In his 40 years in the liquor business, Byron Gambulos, owner of Byron’s Liquor Warehouse in Oklahoma City, OK, has seen his share of crime. “We’ve been robbed twice, had two shoot-outs and I’ve been pistol-whipped once,” he said.
One of the robberies turned into a shoot-out when Gambulos, who is himself a deputy sheriff, shot the robber, who had struck on a Saturday afternoon when the store was full of people, including seven cashiers. “He was making everybody lay down on the floor,” said Gambulos. After being shot, the robber fled and was arrested later in Dallas, after having kidnapped a number of people in another robbery attempt.
The second shoot-out occurred when Gambulos was driving home alone. “At that time, I lived on a dirt road and it was snowing,” he remembered. “I saw that a car was following me.” He pulled his car off the road, to where it couldn’t be seen, and then headed up the dirt road on foot. A second car was pulled across the road, waiting to block him. “I fired a couple of shots over that car and a couple over the other car,” said Gambulos. Though passing police heard the shooting and came to Gambulos’s assistance, the would-be robbers were never caught.
To this day, Gambulos, armed with a sawed-off shotgun, legal in Oklahoma, often beats the police to his store when its alarm system goes off. “It’s exciting,” he said.
Most of us, of course, would rather live without that kind of excitement.
But every retailer has to come to terms with the possibility of crime, from violent robberies to shoplifting and employee theft. A recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch found that the retail food industry lost $4.84 billion to various forms of theft nationwide last year.
And Byron Gambulos is far from the only one in the liquor business to have experienced robberies. According to the latest study on workplace violence, done in 1996, from the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), liquor stores rank second, behind only taxicab services, as the workplaces with the most homicides.
During a robbery, the single most important thing for retailers and their employees to do, say security experts, is to give robbers what they want. Don’t resist, whether or not you see a weapon. Statistics from the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) report that employees who actively resist a robber are 49 times more likely to be killed than those who do not.
Equipment available from Sensormatic, a company that supplies a variety of security apparatus, includes the “VideoViewer” (left) and the “Touchtracker” (right.)
“We tell our people not to resist one iota,” said Larry Marcom, one of the partners at Ben’s Fine Wines & Spirits, a four-store chain in Reno, NV. “After it’s all over, then call the police.”
Gil Neuman, chief operating officer at Kent Security Services, a large security firm based in Miami, suggested reminding employees regularly of this. “Tell every new hire,” he said, “but also have refresher courses, maybe an employee luncheon, twice a year, about security.”
That said, the NACS does point to two situations where you might be better off resisting: if the robbers try to force you to leave the store with them or if you feel your life is in danger. (In other words, if you think the robbers are going to harm you even if you don’t resist.)
When it comes to robberies, an ounce of prevention is truly worth more than a pound of cure. According to the NACS, one of the best ways to prevent robberies is to have a cash-control policy that keeps as little cash as possible in the registers. Louis Glazer, president of Sigel’s, a 15-store chain in Dallas, TX, agreed. “We don’t carry more than $200 in our registers,” he said. “No one’s going to hold up anything for $200.”
Store design can play a role as well. The stores in the Ben’s Fine Wines & Spirits chain are all designed to provide a lot of visibility. All are well-lit with many windows and with shelving that is never more than four feet high. In addition to discouraging robberies, Marcom said, that visibility also helps to prevent shoplifting.
Gambulos takes advantage of a service provided by his local police. He has them regularly review his store and point out any security weaknesses they see.
And many retailers hire armored-car services to bring their deposits to the bank. “It’s expensive, but it’s better than me going to the bank with a shotgun,” said Gambulos.
While robberies are certainly the most frightening type of crime, other kinds pose a different, though very real, danger. Left unchecked, theft, especially employee theft, can cause a retail business to fail. According to one security company, Sentry Surveillance in Kennesaw, GA, an estimated one-third of all business failures are caused, at least in part, by employee theft. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, employee theft is expected to cost U.S. retailers about $12.85 billion dollars this year. That’s over 44% of retailers’ total shrinkage.
“The biggest problem is definitely employee theft,” said Ben’s Marcom, “because they can hurt you a lot more.” Indeed, according to a survey done recently by Jack L. Hayes International, a loss-prevention consulting firm based in Fruitland Park, FL, the average dishonest employee steals approximately 8.6 times more than the average shoplifter, $847.81 versus $98.56.
“You have to set a policy of zero tolerance,” asserted Sigel’s Glazer, “and, still, every once in a while, you’re going to get a bad employee.”
The first step in preventing employee theft is careful screening at the time of hire. According to Kent Security’s Neuman, whose company can do background checks on employees for its clients, you should check for criminal records. Because these are a matter of public record, you do not need the person’s consent. He also suggested doing a credit check, for which you do have to ask the person’s permission. You should also test for drugs, Neuman said, both initially and then randomly after that.
