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Case Study:
How GMSC Upgraded Security at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart

Case Studies

The Merchandise Mart (“the Mart”), located in the heart of downtown Chicago, is the world’s largest commercial building, encompassing 4.2 million gross square feet, spanning two city blocks and 25 stories.

The Mart is home to 15 major trade and consumer shows and hundreds of meetings and special events annually.  38,500 people visit the Mart each business day, totaling nearly 10 million people each year.  The building is a mix of high profile commercial office tenants such as Yelp, Jim Beam and Motorola, and high end retail showrooms, including Kholer, Knoll and Herman Miller.

Security in the building is multi-faceted, including three major areas of focus:  day-to-day building security, video surveillance, and trade show and event security.  GMSC was hired to take over all facets of security for the Mart in January 2017.

Upon taking over, the first task was for GMSC to conduct a holistic analysis of existing security conditions, keeping in mind the following variables:

  • Security needs in office buildings have increased in recent years.  New and heightened external threats, including acts of terrorism, active shooter situations and more, must be considered. Given the volume of traffic at the Mart, it is critical that these types of threats be a part of the security protocol.
  • The composition of tenants at the Mart has changed dramatically over the years.  More and more commercial office tenants now occupy space.
  • The foot traffic through the building has increased exponentially.  There is an increased number of building occupants and increased number of high volume trade shows and events.

In the context of these variables, GMSC identified the following areas where improvement was needed:

Trade show and event guard staffing


The company that secured trade shows and events was different than the one securing the building daily.  This created unnecessary miscommunications, finger pointing and confusion.


GMSC provides all security for the building and all trade shows and events, eliminating these issues.



Staffing levels were not optimized. Events were often under-staffed, and the building would need to pull resources, last minute, from other areas of the building to ensure coverage.  This created vulnerabilities elsewhere.


GMSC evaluated staffing needs and developed a methodology that ensured adequate coverage during events.


Because trade show security was outsourced, guard staff was transient. The building did not know who they would get from event to event, and the staff did not understand the nuances of the project.


GMSC hired more than 20 part time “floater” staff.  These staff were used to supplement the full time staff during shows and events and elsewhere in the building,  GMSC found a perfect balance between full and part time staff and at no additional expense to the Mart.



Guard staff supervision was not present during trade shows and special events. Regular guards would be assigned to supervise while also on the job.


GMSC has a multi-layered management team, including direct guard supervisors. Staff levels and performance are regularly checked through a comprehensive quality control initiative.

Day-to-day building security


The building houses a high volume train station.  In recent years the Mart has added Marshalls Landing chic hub for coffee and food, a large food court area and the Grand Staircase, a large lounging area.  This means more and more people are staying in the building after exiting the train.  It is becoming a destination.  As a result of these changes, building security had become understaffed.  There were gaps in security in certain areas, especially the new venues.


GMSC identified several holes in guard posts and patrols. We redesigned the posts and patrols layout, and hired and filled as needed. We also augmented the staff with additional electronic security devices.  Because the building is now more like a campus environment, our guard staff has been trained to handle more interactions with people.



Prior to GMSC’s arrival, there was no overarching security point of contact with anchor tenants. There was no coordinated proactive training, best practices, regular meeting/structure. It was up to each tenant to deal with security issues.


GMSC created a security liaison who regularly communicates with the anchor tenants. We instituted a training and best practices program, where we bring in outside groups such as Chicago PD to provide training.  The companies are no longer providing training themselves, because they rely on us now to do it for them.  Training is now standardized across  the entire building.

Video surveillance


The system used outdated technology, with many elements over 20 years old. The system was piecemeal-ed together by adding new and often incompatible components over time.


GMSC evaluated the system, and upgraded the entire system to a modern integrated platform.  The new system uses reliable, high quality and smart technology. Built in analytics help us identify threats or anomalies, and generate reports and statistics.  The effectiveness of the system has increased by magnitudes.

On an annual basis, facilities and their security partners should conduct security and threat analyses such as the one conducted at the Mart.  External threats are constantly changing as new and heightened security issues arise across the globe.  Buildings and their occupants are constantly changing.  Different industries with varying needs are moving in and out, and space designs and configurations constantly changing.  What was not a security need last year may be one this year.  It is important for buildings and tenants to stay on top of these needs and adapt accordingly.

Contact us to learn more today.


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