I learned to swim at an early age and up until 1975 I considered all bodies of water to be created equally. In the summer of that year, however, I saw a little film called Jaws, after which a swim in the ocean created equal shares of joy and anxiety. Even today, although just a few miles from the Southwest Florida beaches it’s difficult to not think about the potential predator below the blue surface. When swimming I maintain a pretty strict policy—keep my wife between me and the open water…you know- just in case.
In loss prevention we deal with the land sharks every day. Dishonest customers and employees who want to take a chunk out of our profits. It’s an important task because we know the damage a feeding frenzy can create. But like all things, priorities often shift in a crisis situation. Sharks, for example, become less worrisome when you’re drowning. You’re just trying to keep your head above water and the immediate need to breathe supersedes the potential of unseen predators.
Unless you are back in 1975, you are probably aware of the strain on retailers from the past few years of economic turbulence. Falling and flat sales, less customer foot traffic, and store closings are top of mind. Making the quarterly sales forecast is paramount and almost the single focus. Although some retailers are seeing opportunities for expansion, costs and focus on earnings is a discussion most are not ready to move beyond. Everyone is trying to keep their heads above water and no one is interested in drowning—we’ve seen enough of it to last a life time.
As loss prevention teams shrink, as resources run scarce, and as we struggle to get attention for our core function it remains our job to maintain the focus. Although it may be true that we can’t worry about sharks when we are caught in the riptide, it is worthwhile to point out that there isn’t any reason to compound the sales issues by strapping raw meat around the company’s neck during that struggle to ride the waves. If there is one thing the sharks excel at, it’s scenting the blood in the water.
Now it may be true that there is little point in arranging deck chairs on the Titanic, but Loss Prevention is hardly such. In fact, when things are at the worst, asset protection efforts become the most critical. If I had to consider just three reasons why loss prevention is more a life preserver than an anchor they would be:
1. Low sales and traffic have no impact on theft rates. The sharks don’t care if the sales are off, they continue to steal at the same rate. In other words, your thrashing about doesn’t earn you a free pass with the thieves.
2. Smaller product investments require greater protection. When the economy is tough and sales are off, we tend to reduce inventory levels. With fewer products available, the stuff we do have needs to stay around long enough to be sold.
3. Part time means higher crime. Most studies agree that companies who operate with a higher percentage of part-time associates experience higher levels of shrink and loss. We could have an entire discussion on the cause starting with less employee buy-in to lower levels of training. The point is with fewer associates, we need greater diligence in protection standards and more effective visibility and resolution solutions.
It’s not an easy task. It’s difficult to make an argument about sharks when we’re trying to keep our heads above water. Just the same there is an important argument to be made because the predators don’t really care about your struggles, only their next meal. And let’s face it—the swimming ain’t gonna get any easier when the sharks are having you for lunch.
Ray Esposito, Sr. VP Strategic Development & Marketing at LP Innovations Inc