Improving Store Security

Security -- the word can bring to mind two diametrically opposing images: blissful safety, or a world of suspicion and fear. For co-op retailers, security should conjure images of careful and prudent protection of our member-owners assets. All too often, co-ops jeopardize their hard earned assets -- cash, inventory, and equipment -- through either naivete or neglect.

Let's take a brief look at some of the major areas of security concern and evaluate how your store's operation measures up to common standards. (A future article will deal with protecting you store's physical security, robbery and fire protection.) Remember: even though your store is a co-op, you are susceptible to theft. Experienced criminals as well as "first timers" may see you as an easy target. Don't be caught off guard!

Shoplifting is the most commonly recognized security problem. Crime statistics indicate there are 5,000,000 incidents of shoplifting per day! Young people ages 18-29 account for 26% of all shoplifting, but all segments of the population are suspect.

Most thefts occur during busy shopping days and hours. Store staff usually are too busy serving the honest customers to recognize and deter the shoplifter.

Health and beauty aids (HABA) are the most common targets, but nothing is sacred. I've apprehended turkey thieves, birds bulging their midsection!

What can the co-op retailer do to stem this unfortunate situation? Be aware: All too often thefts take place right under your nose. Watch for suspicious behavior. Honest shoppers rarely glance nervously over their shoulders when "reading labels." Persons who appear to be aimlessly wandering up and down aisles may be getting up their nerve to rip you off, or may simply be lost. If suspicious behavior arouses your concern, approach the customer and ask them this simple question: "May I help you find anything?" Honest customers will appreciate the service; thieves will usually get nervous and change their mind about stealing.

Your local police station is a good source of additional information regarding shoplifting and its prevention. One note: apprehension of a suspected shoplifter is a serious matter. Know your state's laws on the matter before you attempt to apprehend a suspect. Remember, most shoppers are honest folks. Don't jeopardize your reputation or theirs unless you have actually observed a theft.

Store layout can have a marked impact on the frequency and severity of shoplifting. Expensive, easy to conceal items such as HABA or vitamins and supplements should be visible to employees at all times. Avoid deadends and keep customers out of the back room unless accompanied by a store worker. Aisles and traffic flow should direct customers through the register area.

Employee theft: No area of security can cause greater dismay and grief than employee theft. Once again, the statistics are grim. Some 65% of all theft is done by employees. Naturally, most co-ops recoil at this figure, assuming that they are somehow immune from the revolting reality. Think again. Do your hiring practices weed out potential thieves? Probably not.

The best way to prevent employee theft is to have systems in place that reduce temptation. And each new employee, as well as veterans, should be briefed on the consequences of theft: immediate termination.

Cash handling procedures should be strict. Starting cash should be double counted, and "sharing drawers" should be minimized. Standards of accuracy are an effective way to discourage a lax atmosphere that fosters dishonesty. Refunds, voids, and bottle returns in excess of $3.00 should be verified by a supervisor. Routine monitoring of cash overs and unders and regular "test" baskets create an atmosphere of control and gives the added benefit of customer confidence.

The most common forms of employee theft, and basic preventive measures:

Theft at the register:

  • careful and thorough training
  • routine testing
  • individual cash drawers
  • require receipts to each customer

Pilferage and munching:

  • provide regular lunch and break periods
  • separate all damaged goods from regular stock and dispose of them immediately
  • train employees to the consequences of pilferage on longterm employment

Vendor collusion:

  • identify specific receiving procedures and stick to them keep fixed receiving hours and require deliveries to be checked thoroughly
  • be sure all deliveries are made through the same door, and try to have a single employee in charge of incoming freight
  • check all returns and outgoing stock throughly
  • never leave the "back door open"

Falsification of records:

  • time cards should be completed daily, then totalled and reviewed by department or store manager prior to each pay period
  • records such as personnel evaluations should be secure
  • for both privacy and store security reasons.

Once again, most employees and shoppers are honest, hardworking people. Our best defense against those who aren't is a strong offense-systems and procedures that remove temptation and prevent thieves from taking advantage of your cooperative spirit.

The Food Marketing Institute publishes a number of informative guides specifically for retailers concerned with security procedures. Write to FMI: 1759 K. St. NW; Washington, DC 20006; 202/452-8444.

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