Small-Equipment Theft: Think Purple

April 30, 2014

Every equipment organization I’ve ever known has a problem with theft and security of their small equipment. When I say small equipment, I’m talking about small generator sets, tamps and jumping jacks, cut-off saws, small pumps, and dozens of other such items. It’s the group of tools with relatively short lives, and most all of them cost well under $5,000.

I’m not talking about the true hand tools such as drill motors and chain saws. These are assigned to various foremen and are dispensed and tracked by the assignee, and they are typically stored each night in the foreman’s locked company pickup.

It didn’t take long until everyone in the community had their laugh and identified the ugly purple equipment with our company, which was exactly what we wanted.

Usually, most of the theft is from the various job sites because that is where the small equipment is used and exposed to all the operations employees, a constant flow of vendor employees, and all job visitors. Most thefts occur at night or on weekends when the jobs are inactive and the small equipment is usually grouped together in a storage shed.

No one at your company intentionally invites thieves to steal your small equipment. These losses are a pain in the butt to track and explain, and in the end, some department is going to be charged with the replacement expense.

The most common losses are due to break-ins of your job-site 10- or 20-foot storage boxes. You can buy stronger, reinforced boxes; you can put a job-site wheel loader in front of the storage boxes; you can hire security personnel; you can deploy dogs, lights, or camera; or you can hang some of the pieces from job-site cranes.

At my company, we tried them all with limited success. But no matter what we did, disgruntled former employees or random thieves still managed to raid our jobs. Within 24 hours, they would convert these common tools into cash at a willing pawn shop. Local police simply have too much serious crime to chase to give our small-equipment thefts much of their time.

Almost every couple of weeks, a pawn shop in our work zone vicinity would call me. The story was usually the same. A man they did not know using an alias had pawned four or five pieces. The pawn shop then tells me they belatedly realized our company’s name was stamped into the frame of the tools, which prompted the call.

The replacement cost of new tools is, for example, $4,000, but they will “sell” me back my equipment for $1,500 (which likely has a $500 profit in the deal for the pawn shop). I can grumble and grouse all I want, but in the end, I will pay $1,500 to recover my stolen equipment instead of paying $4,000 to buy new equipment.

Yes, I know what you are thinking; the world is not always fair.

We went for years and years like this. In a typical year, we would lose about 75 pieces of small equipment that cost us about $100,000. Finally, we settled on a rather wide-reaching but simple solution. We painted all of our small equipment purple. The cost was minimal. The labor to paint each piece was under an hour. It took more than a year to cycle the 1,000 pieces through our central shop to paint all the pieces. On some of the pieces, we only painted the large, easy-to-reach surfaces. The color was truly harsh: a bright, ugly, high-gloss purple that no one liked.

It didn’t take long until everyone in the community had their laugh and identified the ugly purple equipment with our company, which was exactly what we wanted. The harsher the color, the better the impact.

So did it work? Our thefts almost disappeared. Two years later, our annual losses were less than 10 pieces, and I assume those pieces went to some employee or former employee’s lake house. If you are fighting small-equipment theft, try this easy solution. Choose a bright, ugly color and paint your small equipment. The thefts will slow way, way down.

Think about it.