The Keyholding Company

Interview: Darren Smith, Corporate Security Manager, Next plc, on how his team saved Next £28m with their proactive lockdown response

Can you tell us a little about your role within Next and how Security is set up within the organization? 

I am currently the corporate security manager for Next Plc based at their Head Office in Leicester. I have been with the business for over 11 years and started off as a security officer. I manage a security team who are based at numerous locations throughout the country, and oversee the corporate security hub. The Keyholding Company’s Hub team support the Next retail estate for any loss prevention, facilities and H&S issues.

The loss prevention team within Next is very structured. We have senior managers in Retail, Corporate, Online and Warehousing who manage the security function and report to the Group Head of loss prevention. I believe our structure is innovative as it allows us to cover all areas of England, Scotland and Ireland with loss prevention support 24/7. This could be anything from stock checks, conducting investigations, carrying out audits or assisting with new store openings.

How were you working with The Keyholding Company prior to the COVID-19 pandemic? 

We’ve been working directly with The Keyholding Company for over 4 years to help secure our 500+ stores nationwide with mobile security services. They conduct regular mobile patrols to protect our stores and attend any urgent alarm activations, meaning we have eliminated the sole reliance on our employees attending store alarms.

They’ve also been a key partner for helping us formulate better, data-driven approaches for our physical security strategy.

When lockdown was announced on 23rd of March, what were your immediate concerns? 

We weren’t alone in feeling mounting levels of uncertainty at what challenges lay ahead for the retail industry. How this pandemic would affect not only the business, but also our dedicated teams quickly became clear.

As was widely reported, Next’s response to the pandemic focused primarily on the safety of its staff, rather than sales, even closing down our online sales for a period until it was safe to re-open.

A high number of Next Plc employees started to work from home or were put into the government’s furlough scheme practically overnight, meaning we had to act fast and think on our feet.

One of the standout challenges that our Health and Safety team quickly recognised was the risk of legionnaire’s bacteria (which can be fatal) developing in unused water systems at our stores. This was a very real threat if buildings were to remain empty for an extended period and had to be addressed immediately.

With a risk on your hands and limited time to act, what measures did you put in place? 

The Health and Safety team came to us, the Security team, for a solution which would become our large scale 12 week “flush project” rolled out to stores nationwide. 

Working and communicating closely with The Keyholding Company and their Smart Security Platform, we mobilised our regional teams so they could book, amend and keep track of internal patrols where officers regularly flushed loos and ran taps in empty stores. Real-time reports to prove these patrols had taken place were sent immediately afterwards, keeping regional coordinators up to date.

It’s safe to say that both teams were pushed to the limit – we had never done anything at such a large scale. Within two weeks The Keyholding Company made over 500 visits to our stores to flush toilets and run taps. In the 12 weeks of lockdown over 2,000 visits were made across our entire store portfolio, and I’m proud to say that as a result our stores were kept legionella free (including our 120 Costa Coffee franchise partners, who’s employees were comfortable returning to work because of these crucial patrols).

When you were given the go ahead for stores to reopen, what did you do to prepare?

The installation of Perspex to keep employees and customers safe was a priority and essential for reopening.  

The Keyholding Company sent trained officers to unlock stores, let in contractors to install Perspex, provide guarding resource whilst this was taking place, then lock up stores once the job was completed.   

It’s important to remember that all tasks carried out by The Keyholding Company to support our Security teams at a time of crisis were done whilst they continued to support stores during emergencies and attend any alarm activations as they were pre lockdown.

The Keyholding Company were a critical part of navigating the challenges of lockdown successfully. The support and communication the team provided were invaluable in making sure our sites were kept safe, secure and ready to reopen to the public. We couldn’t have done it without them.

Darren Smith, Corporate Security Manager, Next Plc.

What do you think was key to the successful delivery of these projects? 

Project ‘Double Flush’ was not only relentless due to the volume of stores we had to try and attend but also the amount of phone calls we were making and receiving on a daily basis. Without the teamwork and communication between Next and The Keyholding Company, the project would never have achieved the excellent results it did and many more stores would not have been able to open on time.

What would be your number one piece of advice to businesses putting preparation in place for a second wave? 

Work together! If retailers are to conduct a project of this scale, they must communicate. There are calls being made to the officers to assist with store alarms, stopcock location details, and making sure the store alarms reset; there are hundreds of bookings for the officer to attend the store, as well as constant emails to the customer service team updating access and alarm panel codes for the keyholder assignments. Everyone must work as one!

Have you taken away any learnings from this period that you’ll be applying to the way you do business day-to-day? 

We were lucky in some aspects as my team were already supporting retail. However, the sheer volume that we had to deal with during lockdown has only made the team stronger, built a better relationship with The Keyholding Company, and put us in a great place should the unforeseeable happen again!


Next Plc’s response to the national lockdown saved the company £28,000,000: they were able to reopen in a timely manner both because of the efficient installation of perspex screens, and because the water system maintenance meant they avoided the need for extensive chlorination testing. Of this staggering saving, Next Plc directly credit The Keyholding Company £97,000, as we were able to adapt creatively to combine our client’s unforeseen requirements into our existing service agreement, which removed the need for multiple contractors.

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