No one ever expects emergencies to happen, but when they do, it’s crucial to have a plan in place and be prepared. From tragic incidents such as the vehicular rampage through a north Toronto neighbourhood in April that killed 10 and injured 16, to weather-related incidents that can disable a commercial property, building owners, managers and their security personnel need to be strategic in finding ways to prepare for worst-case scenarios before they occur.

Hopefully these plans never require implementation, of course. But being prepared is important, if only to provide peace of mind. Part of that planning means also taking the time to train staff on the key points of your organization’s emergency preparedness and disaster response plan, or EPDRP (read our recent blog for an overview of how to develop your own comprehensive, customized plan) and then deploying effective emergency preparedness drills to be ready if, or when, disaster strikes.

Wincon Security is deeply committed to educating our clients as to how critical these plans are, so much so that we build EPDRP development into our client onboarding process.

As part of that commitment, we participated in Emergency Preparedness (EP) Week event in May coordinated and facilitated by York Region Corporate Business Continuity Program Specialist Sophia Craig-Massey and Markham Fire public educator Alex Freeman. The Remington Group hosted the event.

Various speakers underscored the importance of having an EPDRP, particularly for condominium and apartment complexes. They cited the fact that on May 4th, thousands of Toronto residents were without power when a rain and wind storm disrupted electrical service across the Greater Toronto Area. Not surprisingly, EP Week attendees were eager to engage and learn about the importance of having 72-hour kits in their residences—a handy item to include in the tool boxes of any commercial properties, as well. The kits typically feature items such as flash lights, blankets, non-perishable food and other essentials that might be important to have when power is non-existent and accessing additional supplies is all but impossible in an emergency situation.

An Emergency Preparedness Guide was also provided by York Region. Appropriately titled ‘Is your family ready?’ (hint: most are not), the guide contains information on what to do before, during and after an emergency, a rundown of the types of emergencies most likely to occur in York Region, and emergency preparedness tips for people with disabilities and/or special needs. The guide also provides handy tips on preparing a home kit, car kit (another essential consideration), as well as a guide to preparing emergency food and water supplies and how to shelter your animals and prepare a pet emergency kit to be fully prepared in case you’re stuck without pet supplies for a period of time.

While the topic may have been serious, the format was fun and engaging for everyone from kids to seniors. Children and adults had the chance to spin the big wheel and answer questions pertaining to the emergency preparedness skills they’d learned at the event. Those who correctly answered questions around key concerns such as the items you should have on hand at home in case of a power outage, won prizes to add to their own emergency kits.

In addition, the dedicated first responders at Markham Fire handed out fire hats to all those in attendance, and educated their audience on important topics such as fire safety in the home, how to develop a home evacuation plan and ways to check and update smoke detectors.

It was an evening of fun and learning all rolled into one.

From our perspective as a security provider, we need more events such as this one—and not just for home owners and occupants. Even though we educate our commercial property clients on the benefits of having an EPDRP, those who don’t already work with Wincon may not have a plan in place. From our experience, the majority of commercial property owners fall into that latter category, while those that do have a plan might find that it’s outdated or inadequate.

It’s crucial to remember that commercial properties are just as susceptible to disaster-related issues as residences—sometimes more so. And as any business owner or manager will attest, most organizations simply can’t sustain the cost and disruptions associated with unforeseen product or service downtime. In the case of small and medium-sized businesses, especially, even a short disruption in service can potentially cripple their operations and result in devastating bottom-line consequences.

All in all, this was a great event and we’d like to see more like it. Next time, let’s encourage more commercial property owners to attend, and continue educating them to ways to develop effective EPDRP strategies to help protect and secure their business assets.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

About the only positive development that can be gleaned from the recent incident at a Philadelphia Starbucks store, where two African-American men were arrested after being reported to authorities by an employee, is that it offers a teachable moment for retailers, security companies and their staff.

The two men, entrepreneurs and friends, told media outlets they were at the Starbucks to meet a business associate. As reported widely in the press, one of the men asked to use the washroom and was denied because he hadn’t made a purchase.

When the two took a seat to wait for their friend, they were approached by a Starbucks employee who asked if they needed help. The men say they replied that they were OK, and were waiting for a colleague who was joining them for a meeting. The men sat and chatted when, several minutes later, police entered the store and asked the duo to leave. They apparently refused, citing the fact that they’d done nothing wrong.

They were arrested by police and eventually released without charge. They’ve since settled with Starbucks and the city, the latter agreeing to fund a pilot program for young entrepreneurs.

The incident soon blew up into a public relations firestorm for Starbucks, which has apologized and plans to close 8,000 of its U.S. stores for a day later this month so that employees can undergo racial sensitivity training. Not surprisingly, a boycott-Starbucks movement emerged on social media calling for customers to take their latte-buying dollars elsewhere.

The situation underscores an important point that retail store owners should always keep top of mind: security is a team effort that requires training, reasonable application of policies and common sense to be effective. If not, your organization is susceptible to a Starbucks-esque disaster.

First, let’s see how this interaction could have played out.

