“Certainly the best way to defend against theft is by providing excellent customer service.” — Jordan Walden, Finnegan's Toys and Gifts
Dealing with theft is a reality of retail. Although most specialty toy-store owners say theft is minimal, any theft is still a loss. Some simple steps can be taken to minimize its effect on your bottom line, specialty retailers told TDmonthly Magazine. Here are their suggestions:
1. Greet Your Customers. Greeting customers and making eye contact the minute they walk in lets them know you know they’re there, and usually deters theft.
“Certainly the best way to defend against theft is by providing excellent customer service,” Jordan Walden, store manager of Finnegan's Toys and Gifts in Portland, Ore., told TDmonthly. “That is something that I tell all of our staff. People will either know you're watching them, or they'll know that you're trying to help them.” 2. Watch for Odd Behavior. Someone who “browses” in hidden areas of the store or avoids eye contact could potentially be a thief. But there are other behaviors, such as chronic product returning, that should also send up a red flag.
“I teach my employees to learn patterns of shoppers,” said Markie Carlson, owner of Children’s Gift Shop in Northfield, Ill.
When Carlson noticed that one of her customers was making numerous returns, she investigated and discovered the customer was returning items she hadn’t even purchased. She asked the customer not to return to the store.
3. Invest in a Check Service. Paying for a check service can save money on unrecouped bounced checks.
“It’s worth the fee to use a check service to guarantee payment,” Kathleen McHugh, executive director of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, told TDmonthly. Most ASTRA members, she said, seem willing to pay in order to cut the chance of holding bad checks.
4. Deter With Cameras and Mirrors. A security system can be worth the investment, but the majority of toy-store owners TDmonthly spoke with don’t use security devices. Greg Larson of Larson’s Toys and Gifts in Columbus, Ohio, said that although he doesn’t monitor his video cameras all the time, he believes that psychologically, it helps because customers know they’re there. Johnny’s Toys in Covington, Ky., employs both cameras and security guards.
5. Place Checkout Strategically. People who must walk past staff to enter and exit a store won’t be as quick to steal for fear of being caught, so tactically placing the cash center is crucial.
“Our counter is out front, at the entrance, so that helps that they have to pass it, make eye contact and check out there,” said Owner Chuck Harper of Explorations Inc. in Granger, Ind. Peacock Feather of Needham, Mass., and Wonderment Inc. of Minneapolis have their checkouts at store center so they can view all areas.
6. Use Checks and Balances. Employees should work as a checks and balance system. Staff members at Larson’s Toys and Games in Columbus, Ohio, for example, aren’t allowed to sell to themselves. “We make sure employees have another employee ring up any sales and have checks and balances in procedures,” Storeowner Greg Larson said.
See if putting these tips into practice makes a difference in your store, or at least saves you from worrying about theft. And remember, greeting customers and offering assistance is not only good service, but it’s also the top deterrent to theft: When people are acknowledged, they know you know they’re there.