Around 100,000 pounds worth of tradesmen and tradeswomen’s tools were reported stolen to police according to the most recently collated figures, in 2016, with the value of insurance claims going up by 15 percent from 2016 to 2017. Behind these statistics are hundreds of micro and small businesses struggling to absorb the crippling losses.
Plumbers, electricians, carpenters and builders are all being targeted by thieves, who are cutting their way into vans and tool safes, or driving off with vehicles and their contents.
At a time when the health of SMEs is more crucial than ever for the wider British economy – more than 99 percent of UK firms are SMEs – tool theft is a blight that needs to be tackled.
One tradeswoman who knows about the problem first hand, is Zoe Robins, MD of painting and tiling firm, Paintfusion, based in Cardiff. Her first businesses folded after a thief made off with her car, which housed all of her tools. She says: “I was running a small painting and decorating business, using my car to get to and from jobs, and I was about to set up a tiling business when the car was stolen. I lost around £1,000 worth of tools, as well as my vehicle. My insurance was invalid due to a technicality and the loss put me out of the trade for some years.”
After taking a few other career paths, Zoe has now returned to the trade, where her bread and butter work is painting and decorating, as well as handiwork, for local landlords, and she is thriving.
To safeguard her livelihood, Zoe decided to take preventative action by hiring a permanent lock-up at Storage Giant, in Cardiff, where she keeps her tools under lock and key, and where she can access them seven days a week via a pin code and secure entry system.
She says: “For me, it is worth paying a small amount of money to know that my tools and my livelihood are secure. The site is convenient and accessible and the arrangement gives me peace of mind. It also helps me to stay organised, since I check in at the lock-up in the morning and take the tools and equipment I need for that day. I have heard of some tradesmen who have lost their tools to thieves who have targeted tool safes on building sites, and ripped them open – so some safeguards are safer than others. Mine was by no means the only small businesses to have folded because of tool theft. And even if you are insured, it can take time for a payout to come, and if you have customers waiting for you to complete a job you can afford to make them wait and to lose valuable business. Also, it isn't just the case that your tools go missing – often a trade van can be cut open like a tin can, and this kind of damage can easily put a business out of action.”
Simon Williams, MD of Storage Giant, which has nine storage superstore sites throughout the UK, says: “The rise of tool theft is a real scourge and it hits those who are the backbone of local economies, so it is something we need to get a handle on. Safeguarding tools is a large part of what we do at our Storage Giant sites and we hear any number of accounts from tradesmen and small business owners who often come to us after they have been targeted.
“I know earlier this year a carpenter who had been repeatedly targeted by tool thieves started a campaign to call upon the government to take action to tackle van and tool thefts and this needs to be addressed urgently. We also had a long-term Storage Giant client who switched from us whilst trying to cut some costs only to lose around £50,000 worth of tools and stock that he transferred into a shipping container style lock-up run by a separate container storage company. While it was there, his container was hoisted by a Hiab crane, then loaded onto a vehicle and driven off by thieves. His business has now ceased trading.
“We know from Office for National Statistics **figures that the suicide rate among construction workers is higher than in any other profession. I’m not suggesting that there is a direct correlation between these statistics and tool theft, but construction work can be uncertain, it is, for many, part of the gig economy and it involves frequent working away from home. These are all known pressures within the industry, and I think it is vital that other, controllable pressures and risks to trades people and their livelihoods, such as theft, need to be carefully managed.”
There are things a tradesman can do to safeguard his tools and his living.
- Use forensic marking on your tools
- Invest in a safe lock-up. Storage Giant operates nine sites across the UK and safeguards the tools of hundreds of small businesses
- Secure windows and lock your van at all times, even if unattended just for a few moments, and invest in second locks
- Be vigilant when you park in places that could be natural targets for thieves – for instance in trade counter or builders merchants
- Never leave tools in the van overnight
- Make sure any secure tool storage within the van is properly fitted
- Don’t let your insurance lapse. The average insurance claim for stolen tools adds up to around £1,200