SANDUSKY, Ohio — As the economy struggles and job loss rises, even produce growers and retailers should prepare themselves for theft, and develop ways to prevent it.
Before an audience of growers and mostly small-scale retailers, loss prevention directors from two well-known Cleveland supermarket chains spoke at the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association annual congress in Sandusky about the importance of a loss-prevention plan and how it should be implemented.
John Slutz, of Marc’s, said rules have to be made for employees, because internal theft is the most common.
“Employees, on average, steal more than (external) thieves do,” he said.
John Guenther, loss prevention for Heinen’s Fine Foods, said about 10 percent of employees would never steal from their company, no matter what. Another 10 percent would be sure to steal, no matter what, and the other 80 percent could be led either way. That’s why businesses need controls in place, they said, to keep workers honest, and deal with those who are not.
Both men discussed ways to reduce “shrink,” which they defined as the difference between what a business “should” have in inventory, and what it actually does. Shrink can result from product giveaways, spoilage or life cycle limits in perishable goods, paperwork errors and theft. Globally, it’s considered a $114 billion retail problem.
Estimates are that internal theft accounts for 42.5 percent of a businesses shrink, with 35.5 percent from external theft.
To prevent internal theft, a retailer should consider the types of cashiers they hire, who has access to vaults and drop boxes, and conduct audits of internal business.
External theft from break-ins can be prevented with proper lighting, alarm systems and cameras. Cash registers should be emptied when possible.
Value life. When it comes to holdups, both men suggest the retailer comply with what the suspect is asking, tendering the money or item being demanded.
TV shows that feature cashiers overpowering burglars are glamorous, they explained, but those same shows often do not play episodes where a cashier or customer is injured or killed.
“There is nothing I sell in my stores that is worth getting hurt or shot over,” Guenther said. “Think about your people first, and then we’ll get down and save the business second.”
But if properly trained, cashiers can recall information that helps lead to an arrest. Both officials said it’s important to notice any scars or special marks, the size of the person, and to report those details to police. If an employee arrives to work and finds the business already has been entered, it’s best to stay outside while calling police, to prevent damaging any evidence, and to avoid a confrontation, in case a suspect is still inside.
When authorities have been notified, the next step is to share the news. Some businesses may be embarrassed to admit they’ve been robbed or held-up, but doing sell helps neighboring businesses and provides more chance of the suspects being caught. That’s why it’s important for businesses share news of theft, and how it occurred, to create a chain of protection.
Theft and armed robbery may seem like a big-city issue, but growers who attended the seminar insisted they experience it themselves. Several produce growers spoke about issues of theft with family-owned businesses, and the difficulty of enforcing standards with family and employees who are close friends.
Small, rural communities may have more of a challenge with terminating a worker, especially if he or she is well-known or has a good name. But allowing an offender to remain employed also can set a bad precedent for other workers, Slutz said.
Guenther said sometimes an employee who steals can be corrected and managed. But Slutz said it’s also important to establish a line of order, and consequences if it is crossed.