizza, where you're depositing higher-denomination notes, by definition those bills are in better condition. So the acceptance rate is somewhere north of 98.5 percent."

At the end of each shift, when drivers check out, is where the safes truly pay for themselves, operators say. Wehbe said being able to print out each employee's report and knowing exactly how much cash each should get saves his store managers

start quoteI've said to Domino's (corporate) that it should be mandatory across our system. It makes my life easier and it increases safety 100 percent. I can't see one disadvantage with this machine.end quote

-- Freddie Wehbe,
Domino's Pizza franchisee

at least 20 minutes per shift in money-counting time alone. Over the long haul, the safe more than pays for itself by increasing productivity and eliminating handling errors, he said.

Chris Stanley, an AT Systems account executive, said the safes all but make the widely used envelope and drop-box system obsolete.

"There's no more counting out the currency three times at the end of each shift to make sure it's right, and then trying to get it straight for all the drivers at the store," Stanley said. "You have to keep those guys on the clock while that's going on, but with the safe, it's done and they're out of there. That's a huge labor savings."

Callahan said such a safe would eliminate confusion and accusations of dishonesty that arise with the envelope and drop-box system.

"Every driver has had at least one night when he put a bunch of bills in the wrong slot," Callahan said. "So Dave over here winds up $60 over, and Joe is $60 short. Now you've got to rely on Dave's honesty, which doesn't always work out.

"It happens with managers, too. Guys say they put a certain amount in, and the manager says something different."

A key side benefit noted by Callahan is in tip reporting, as the receipts printed at the end of each shift are helpful for income tracking.

Room to grow

Both Wehbe and Hockert-Lotz called the $3,000 spent on each of their cash-accepting safes a comparably small investment for the return provided. Simplicity of operation and ease of mind for staff and management far outweighs the cost consideration, they said. Somewhat pragmatically, Callahan added, "What's $3,000 to a business doing $500,000 to a million in sales every year?"

AT Systems' Stanley said some of his company's safe leasing plans cost only $3 a day, and FKI Security Group's Aronson said discounts always are applied to multiple machine purchases.

Aronson also pointed out that the technology already has been tested and refined in the c-store industry. His company's safes -- like pizza operators' POS systems -- can be polled via modem from a remote location to allow cash accounting within a large multi-site system. Such simplicity of operation, plus the similarity to existing pizza industry technology, should encourage other pizza operators to follow suit. But it hasn't yet.

Domino's Wehbe said he's surprised so few have adopted the technology.

"I've said to Domino's (corporate) that it should be mandatory across our system," he said. "It makes my life easier and it increases safety 100 percent. I can't see one disadvantage with this machine."

Topics: Crime , Operations Management

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