In the Field: Securing a Dispensary

June 22, 2022
Here’s what security pros looking to enter the cannabis market should know about this increasingly prevalent retail business

Editor’s note: This article was originally published by Locksmith Ledger magazine, a fellow Endeavor Business Media publication, and has been reprinted here with permission.

There’s no question that cannabis is becoming increasingly prevalent in the United States. As of publication, cannabis is fully illegal in only four states, and the number that allow for recreational use continues to increase.

Given the nature of the business, security of cannabis facilities is at a premium.

Joe Brunell of Brunell & Sons in Philadelphia has had experience with securing a dispensary, the type that dispenses legal marijuana. We recently spoke with him about his experiences in this growing potential market for security pros.

Locksmith Ledger (LL): Most people who know me would be surprised that I’ve never stepped foot into a dispensary, but it’s true. I have no idea what makes it that much different from the many other retail business buildings. I was told that when someone applies for the license to open and run one, their plan to secure the operation is one of the things that must be submitted. Does this jibe with your experience?

Joe Brunell: Yes, it does. At first, we did work for a company out of Pittsburgh that provided security in general and subcontracted work out to other security companies, such as us. Included in their plan was the alarm system, camera system and card access. Lots of cameras everywhere, that’s their focus.

LL: What about a dispensary makes it so different from most other places you’re called on to secure?

Brunell: The main thing is that they’re a cash-only business, with a very popular and well-liked product, and that’s a good reason for them to be so security-conscious.

LL: How long ago did you work on your first dispensary? Have things changed much since then as far as priorities and what’s installed?

Brunell: I’ve been doing this probably 4–5 years. It’s pretty much stayed the same. Typically, there’s a main door that’s locked and manned by people. You enter the lobby area, and even if you’re a contractor, they’ll take your ID and have you sign in on a tablet.

From there, they’ll walk you back into the shopping area, for lack of a better term. The ones I’ve worked on have an inner security door, with cameras everywhere. Then, they’ll have a back room where people working with product are, and there’s an IDF room where the access system and computer system are all wired up. These rooms all have access control, cameras and intrusion alarms.

LL: Do they only let one or two people in at a time?

Brunell: Since COVID, they’ve always had long lines out front, and only one or two enter at a time. There are several layers of people involved. Usually, there are two people in the front entrance area when you enter. Every inch of the place is covered by one of many cameras.

On the back doors, they’ll have cameras, card access and an audio/video intercom for deliveries. In addition, they often have a fenced area that’s secured as well.

LL: Have you done work in other places that required as much security as these places do?

Brunell: Yes. I do work for a place that auctions sports and pop-culture memorabilia. We just put in 46 cameras and are doing another 10. We’re talking about baseball cards and other memorabilia worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, so they’ve got to watch everything all the time. There’s a lot of small product that can be stolen easily.

I’m not familiar as to what measures the dispensaries take at the actual growing facilities, but I would imagine they’re pretty serious about security there as well.

I think most of their security is maintained on the cloud, the card access and the cameras. The security company that hired us sent their crew down to rough in all the wire and control panels. We installed the hardware, burglar-alarm system and equipment, complete with monitoring. They have used us over the past few years to do additional wiring, security, preventative maintenance checks and repairs.  

LL: How much consideration goes into whom dispensaries finally choose to do this work compared with other types of work? Are there background checks, etc.?

Brunell: We got lucky, because we already had a relationship with someone at the security company awarded the job. We worked for him at another project for a pharmaceutical company. The trust was already there. Relationships make a big difference in situations like this.

They still wanted to see our driver’s license and asked us to sign in at the dispensary locations, regardless of whether they knew us. I think having knowledge and experience with access control or cameras helps with getting connected with these kinds of companies.

LL: If we suddenly find ourselves with many more dispensaries, is this work you’d go after?

Brunell: Probably not, because our niche is a bit different. We focus primarily on our own card-access and camera-system accounts. We use a cloud-based system that gives us a recurring monthly income.

LL: Is the regular stream of income because you use a cloud-based system?

Brunell: Yes. The alarm industry has been doing this for years. They install a system; the customer pays a monthly or yearly fee for monitoring; and they rarely deal with the customer until service is required, such as batteries or a device issue. This has helped the alarm companies build the value of their business. It’s typically based on their recurring revenue. They can sell their accounts or business based on that income.

When it comes to access control, we’ve installed thousands of readers. When we finished a job, if there’s no service contract, the next time you’d hear from a customer would be when service, repair or additional work is necessary.  With a cloud-based system, you’re guaranteed a monthly or yearly fee.

LL: So, you’re out there drumming up new access control business for this reason?

Brunell: Actually, no. We don’t even advertise. Many of our customers that use card access are switching to the cloud-based product, because we installed their systems years ago. Now they’re becoming old and obsolete. After customers see the cloud-based system, they love it. Many end users don’t want to be bothered with adding and deleting users, so we do that for them. With us, it’s included in the monthly fees.

LL: How does being an experienced locksmith help you to secure this work and do a good job that results in being called to do more?

Brunell: When there’s a question about hardware, we know what to use. Most security companies automatically want to use maglocks, but that’s not always the best solution. Why not install an electric strike or an electrified panic device? Often the correct hardware isn’t specified because of the contractor or architect not knowing enough about hardware function. With the customer’s requirements and concerns, we can evaluate the door for the correct type of hardware to use. Do it right the first time.

Steve Kaufman has worked for distributors in the locksmith industry since 1993 and worked as a full-time locksmith from 1978 through the 1980s. Kaufman is the sales manager for IDN Hardware out of its Philadelphia location.


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