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Ask The Expert: Preventing theft in your business

Frequent visitors to will be familiar with our recent series on Employee Theft and Loss Prevention. Solink is a digital platform that links your existing POS and security systems to find and identify problems, giving business owners greater control over their business and more options to handle unexpected challenges.

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Meet the Expert: Herbert Melendez. One of the secrets to the success of Solink is the excellent team behind creating these groundbreaking systems. Herbert Melendez has been working in loss prevention for major corporate organizations and has overseen hundreds of cases of employee theft. Now, Herbert brings his 20 years of experience to, providing a unique opportunity for anyone, from small business owner to captains of industry, to ask one of the best in the business his advice for identifying, addressing, counteracting, and preventing business issues both common and uncommon.

Question 1: Time theft through long breaks

"Hi Herbert. I run a small quick service restaurant and my staff tends to skew young. I’m concerned some of them are taking longer breaks than I allow. I don’t want to be paying for employee down time, but I have no way of checking on them other than asking my managers to be vigilant. So how do I ensure my employees are taking the appropriate time on their breaks?"

- Tony, Restaurant Manager, Cleveland

Hi Tony,
Managing employee breaks has always been a challenge for companies regardless of size. I have a few techniques that have been effectively implemented.

1. Make sure that you have a clear policy regarding lunches and breaks. Clarity is always the first step. Be sure your staff is aware of acceptable break times, lengths, and permissible activities. This will be appreciated by both employees and managers alike. Being upfront about breaks during the hiring process will weed out undesirable employees before they even have a chance to break the rules.

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2. Engage managers to help enforce the rules. Your managers are responsible for clearly and consistently reinforcing expectations. This applies to everything but especially employee performance issues such as breaks. Managers will need to practice reinforcing expectations, so schedule training to prepare them.

This makes the associate responsible and accountable for maintaining proper break times. Set a routine and be consistent in enforcing it.

Try using this script when an employee goes on break:

"Are you going on break? What time do you have? Come see me in an hour when you get back, please."

Now, this is all well and good for compliant employees, but what about employees who consistently take too long on break or take multiple, unauthorized breaks per day? The key is to be direct, but not accusatory. Try something like:

"Didn’t you already take a break at 2pm? Are you aware of our employee break policy?"

Thank you for your question!

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Store owners don't have to work on blind faith. Use Solink to verify when an employee went on and of break by searching the video stream by time or even by motion at the back door. Solink stores and records video for up to 60 days, so you can easily track employee habits.

Question 2: Dine & dash, smash & grab

Hey Herbert, my friends and I who are all small business owners like to argue about what to do if a customer suddenly bolts and runs out of my store? Do I chase them or what?

- Jake, Retail Store Owner, Boston

Jake, I understand the desire to chase someone down but, whatever you do, DON’T CHASE THEM! Stuff can be replaced, you can’t. Value yourself more than your goods and do not pursue beyond your doors.

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This doesn’t mean you’re helpless in the event someone does grab something off your sales floor and runs. There are several things you can do from inside your store.

  1. Get a description of the person. If your store faces outside and they got into a vehicle, try to get the vehicle type and plate number.
  2. Contact law enforcement and stay on the premises to speak with them when they arrive.
  3. Identify what was taken and its cost.
  4. Secure video of the event. Your security system is of great help to this, of course, but you may have witnesses in the store. Remember, nearly everyone has a video camera in their pocket at all times.

So called “snatch and grab” shoplifters target multiple retailers at once and are caught far more often than you would think. In most cases where a thief is not caught or prosecuted, it’s due to shop owners not following the above steps. Make sure you document losses, secure video, and report to the police. Failure to follow these simple steps can make prosecution or investigation nearly impossible.

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Use Solink to search through a visual timeline to find exactly when a thief entered the store. Track their movements from beginning to end. Our HD video and 360-degree camera options make it easy to clearly identify suspects.

Question 3: Protecting high-value merch

I run a small electronics store: TVs, smartphones, stuff like that. Everything on my sales floor is high-value, so is there any way to figure out which items are the most attractive for thieves?

- Gary, Electronics Store Owner, Indiana

Unfortunately, your business is a target rich environment and the vast majority of your inventory is attractive to both individual street level thieves and organized retail crime groups. I can, however, suggest the implementation of the following risk hierarchy as a general guideline based on my experience with a major international retailer.

Top items targeted by shoplifters

  • Video games, both new releases and popular titles. These are expensive and compact, making them easy to move. Many retailers have empty cases on shelves with the real product in the backroom or behind the counter. Consider this is if you’re seeing a lot of lost product in this category.
  • Gaming accessories like consoles, controllers, etc. Gaming consoles are much larger than the games they play and their presence on the floor should be limited to empty boxes. Controllers and cables, on the other hand, are more tempting targets for “snatch and grab” thieves. Have solid anti-theft devices in place, like inventory control stickers, to notify you when one of these items is removed.
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  • Laptops and tablets. It can be beneficial for your store to have these items on display for customers to demo. Consider purchasing secure stands for tablets and locked cables for laptops. Many of these items also come with built-in chargers, giving you the added bonus of a security system that also provides a benefit for your customers.
  • Audio devices like headphones, earbuds, bluetooth speakers. Headphones are especially easy to move: just get them out of the package and slip them around your neck. Thieves are looking for gaps in camera coverage and will exploit these to cut out inventory control tags and remove packaging.
  • Cell phone accessories, particularly Samsung and Apple. As I discussed in my article 4 Tips To Organize A Retail or Restaurant Safe, smartphones are not the fat targets for theft you’d think they are. Phones are easy to “brick,” or disable, remotely which makes them difficult to move. Phone accessories, on the other hand, can be prime targets. Skins, cases, chargers: there is a whole cottage industry around smartphones. While these may be low on the risk hierarchy, you should keep an eye on them nonetheless.
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Solink uses your existing camera system to collect and display data. Use heat mapping in areas with items high on the risk hierarchy to spotlight where people and moving and identify potential blind spots in your camera coverage. Use 360 cameras to get eyes on every nook and cranny of high-risk areas.

Question 4: Backroom thefts

My restaurant has a large backroom for employee storage, things like coats, bags, outdoor shoes, etc. We don’t have lockers yet so everything just gets dumped into this one space. There’s no lock on the door or anything and we’ve just been operating on an honor system. Recently, however, I had something stolen from my coat pocket while it was in the backroom. I suspect one specific employee. How can I be sure?

- Jill, Restaurateur, Montréal QC

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Solink's heatmap feature can help you pinpoint time where there is activity in the back room.

This is a very delicate subject and unfortunately there’s no easy answer. Bottom line, you can’t be sure, and you don't want to ruin your reputation by unfairly accusing the wrong person. Let me suggest that you review my post on 7 tips to talking to your staff about employee theft. I think that you will find it helpful and ultimately your team will help in validating the responsible person or persons.

Solink takes the guesswork out of this situation. Jill could find the video recording for the day her item was stolen, then use Solink region select to pinpoint the exact area, down to the specific pocket, and see who had their hand in there.

Learn how Solink finds and solves theft problems quickly and easily. Schedule a virtual tour with one of our team members!

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