The surveillance technology that could identify someone attempting to steal from a vehicle in a dealer’s back lot also can help identify what areas of a car lot get the most after-hours customer attention.

“We can’t build a fence around our property,” says Dan Moyer, fixed operations director of the 5-franchise Kelly Automotive Group in Emmaus, PA.

“We want our customers to walk the area and look at the inventory,” he says. “But we need to chase off the thieves. We start softer and get more aggressive.”

He recalls a time when a pair of young men hopped the fence of a Kelly dealership storage lot, seeking to cut catalytic converters off the SUVs like they did at nearby dealerships up and down the street.

The dealership’s high definition video/integrative system from Eyewitness Surveillance went into action.

“Halt. We have you on camera. If you don't leave we will alert the police,” says a disembodied voice from a camera atop a pole.

The youths ambled back over the fence. A hundred miles (160 km) away, a crew of retired military officers monitor nighttime activities at 200 dealerships, including Kelly Automotive’s, in the Eyewitness headquarters in Hanover, MD.

They use digital voice projection to address intruders in real time. The threatening voice often scares away would-be thieves, Moyer says.  

Prior to installing the high-end surveillance system, “our vandalism cost ranged from $20 to $25,000 a year, especially stolen catalytic converters,” Moyer says, adding that the tally is virtually nil now.

He cites added benefits: “Customers appreciate the security protection. They can browse the vehicles and know they are safe.”

Dealerships face a paradox in the retail world. They offer merchandise with price tags up to $100,000, yet they must display the products in plain view.

Even in this day of 3-D imaging, web chats and interactive purchase applications, people want to see a car up close and for real, says Steve Waterhouse, president of the Waterhouse Group, a dealership consulting agency in Orange Park, FL. 

“The Internet is a wonderful way to buy a car, but a very poor way to fall in love with one,” he says. “Dealers need the friendliest, most receptive people on staff and a facility that makes it comfortable to visit, even off hours.”