A key step to more profitable vending

In 2014 the British Transport Police reported an increase in thefts from vending machines of 34% over two years. This trend will have most certainly caused considerable financial losses and inconvenience for the operators concerned.

A former supervisor, Rory Luke, stole a set of keys when leaving Coca-Cola and used these to rob the company’s vending machines on 93 separate occasions before he was caught. This is unsurprising because no physical damage to the machines occurs if the thief holds the right keys.

Understanding what good key management constitutes and how it can be improved should significantly reduce the risks.

In this article, Martin McCaffrey, Technical Director of Camlock Systems Ltd, sets out what you should consider.


What key management involves

Good key management involves ensuring that you know how many keys you have, where these are and that these are only in the possession of authorised and trusted users.  Poor key management allows unauthorised users to be in possession of legitimate keys or even worse, to obtain illicit copies. Such copies may be used by the holder or undesirable associates for nefarious purposes, which are relatively difficult to uncover since losses do not involve criminal damage during any unauthorised access.

Wherever goods, cash or personal data is at risk, it is essential to employ robust procedures for recording key procurement, issue, recovery and storage. Using patented locks will prevent keys accumulating in an uncontrolled fashion, including from unauthorised/third party outlets such as High Street key cutters.  This is often augmented by the manufacturers operating a key registration system, in which records are maintained of whom in any particular organisation is entitled to order keys and only after their credentials have been checked rigorously.  Put another way, patented locks ensure that additional keys are only obtained from bona fide suppliers, by legitimate purchasers.

Label keys

Labelling of keys and corresponding machines or equipment will keep track of them and can also help to ensure users are only issued with keys to carry out their tasks satisfactorily and then only for the length of time required.  Labelling may take the form of simple alpha-numeric marking, colour coding or perhaps bar coding.  At the more sophisticated end, there are some GPS tracking systems that monitor the location of keys. 

Labelling may be used not only for the keys themselves but also for equipment/door codes, locations and route management.


Restrict access

Rather than issuing keys permanently, consider issuing to specific personnel for a restricted duration, to allow access at certain times or for set tasks.  Electronic key control cabinets or mechanical key tracking ‘pegboards’ will allow you to see which keys are in use and by whom.  


Record, monitor and control key issue and retrieval

This may be done simply via an in-house manual system, whereby keys are signed in and out, and held in a secure key cabinet.  At the other end of the spectrum are more sophisticated electronic key management or auditing arrangements, which require users to provide correct credentials before any key may be obtained, and will log all details regarding the user involved and the times the keys were removed and returned, similar to an access control system.


Obtain keys from departing staff

To avoid the example of Rory Luke repeating itself in your company, be sure to record all keys at the time of purchase. Subsequently, you should track whom each key has been issued to and when he or she returned it, using receipts or electronic auditing, also whether keys have been retrieved from departing staff. Correct disposal and recording of lost, broken or worn out keys will further improve your key management.


Make key holders accountable

Making key holders accountable for the keys gives them a stake in their safekeeping. Where keys are in the ongoing care or possession of staff members, regular checks or audits of keys for quantity and condition helps ensure that these are carefully looked after and can draw earlier attention to losses. Where losses occur through negligence, it may be worth considering charging key holders for replacements and even for replacement locks, where a serious or negligent compromise has occurred.


Benefits of patented keys

Patented locks and keys can prevent unauthorized duplicate keys being cut or blanks being made. You can test the security level of your keys by taking them to a local key cutting outlet. If they are able to cut a spare copy for you, they will be able to do the same for any other third party. Manufacturers of patented locks often regulate the issue of keys by offering a key registration service, selling registered keys only to the relevant customer. 


Benefits of changeable combination locks

These enable you to avoid much of the expense of changing locks if the keys are lost or stolen. Unlike other locks, changeable combination locks may be set to another key combination by using a special change key. Once a new combination is set, the lost or stolen key no longer operates the lock and security is restored immediately.


More information

Camlock Systems provides expert advice and a wide range of products developed specifically for the vending industry. Together, these will help to ensure your vending machines continue to do what you purchased them for, to make profits for you. Whether you have experienced theft from your machines or you would like to take preventative action to avoid your machines appearing in the theft statistics, we are here to help you. We can explain more about the benefits of patented locking systems, our online key registration service, electronic locks and bespoke locking solutions.