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Car Talk Back

Three years ago, a series of costly thefts plagued DCH Milburn Audi dealership in Milburn, New Jersey. At the car dealership’s storage lot, two thieves hopped the fence and quickly stole several sets of xenon headlights out of the new cars, costing the dealership $3,000 per set. About four months later, several men drove their car through the fence and within 15 minutes pilfered 30 sets of headlights, leaving the dealership with a hefty $100,000 loss.

Hoping to stop the incidents, General Manager Sean Timmons stepped up security. He had security guards make extra patrols and the alarm monitoring company was asked to call Timmons if they saw anything suspicious.

A few months later, two thieves scaled the storage lot fence. (The security guards were patrolling other parts of the property at the time.) The alarm monitoring company called the police and notified Timmons. While alarm monitoring employees watched the video monitor from their remote location, the thieves attempted to steal a car.

The police arrived 20 minutes after the initial call; the men were still in the midst of stealing the equipment. The police confronted them. A shootout ensued, damaging several cars, but the thieves escaped.

“We knew then that we had to get a system that was proactive rather than reactive,” says Timmons.

The dealership has one main location in Milburn that houses 300 cars, a storage lot three miles away that can hold an additional 300 cars, and a third location near Newark, New Jersey, comprising a small car lot and a parking garage for new cars and client cars being serviced or repaired.

Before the upgrade, all locations were protected by CCTV cameras monitored by a contract company and security guards patrolled the sites. The off-site storage lot was further protected by a fence. Timmons set out to find a system that would do more to help deter thefts.

He researched available security cameras with motion sensors that could activate when someone entered the property. Several companies provided demonstrations of their products. However, according to Timmons, the cameras all had problems with false alarms when animals or inanimate objects triggered the sensors. And even if the sensors caught a thief, the only option was to call the police. This solution left the criminals plenty of time to steal from the dealership and get away before the police arrived or to escape from the police as happened in the incident described earlier.

One option intrigued Timmons, however, because it used analytics to reduce false alarms and had two-way communications that would allow them to talk to intruders. It was the Virtual Sentry system by Visentry of Paramus, New Jersey.

The system consisted of digital CCTV cameras, which were installed around all three properties, a two-way speaker system, and a monitoring service.

Visentry monitors the cameras from its own center off-site. If the cameras pick up a potentially unauthorized event, such as one or more persons on the lot after hours, the Visentry employees monitoring the system notify the intruders via the loudspeaker that they are not allowed in the area. If the individuals do not provide a justification for being on the lot, Visentry calls the police to notify them of the intrusion and provide any helpful details such as what the trespassers are wearing.

Timmons and any other authorized person can also view the feeds remotely via a password-protected Web site.

Less than three months after the system was installed, several young men climbed the fence at the storage lot and began walking around. The sensors triggered the CCTV system, and Visentry’s personnel notified the men that they were not authorized to be in the lot and that they should leave. To make it clear that the monitoring was live and not an automated announcement, Visentry employees described what each person was wearing over the loudspeaker. When the men still did not leave, the monitoring center called police and gave them all the details about the intruders. The police arrived and arrested the men. Nothing was stolen.

Three months after this incident, several men once again broke into the storage lot and attempted to steal a car. The intruders left when the monitoring center personnel announced that they were calling the police. However, the surveillance personnel saw which direction the would-be thieves went in and what car they were driving. This information was given to the police, who were then able to apprehend the intruders a short distance away.

“That was the last incident,” says Timmons. “We believe that word of the new system is out on the street.”

The system has also inadvertently helped the dealership increase sales. At the small sales lot and garage, employees have up to 20 new cars on display. The lot is open only on weekdays, and before the Visentry system was installed, employees had to take the cars in every night and move them out during the day. This security measure kept potential customers from browsing in the evenings and on weekends. Now the cars can be left out so that potential customers can view them even after hours.

Similarly, the dealership would not let clients drop cars off for service after hours for fear the car would be stolen. Now the company is able to offer that convenience to customers. Though the cause and effect can’t be proven, it is likely that these changes are largely responsible for the fact that sales at the location have gone up 75 percent since the system was installed.

When Timmons selected the system, it cost more than the others he considered at that time—approximately $30,000 for the Visentry cameras as opposed to $20,000 for other systems—but he says that the up-front expenditure has been more than mitigated by the reduction in losses.

In addition, while the Visentry system had a higher initial cost, it has lower lifecycle costs. The monitoring and security officers Timmons used before the new system cost $4,000 a month as opposed to Visentry’s $1,000 monthly monitoring fee.

A third benefit has been insurance: The dealership’s insurance premiums have also decreased dramatically in response to the upgraded security. “We have yet to file an insurance claim since we got the new system,” says Timmons.

The totality of the savings has meant that the return on the investment has been nearly immediate, says Timmons. “The system paid for itself the first year.”

(For more information: Yona Weider, CEO, Visentry phone: 201/843-0099; e-mail:[email protected])