And in day-to-day operations, don’t be afraid to implement policies that let employees know that you are watching them. “We want our people to know,” said Sigel’s Glazer. Among the security precautions Sigel’s takes: cameras trained on the stores’ registers, locked doors to which only certain employees have the key, a policy of allowing goods to be received only through one certain door while shipments can only leave the store through another. Neuman has advised his retail clients to have a rule that employees can only use clear bags to bring belongings to and from work. He also suggested not having garbage containers at the back of the store because that makes it easier for a dishonest employee to “dump” stolen goods out with the trash, to be picked up later.
Sony’s new FIU-700 series fingerprint identification unit provides authentication and data security.
One of the latest developments in security technology, called remote viewing, can be especially effective against employee theft. Remote viewing is when the retailer can view what his store’s cameras are recording, in real time, from anywhere. Some security companies report clients tuning into their stores from their home televisions during commercial breaks.
Sony has recently launched a new service, called Sony On Site, targeted specifically at smaller retailers, that allows them to watch their stores live or access archived recordings, from a password-protected website. The retailer can even use the service to manipulate the cameras’ tilt-and-pan options in order to see better. And the service can be used to monitor the store’s registers, sending the retailer an e-mail or pager alert for certain types of transactions, such as when an employee enters a “no sale.”
A typical Sony On Site set-up, four cameras, whose images are stored for 30 days on the website, costs $295 per month, according to Ken LaMarca, director of sales & marketing for Sony’s security systems group.
Earlier this fall, another company, Sensormatic, demonstrated its remote-viewing capabilities by showing Oktoberfest in Germany live on its website.
Another source of theft in a store vendors should not be overlooked. LeMarca reported that one of Sony’s newest customers, a beverage alcohol store in New Jersey, found that vendor theft was its number-one security problem. “You can lose as much from delivery people as from anyone else,” said Sigel’s Glazer. “Sometimes they take out more than they bring in.” Retailers can protect themselves from vendor theft by maintaining careful receiving procedures: checking every order for accuracy, never leaving the delivery person alone and using cameras at the back door.
The Good Old 5-Fingered Discount
What can you do about the most well-known form of retail theft, shoplifting?
“Pray,” said Byron Gambulos. “[Shoplifters] are a part of doing business in America.” But while he’s been praying, Gambulos has also implemented measures to discourage shoplifters. One is making the cashier lanes, through which customers must pass to leave the store, only two feet wide. “That prevents a shoplifter from running out,” Gambulos explained. Another is to station a security guard at the front door.
And shoplifters run the gamut, from little old ladies stealing miniatures to groups of professional thieves. Sigel’s catches shoplifters at its 15 stores two or three times a month. And Glazer estimated that 70% of the time, those shoplifters were working in groups. He remembered one incident, involving two older women, where one of the women had hooked two half-gallon bottles of Chivas Regal to a special waistband she was wearing under her skirt.
“We file charges and the police take them to jail,” said Glazer. Like many retailers and security experts, he believes that a firm policy of prosecuting shoplifters serves as a deterrent.
“With professional [shoplifters], you need to put your foot down,” agreed Dave Shoemaker, group vice president of strategic marketing for Checkpoint Systems, a company that produces electronic article surveillance (EAS) systems. “Prosecuting sends a message to the street that is very clear.”
EAS systems, which use sensors at the door of a store to set off an alarm if a tag on a product is not deactivated at the check-out, are, of course, designed specifically to discourage and catch shoplifters. In an independent test commissioned by Checkpoint and done by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Checkpoint’s EAS system caused in-store shrink at four stores in a supermarket chain to decrease by almost 70%.
Sony’s new FIU-700 series fingerprint identification unit provides authentication and data security.
However, Sigel’s tried and then removed an EAS system from its stores. “It was too expensive to maintain,” explained Glazer, citing the labor needed to put tags on all the products. “You have to measure the cost of the labor versus the amount you are losing to theft.”
EAS companies, including Checkpoint and Sensormatic, are working with suppliers on implementing source-tagging. This is when the EAS tags are placed on products at the supplier level. With source-tagging, the EAS tags can even be placed beneath the labels on bottles.
The most common type of security equipment used in liquor stores is, of course, the camera system. “Cameras are another lock on the door. They are definitely a deterrent,” said Ben’s Marcom.
And advances in technology have created camera systems that have more abilities and cost less. “We just installed a new camera system in one of our stores for $800 that, I assure you, would have cost $5,000 ten years ago,” said Sigel’s Glazer. One of the features of this new system is that it can show images from all eight of its cameras simultaneously, rather than have to rotate between the cameras.
The buzzword in camera systems these days is “digital,” but it can be a confusing term. There are, for example, cameras that use digital technology inside the camera and result in clearer images, even in low-light or back-lit situations. However, a digital camera can be used in a system that produces the traditional output, namely videotape.
There are, however, digital recorders. Rather than record on videotape, these record their images digitally, to the hard drive of a computer. These recorders have a number of advantages over traditional VCRs. “The real benefit is reliability,” said Sony’s LeMarca. “VCRs, with their take-up reels and spinning heads, wear out constantly.” Videotapes themselves, when used over and over again, as they are in security systems, also deteriorate.
