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June 4, 2015

The Keys to the Vault

By Bill Napier

Keys in lockIf you were asked to write down how many sets of keys there are to your front door, the gun cases, the gun vault and the cash registers, could you do it? How about the last time the combination to the safe was changed? Do you have a drawer full of keys that aren’t marked or secured?

It gets a little tougher with these questions: Can my keys be easily copied? Do I have any missing key sets? Did I change the locks when I bought the business and took over? Do I allow employees to take business keys home at night?

By now you should be thinking there might be more to controlling all the physical keys and combinations to your business than you previously imagined. To help you get a handle on this subject, let’s examine some of its individual considerations and what you can do to ensure your store’s physical resources and cash are protected.


  • When an employee who has had the combination to your store’s vault leaves your business, have the combination changed. It is also a good idea to have the combination changed annually, even if no one leaves your employ.
  • If possible, bolt your safe and cash registers to the floor or some other secure foundation.
  • Do not leave your safe’s door closed and the combination set to open when not attended (thieves love it when you don’t spin the combination to lock the vault).
  • Do not leave the combination to the safe taped to the side or back of the safe. Believe it or not, many do this and it’s the first place a burglar will look.

Keys and Locks

  • Have all key sets tagged and numbered, issue them each day to those who require them, but ensure each set gets turned in at night
  • Do not put the store name or address or other kinds of identifying marker on your key sets in case they are lost or stolen.
  • Create a list of key sets and not which staff members they are assigned to each day so that if a set goes missing you can easily identify the last person to have them.
  • Have all store keys stamped “Do Not Duplicate.”
  • Audit your key sets frequently to ensure they are both fully accounted for and so that you can discover if one or more have been replaced with a duplicate (indicating that perhaps an employee has kept a set of keys for their own use).
  • Remember to check each lock and door handle for proper function when you conduct a key audit.
  • Keep key sets locked in the safe or key lock box when not in use.
  • Limit who has keys to your business, including special areas that may not necessitate all employees have access.
  • With few exceptions, only the persons opening or closing the business should take keys home at night and then only the key to the front door. This practice can prevent the compromise of secured interior areas in the event the key to the main entrance is lost or stolen. Likewise, in that same event, it would prevent you from changing every lock in your establishment.
  • If you determine that a set of keys has disappeared, you should strongly consider changing the locks at once.
  • Leave the stock room and office doors, safes, cash registers and gun vaults locked when not in use.
  • Do not leave the key to the register in its drawer lock. This is a common practice in many, many retail establishments and thieves count in this ease of access when you or your employees are distracted elsewhere in the store.
  • Do not hide often-used keys like those to the cash register nearby the locations they’re used for the sake of convenience, and especially don’t leave keys “hidden” outside of your business such as under the doormat.
  • Immediately repair a broken or malfunctioning door handle, gun case lock or cash register drawer. Burglars are always on the lookout for a door that can be easily forced open.

Some of these suggestions may seem simple, and they are! But it only takes a lapse in one of these to provide an opening for watching thieves or provide an opportunity to employees looking to capitalize on an inside job. Take the time, go through this list as often as necessary to protect your investment and, most of all, don’t forget to lock the door behind you when you leave.


You may also be interested in: Setting Up Your Master Key Locking


About the Author
Bill Napier HeadshotBill Napier is a member of NSSF’s retail compliance consultant team. He has more than 30 years experience in retail loss prevention, passionately serving others in leadership roles such as site manager, corporate manager and director. Businesses have included small and growing retail chains as well as a Fortune 1000 company. For more than 18 of those 30 years, Napier has been in the retail outdoor arena with responsibility for ATF compliance and firearms related investigations. He often serves as a guest speaker at NSSF’s SHOT Show, as well as at gatherings of the National Retail Federation (NRF), Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), Retail Technology (RETECH), ASIS International and The Loss Prevention Foundation, and he has spent more than 20 years in municipal law enforcement as a uniformed patrol officer, detective and supervisor. Additionally, Napier has been a state-certified law enforcement instructor and he serves as a Hunter Education instructor in Nebraska, on the ASIS Retail Loss Prevention Council, is a member of the Subject Matter Expert Committee and serves on the board of directors for The Loss Prevention Foundation.

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