Regional Apparel Chain Case Study

By John Honovich, Published on Jan 05, 2011

In this note, we examine the surveillance systems used by a regional apparel chain: what systems they use, what changes they have made over the years, what issues they are facing and what they need to do next. This end user faces a particularly difficult situation as they already use multiple systems, neither of which they are fully satisfied with using.

Background of End User

About a decade ago, they began operations without any surveillance system in place. Camera systems were not mandated by the parent company, prices were much higher than today, and as new business owners, they simply did not have the knowledge or experience to understand their surveillance needs at that time.

Five years ago, when opening their third store, they decided to invest in camera systems for all 3 locations to combat rising inventory shrinkage problems. After requesting bids from local integrators, they decided to buy on-line to save money. Since each of their stores averaged between 2500 and 3000 sq ft, the owners settled on 8 channel Geovision 800 (120/120) PC-based analog systems with eight 420TVL CNB 12V dome cameras each. Total equipment costs were approximately $4200 per store, and the owners decided to hang the cameras and run their own cabling using 100’ Siamese cables to save on install costs.

Within a few months, the owners came to realize that they had overpaid for their DVRs (they never used the majority of its features) and underpaid for their cameras (they could not identify facial features beyond a distance of about 30-40 feet). They changed some of the camera locations and positioning (spending many hours using trial and error), but were still disappointed with the results. When they contacted their on-line equipment provider to discuss their difficulties, the only option they were offered was an upgrade of their cameras to 480TVL. The owners then paid a $40 cost differential per camera, plus shipping both ways, for an additional $1000 investment. Over the next two years, 2 of the 3 DVRs failed requiring them to ship the units back to their provider for repairs – leaving the effected stores without any surveillance capabilities for up to 2 weeks.

About 3 years ago, they opened a new store. However, their on-line provider had gone out of business, requiring them to find a new source for equipment (and repairs). They contacted other on-line Geovision resellers (to retain system uniformity) and determined that the newer version of Geovision DVRs (v8.2) had even more features they did not require. Additionally, remote viewing required a new client incompatible with their existing DVRs.

Based on a recommendation from another local retailer, for the new store, they chose a standalone embedded Linux unit (Power Telecomm Mercury PDVR-8300) from another on-line provider. The rationale was that their current Geovision units were reaching the end of their expected life-cycles. The embedded model was less than half the cost of their Geovision units, and 540TVL CNB dome cameras were also less expensive than the currently deployed 480TVL cameras. Total equipment costs for the new store were about $3100 (down from $4200 for the previous store). They planned on replacing their original units with embedded as the Geovision DVRs inevitably failed, and did just that for one of the original locations less than 3 months later. They now had 2 Geovision PC-based DVRs, and 2 Power Telecomm embedded Linux DVRs in their 4 stores.

Current Needs of User

Today, the chain is expanding. Additionally, another of the original Geovision DVRs has died. They contact their new supplier, planning on purchasing an embedded unit to replace the failed Geovision machine, and another embedded unit (plus cameras, cabling, power supply) for the new store. However, Power Telecomm has discontinued the model they are using in 2 stores, replacing it with a more costly, feature-heavy hybrid DVR model (analog+IP) with a new CMS software platform for remote viewing.

They now have to decide:

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  1. Do they go with the new version embedded hybrid model at a higher price with no backward CMS compatibility? (3rd different model)

  2. Do they search for a different third model DVR for only five locations?

  3. Do they go with an emerging VSaaS solution?

  4. Do they go with an IP solution, as availability of analog systems decline?

The biggest overall challenge is the customer’s low willingness to pay for surveillance. At about $3000 for an 8 camera system (cameras and recorder), their options are severely limited. At most, they have about $2,000 for a DVR, which blocks them from most mid to high end models.

With such budget constraints, they will have to use DVR appliances. There’s no reason to believe they will throw out their analog cameras, requiring them to buy encoders and PCs that will be far more expensive than a DVR.

What they most value is remote monitoring, specifically remote monitoring from a single interface. Accomplishing this is beset with problems. 3rd party DVR compatibility is nearly non-existent. No DVR standards exist in practice. Using PSIM will cost a fortune. Even if they use only DVRs from a single manufacturer, software changes or product discontinuations are especially common among low cost DVR providers (who tend to specialize more in hardware vs software).

Recommendations:

Due to this retailer’s past difficulties and limited budget, the recommended solution has to leverage as much of their existing infrastructure as possible. But more importantly, it has to give them a solid platform with which to plan for future expansion (additional locations, not larger square footage) - and allow for improved resolution in certain areas.

At this point, a new Geovision solution doesn’t seem wise. Their one remaining Geovision box isn’t going to last long, plus Geovision hybrid (analog/IP) capture cards alone are approximately $1100 (with full PC-based DVR at least $2500). As discussed above, the customer considers this brand too feature-rich for their needs and clearly above their pricing threshold.

The Power Telecomm hybrid solution also is not recommended, as it is not able to utilize the older CMS platform of the existing embedded analog boxes, and the risks of further product discontinuation mentioned above still remain.

The AVerDiGi EH5108 DVR/NVR or the exacqVision (8 CH) EL-S Hybrid NVR [link no longer available] are options to consider for building a multi-store platform solution. Both are established brands with good reputations and as hybrid embedded Linux appliances, both allow for replacing SD analog cameras with higher resolution IP MP cameras for business-critical locations like front entrances, registers, and back-room cash counting areas. While the EH5108 has a more limited IP camera compatibility than the EL-S, the AVerDiGi DVR offers better storage capabilities (3x SATA HDD vs Exacq’s 1x SATA HDD), a very robust and user-friendly remote access solution (CM3000), and no IP channel licensing fees. While the exacqVision NVR is of superior quality, the enterprise class EL-S comes with an enterprise class price tag (in comparison) at around $2K vs the AverDiGi’s $1100-$1200.

One additional consideration is the fact that IP camera resolutions are limited to 1.3MP per channel on the EH5108, while the EL-S is limited only by the cameras own capabilities with no maximum resolution limits. In a larger retail environment with higher square footage, parking lot coverage, etc, this could be a strong reason to go with the exacqVision NVR. However, since this retailer is currently using 480/540TVL analog and doesn’t require large area coverage, 1.3MP should be more than sufficient for their business requirements.

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