In situations where there might be legitimate concerns as to why non-paying customers are in a store, a manager, employee or security guard can simply approach the individuals in question and ask if they need any help—or a cappuccino, perhaps? In this situation, that seems to have happened. In most cases, customers will explain their reason for being in the store—such as waiting on a friend—before placing an order, making a purchase or leaving. Situation resolved.

In this case, it seems an overzealous Starbucks employee opted for the nuclear option and called the police even after the men explained their intentions.

If customers are in any way belligerent—and if the store does, indeed, have a policy restricting seating to paying customers—it’s a simple matter of pointing out the policy and then giving the individuals time to leave. If that doesn’t work, it’s all about de-escalating the situation to avoid conflict.

Again, in most cases, a simple explanation of policy will defuse a situation. That’s assuming that the policy is clearly displayed on the front door or prominently behind the counter—and that can be the first part of the problem.

Many retail organizations fail to define and display their policies clearly so that customers and even staff understand how they will be applied. Whether the Philadelphia Starbucks store had a sign declaring that customers must make a purchase before taking a seat is also unclear, although media reports indicate that the store did maintain such a policy.

If that is the policy, it should be displayed prominently and in writing. That also begs the question as to whether such a policy makes sense from a brand perspective. For an organization such as Starbucks that prides itself on maintaining an open-door, laissez-faire atmosphere for people to spend time and converse, it probably doesn’t.

From a retail security view, we help organizations train employees and staff on client- and situation-management techniques all the time. Our main focus is always reminding them that they work in a service industry. As such, their primary objective should be maintaining positive interactions with customers (or potential customers), at all times. That means designing policies that are logical, easily applicable and designed to maximize client goodwill.

Does your store really need a buy-before-sitting policy? If not, don’t consider implementing one in the first place. If the answer is ‘yes,’ under what circumstances should the policy be applied?

Part of that training is focused on helping employees turn negative interactions into positive ones. That takes the right tone, supported by a smile and perhaps even a bit of levity to ease the mood. This is where common sense comes into play. Identifying potential problem situations, or even threat levels, takes a trained eye. Individuals who mean to cause trouble tend to display uncannily similar traits from body language to vocal tone. But the vast majority of people don’t fall into this category. In fact, the average retail employees will likely only have a handful of negative customer interactions throughout the course of their retail careers.

The basic principle is that if a person doesn’t fit the profile of a potential troublemaker, they probably aren’t.

Managers must also be trained in the fine art of de-escalation, and be prepared to build a culture of security vigilance that’s founded on the common sense that I mentioned above. If managers are quick to push the panic button, it sends a message to staff that every unfriendly or unwelcome interaction is a reason to involve police.

On that note, we should remember that—with the exception of extreme circumstances—if police become involved in a customer interaction, something has gone very wrong at the store level. Calling for police back-up should be a last resort for your store staff or security personnel unless a crime has been, or is being, committed.

The Starbucks incident is unfortunate, but at the very least it serves as a reminder that employee security training is essential. We can only hope that the coffee giant devotes part of its full-day seminar on racial sensitivity to security policies, as well.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security

A lot has changed in your business since 1992, the year I founded Wincon Security. You’re undoubtedly facing a vastly different array of complex business challenges—particularly where security is concerned. Finding innovative new ways to bolster everything from your cyber security infrastructure to guarding against facility break-ins—to name only a few obstacles to success—has become increasingly complicated.

A lot has changed in my business, too. What hasn’t is our commitment to service excellence and a dedication to employing the latest cutting-edge technology to keep you and your properties safe. As we’ve worked to maintain those high standards, our business has evolved.

We do far more than train and staff security guards these days, which was the original foundation on which our business was built. We’re now a full-service integrated solutions provider focused on delivering enhanced value to our customers. We build relationships based on trust, while always standing behind our commitment to help you drive improved bottom-line performance from the services we deliver.

That alone would be enough to celebrate in our 25th year in business. But there’s a lot more we’d like you to know about Wincon Security and where the company is headed.

Humble beginnings deliver game-changing opportunities

When I launched the company in the early 1990s, the Internet was slowly gaining mainstream acceptance. Mobile phones were expensive and in limited use. Fax was still a primary means of business communication. And in our industry, facility security was largely managed by key-wielding guards who spent days and nights patrolling buildings or monitoring CCTV cameras, searching for potential problems along the way. It was a very different business environment.

I was a young, untested 21-year-old entrepreneur who’d only recently graduated from Seneca College’s law enforcement program. Despite my inexperience, I saw gaps in the security marketplace and figured I could plug them. A couple of jobs in the security field gave me the opportunity to listen to clients who felt they weren’t receiving the kind of value-for-service they expected from their supposedly customer-focused security providers. Those experiences largely shaped my vision for the kind of security offering Wincon could provide. I knew I could do it better, so I did.

We started out with just one client—who we’re proud to say is still part of the Wincon family—and a handful of employees. We’ve since expanded the business and now serve more than 50 Canadian and international corporations, and maintain a roster of more than 200 full- and part-time employees. As with any business, we’ve had to pivot at various points in our history, particularly with the advent of incredible new technology that seemed like the stuff of science fiction in our early days.

