Have you ever thought about how your retail organization handles the distribution and record keeping for its mechanical key drop? If you have, what did you conclude? That the current system is a cornerstone of your security program or a liability? If you're like most, you might have reached the decision that it was just too stressful to think about and simply stopped thinking about it.


Whether you have hundreds or thousands of stores - the issue of key drop control MUST be addressed or it will likely impair the effectiveness of all your other security operations.

By reading this far you already have started. Now let's take it to the next level by breaking the problem down into its simplest components.

A good example of a company that does it right is G & S Oil, a retail marketer of Conoco and Texaco petroleum products throughout Colorado. G & S follows each of these four steps in managing key drop control at its seven service stations and 6 convenience stores.

1. The quantity of existing keys has to be controllable. Management must know the number of keys being used at each location. Five cannot turn into six without your knowledge. It's that sixth key that was reproduced at the kiosk in the mall, the neighborhood hardware store or even by your own locksmith who forgot to document the event that will cause you problems. You have to have a system with a proven track record of restricted keys - key drop that have only one way of being duplicated - with your authority.

According to Jim Larkin, retail sales manager for G & S Oil, each manager at the 13 different locations is responsible for keeping an inventory of key drop registered to the stores' employees. G & S employs between six to 10 workers per location. The number of keys varies between location, from four to six.

If you cannot control the number of authorized keys to that front door, your security program is virtually useless.

2. Policies and procedures to rekey must exist. As a retailer, there will be times when keys are outside of your control - they've either been lost or stolen. And, there is the issue of keys are left unaccounted for because of employee turnover. Inevitably, there will be a day that keys to your operation will turn up missing. It's one thing to have dropped a key over the side of the boat to the bottom of the lake, and something else to suspect it is still in the hands of that very angry ex-employee. What is your store's policy when employees leave?

At G & S, a store manager doesn't have to call a locksmith to rekey all the doors every time a key is unaccounted for because it's been lost or stolen. Instead, G & S outfits its store managers with a master key.

"I have a master key for all locations and don't have to worry about not having access to a location if a problem arises after normal operating hours."

A set of policies and procedures should be developed that let your store managers know when the store should be rekeyed. Instructions on rekey procedures should be clearly and concisely documented. Whether you use interchangeable cores, call out the local locksmith, or utilize some of the more technologically advanced "user rekeyable" locks, the fact remains - missing keys are a liability and a risk. A regulated program to rekey doors made vulnerable when a key turns up missing could prove to be a necessity.