Digital recorders can save retailers a tremendous amount of time. These recorders allow store managers to get right to the scenes and sequences they need. “Five years ago, they had to go through miles and miles of tape,” said Don Taylor, the director of market development for Sensormatic. Digital recorders can be programmed to play only those images where some pre-determined event is occurring, for example, when it records movement in a store that is closed for the night or when a cashier rings a no-sale. “I like to compare it to going to ‘Song 4’ on a CD rather than fast-forwarding through a tape to get to the same song,” said Sony’s LaMarca.
But, according to LaMarca, the disadvantage of digital recorders, for the time being anyway, is their cost. “A digital recorder costs $5,000 to $7,000,” he said.
No matter how cutting-edge the security system, however, “it alone won’t save you,” said Ben’s Marcom. Whether the camera system’s images are stored on videotape or a hard drive or a website, they must be reviewed regularly, for example.
“Security is a lot more than having a camera or screening during hiring,” agreed Kent’s Neuman. “It needs to be a way of living.”
Unfortunately, the issue of crime is never going to go away. But, concluded Neuman, “Even though you can’t eliminate it, you can make it go elsewhere.” *
Should retailers use security guards in their stores?
No, said the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS). In keeping with the association’s position that convenience store employees should not resist a robbery attempt, the association states on its website that “the presence of a security guard, particularly an armed guard, represents a primary form of resistance and has the potential to exacerbate the likelihood that violence will occur during a robbery.”
But many retailers and security experts say that security guards have a place in a retail store. “Guards are the greatest deterrent,” said Charles Sennewald, a security consultant based in Escondido, CA. “And that guard could be a little old lady in uniform. A guard is a witness, someone who is paid to pay attention to things that others don’t.”
Kent Security Services in Miami, FL provides a security guard service. “Guards are a presence and they take notice,” said Gil Neuman, Kent’s ceo. “They observe and report.”
Both Sennewald and Neuman advise against using armed guards. “Never armed,” said Sennewald. “In a robbery, a real stick-up, more often than not, the robbers will shoot the armed guard.”
Byron Gambulos of Byron’s Liquor Warehouse in Oklahoma City, however, uses armed guards, all of them certified as police officers. Usually, there are three at his store, two inside and one in the parking lot; during the holidays, he uses five, including one, armed with a shotgun, on the roof.
“At first, people were a wee bit leery [of the armed guards],” he reported, “but 35 to 40 years later, people feel differently.” His guards are present in the morning when the store is opened, walk female customers to their cars after dark and escort employees to their cars at closing.
In most states, even unarmed security guards must be licensed. Armed guards often have further licensing requirements. In some cases, they are certified as special police officers and can make certain types of arrests while on duty. The employer of armed guards is legally responsible if those guards do use force.
How to Confront a Shoplifter
A store manager at Sigel’s once chased and caught a shoplifter.
“I was furious,” said Louis Glazer, president of the 15-store chain.
Glazer was concerned about the danger to his employee of confronting a thief alone. And that is a valid concern. “You really have to judge their demeanor,” said Gil Neuman of Kent Security Services. “Whatever they are taking is not worth your life.”
Another danger in confronting shoplifters is the possibility of being sued. Charles Sennewald, a California security consultant and author of Shoplifters Vs. Retailers: The Rights of Both (New Century Press, 2000, paperback, 104 pages, $11.95 ), has been a consultant and an expert witness in over 600 lawsuits involving shoplifting, three of which went to a state supreme court.
“I am involved in one now in which a uniformed security guard with 22 years of experience watched a woman he believed was shoplifting and then, on her way out, asked to look in her backpack,” he said. “She had a fit, she called the police and an ambulance and now she is suing for being falsely accused.”
Sennewald advised avoiding a confrontation whenever possible. “The best thing is not to accuse or confront but to make eye contact or offer service,” he said “One way or another, signal non-verbally that you know what they are doing. I guarantee you they are going to be scared and, 99 times out of 100, they are going to get rid of it or just buy it.”
But what if they are heading out the door and you do need to confront them? First, you need to let them leave the store. Otherwise, they can say that they were planning to buy the item. But, said Glazer, don’t let them go too far. “Don’t follow them to their car,” he said. “It needs to be done at the front door. Otherwise, you are putting yourself in danger.” And never confront someone alone, he advised, always have others from the store with you.
Checkpoint Systems, which produces EAS systems, teaches its clients how to approach a customer when the EAS system’s alarm goes off. “Initially apologize, saying something has set off your inventory control system,” said Dave Shoemaker, group vice president of strategic marketing for the company. “Tell them, ‘We need to correct our mistake.’ Separate them from the bag, put the bag through the detector alone. Ask them if they might have forgotten to purchase something. Typically, the person will give it up and confess, hoping you will let them go.”
That’s when you ask them to come back inside, said Shoemaker, “because that’s when you call the police.”