A new focus on solving business challenges

So, about five years ago, we started branching into systems solution integration, incorporating high-definition cameras, advanced biometrics, card access systems and cutting-edge security software into our security tool kit. We even use drones for facility patrols, helping to cut costs, improve efficiency and further reduce risk for owners and managers of retail, commercial, condominium, office and industrial properties. By building strong partnerships with suppliers across North America and beyond, we now have access to high-tech equipment capable of meeting virtually any security need you might have, particularly when coupled with our 24-hour support and facility monitoring service.

That focus on innovation was driven by a desire to continue being the Greater Toronto Area’s security service provider of choice for the next decade and beyond—admittedly not an easy feat in a highly-competitive industry such as ours. We believe that with new technology in hand and a focus on solutions integration, we can continue to personalize our service offering to better suit organizations such as yours.

A service-first culture

Thanks to our boutique structure, we’re able to sit down with you, listen and take the time to understand your needs, inspect your property and review assets in need of protection, then deliver a customized service plan that’s both affordable and sustainable. We take pride in identifying and helping you understand the vulnerabilities you don’t even know you had.

All of this means continuing to find new ways to improve training for our staff and enhancing client communications. The former process is ongoing as we introduce new technology to our employees and train them on its effective deployment. When it comes to communications, we have plans to keep you better informed than ever thanks to a new blogging, social media and newsletter initiative that will showcase everything from industry insights and risk-mitigation strategies, to Wincon news and developments across our company.

While I’m so proud to celebrate our 25TH year, I’m even more excited about the opportunity to be of greater service to you in the years ahead.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security

When the Ontario government announced plans earlier this year to increase the province’s minimum wage, many small and medium-sized business owners like you were stunned by the pace of change being proposed by the current Ontario government. I shared in your disbelief.

The minimum wage hike is contained in Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act 2017, which increases the rate from the current $11.40 per hour to $14 per hour on Jan. 1, 2018. It will jump again, to $15 per hour, on Jan. 1, 2019. In addition, the new law is introducing a host of legislative amendments including increasing the minimum paid vacation time for employees, increasing paid emergency leave entitlements, banning sick notes and amending employee scheduling rules under the Employment Standards Act.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of Bill 148’s potential impact on Ontario businesses.

Leading the way with a winning team 

To be clear, Wincon Security is a proud employer to more than 300 Ontarians on a full- and part-time basis. We believe that everyone deserves a fair living wage and good working conditions. In our 25th anniversary year, we’re proud to have earned a reputation as one of the Greater Toronto Area’s finest security firms, not to mention one of its best employers.

Our employees are the backbone of our business. They are the reason we’ve achieved success and continued to grow. As our expansion continues and as we complete our transition to being a full-service integration solutions company, we’re finding creative new ways to celebrate our workforce. That’s why we’re making new investments in employee training and career development, optimizing our technology offering and integrating new globally-sourced security solutions.

None of that would be possible without our dedicated team leading the way.

Headwinds for Ontario’s business community

The unfortunate aspect of Ontario’s minimum wage increase is that it will force organizations such as ours to adjust client rates to account for a measure that will undoubtedly have a negative bottom-line impact on not only our company, but thousands of others across the province.

Do workers in Ontario deserve a modernized Employment Standards Act that better serves their interests at a time when external factors such as globalization and automation potentially threaten their livelihoods? Absolutely. Do they deserve an even playing field that allows workers to better market their skills and services and negotiate higher wages with employers? Without a doubt.

But the reality is that Bill 148 goes too far, too fast.

Good intentions, unintended (job-killing) consequences

A recent Fraser Institute study confirms the harsh impact the minimum wage increase will have on SMEs, particularly those outside of the GTA. Researchers found that because more organizations outside of major centres such as Toronto rely on workers who earn at or near the minimum wage, smaller towns and cities will struggle to keep pace with the increase. The study’s authors predict that employers will be forced to lay off workers or resort to further automation to accommodate the increase.

Indeed, even the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario predicted that the hike would cost Ontario approximately 50,000 jobs, largely concentrated among teens and young adults. “The government’s proposal to raise Ontario’s general minimum wage to $15 per hour will dramatically increase the number of minimum wage workers from just over 500,000 currently to 1.6 million in 2019,” the report stated, further underscoring the unintended consequences that are likely to emerge from the government’s otherwise well-intentioned decision.

Fully committed to customer service excellence

Small and medium-sized business across the province simply can’t absorb the cost of these legislative changes without cutting staff, increasing prices or curbing further expansion—maybe all of the above. In our case, we will not compromise our service standard by slashing headcount or taking any action that could affect the safety and security of the properties and assets we protect. Service excellence is our top priority, and on that front, we simply will not waiver.

But the minimum wage increase will prove challenging for our business going forward. With a proactive management approach and smart decision-making, we’ll find ways to thrive under this new minimum-wage structure. I worry that others may not be as lucky.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security