Preventing crime during jewellery trade shows

May 2003 Security Services & Risk Management

Exhibitors attending jewellery trade shows are suddenly exposed to a higher risk of robbery and theft because of the fact that they need to move valuable merchandise outside the ‘safety’ of their protected stores and businesses.

Furthermore, they often rely on other parties' judgement with regard to security arrangements at the selected venue, which in many cases, because of different factors such as inexperience in the field of crime risk analysis and security, budget constraints and unexpected events, turns out to be inadequate.

It can be stated that the crime risk for exhibitors begins with the moving of the merchandise from the store to the location where the exhibition is to take place. It persists throughout the duration of the exhibition and reaches a peak at the time when the exhibitors pack their goods and return to their respective places of business.

According to Jewellery Security Alliance (Annual Crime Report-2000), it is a known fact that jewellery criminal gangs often infiltrate trade shows with the intention to plan the commission of a crime. The same organisation also reported that the dollar losses resulting from 'off-premises crimes' amounted to $53 million, of which robbery made up for 54%, theft for 44% and burglary for 2%.

It is therefore essential that exhibitors do not simply rely on organisers' arrangements on venue security, but rather carefully plan their own security well before the actual opening of the event. This should include, amongst others, thorough intelligence gathering, adequate selection of methods of transport, routes, hotels and security at the venue.

Preparing for the event

Effective security always implies thorough preparation and planning. If caught unprepared, exhibitors may risk injury and considerable losses as a result of a sudden criminal attack.

Prior to the exhibition, participants should gather as much intelligence as possible and refrain from discussing their planned participation with outsiders. The following crime preventive measures are recommended:

* Discuss your security arrangements as well as the time and modalities of the move and travel only with trusted collaborators.

* Liase closely with the event organisers for all your security related concerns.

* Evaluate all trade shows from a security viewpoint. There may be certain informal or secondary jewellery shows which have little or no security, and may present so great a risk of loss that exhibitors should avoid them.

* Gather as much intelligence as possible on aspects such as, amongst others, the location of the event, the crime situation, the safest hotels and restaurants in the area.

* If possible, inspect the venue before the event in order to be acquainted with the environment and all safety/security related issues. Know escape routes. In case of fire or other emergencies, know what to do and how to exit the venue.

* Have a plan. Leave a list of where you will be and who you will see each day. Give this list to your spouse or business partner. If you are missing, they will have a place to start looking. Advise them of any changes. Do not tell outsiders where you will be staying.

* Keep an inventory. Know exactly what you are carrying and have a duplicate list at home or work. If you are robbed, it will be easier to figure out what is missing. This aids in dealing with insurance companies and law enforcement. Photos are invaluable in recovery efforts.

* Involve your security/risk manager or, if you do not have one, consult with a crime risk and prevention specialist for a careful assessment of all risk factors and recommended prevention strategies.

Whilst travelling to the exhibition venue

Travelling to the exhibition venue is extremely risky. At this stage, exhibitors are exposed to theft (by opportunity or distraction) and to robbery attacks. The following are important crime prevention strategies:

* When possible, utilise the specialised service of reputable courier companies or armoured couriers. Trade show connected losses could be prevented by shipping directly into and out of the show location.

* Alternatively, should you decide to carry the merchandise, consider employing the services of armed escorts to accompany you to and from the exhibition venue. This service should be provided only by a reputable security company. Ask your insurance company/broker, the Jewellery Council or a crime risk and prevention specialist for advice.

* Keep your travel itinerary confidential. Tell only your spouse and trusted business partner. Do not disclose your travel and hotel plans, security arrangements or schedule to outsiders. To do so will leave you vulnerable at certain points. Secrecy is a good policy for anyone who travels; the fewer people who know a travelling jeweller's itinerary, the less chance he or she will be followed.

* In any event, avoid carrying valuable merchandise on your own. Ask a partner or trusted member of staff to accompany you at all times.

* Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Know where you are and who is around you. Avoid distractions while travelling. Think about your travel, your environment and what you would do if an emergency arose.

* Carry a cellphone. Keep in touch with a trusted person and let him/her know where you are at all times. Thieves often steal cellphones, so have a back-up cellphone in your car.

* Travel direct routes. When possible, take non-stop flights. If driving, take extra care at rest stops and filling stations.

* Avoid company logos (on clothing, bags and accessories) that may identify you as belonging to a specific jewellery company.

* Utilise normal sport bags that can be locked and sealed (locks and seals should be concealed).

* Consider using an electronic device consisting of a transmitter (to be inserted inside the bag) and a receiver with alarm (to be attached to your belt). Should the bag be stealthily removed from your immediate environment, a loud beep will immediately alert you (the monitoring distance is between two and 10 metres).

* Consider carrying an anti-robbery (alarm and shock) case. The standard briefcase only allows for small quantities of merchandise. However, larger cases can be obtained.

* Also remember that much can be hidden on your person in different places.

At the trade show

During the trade show whilst the risk of robbery diminishes, theft, especially by distraction and switching, becomes a real threat. At this stage, the exhibitors should think of the stand where they are situated as if it were their store or business place. Below are a few useful recommendations.

* Adopt the 'serve one customer at a time and show one item at a time' golden rule.

* If possible, avoid working alone at the stand as this increases the risk of victimisation.

* Beware of groups of individuals trying to purposefully distract you in order to steal valuable items or switch precious stones.

* Ensure that all your display cases are secured against opening or lifting.

* Consider installing at your stand a video surveillance system consisting of one or two cameras linked to a video recorder and focusing especially on the area where you intend to show valuable items of merchandise. This will help you keep a record of video evidence which may be used in a follow up investigation into sudden losses.

* Alternatively, depending on the level of risk, consider employing the services of a dedicated security guard through a reputable company.

* During the stay at the trade show, keep your merchandise at the venue in a safe inside a security designated area, which should be protected by armed guards on a 24 hour basis. Avoid moving merchandise to a hotel safe even for one night.

* When leaving the exhibition venue (after show hours), use a properly identified transport service provided or recommended by the organisers.

After the trade show

The period immediately after the closing of the exhibition is particularly risky because of the resultant confusion and generalised haste in leaving the venue. This may lead to opportunistic theft. Furthermore, at this stage certain exhibitors could be more vulnerable to robbery attacks. Exhibitors should therefore exercise extreme caution, especially during their departure from the exhibition venue. The following strategies should be considered:

* Do not waste time unnecessarily. Your merchandise should be returned to the safety of your store/business place as quickly and as securely as possible.

* Implement all the strategies that you have adopted whilst travelling to the exhibition venue (see above).

In the event of a robbery attack

In the event of a robbery attack, police authorities, jewellery security experts and violent crime researchers agree the victim should not offer physical or verbal resistance, as this significantly increases the risk of injuries. The victim should get a good description of the assailants and their vehicle, then call the police. However, the low arrest and recovery rate (according to a recent research into jewellery store robbery in South Africa, conducted by the author, in 65% of the reported cases robbers are not apprehended and in 75,8% the merchandise is not recovered) again stresses the importance for the exhibitors to have the protection of an adequate insurance coverage.


For many jewellery business people, attendance at important local and international trade shows is extremely important as it can generate new business opportunities and sales.

This should, however, always be done giving security top priority.

Exhibitors should not be discouraged from attending important trade shows. On the contrary, as explained above there are effective crime preventative strategies that can be adopted before, during and immediately after a jewellery trade show, which can help minimise the risk for potentially very damaging losses.

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