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1:48 PM   April 21, 2015
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Taking a Bite Out of Crime

Pet retailers reveal how they’ve handled loss prevention.
By Scott and Ann Springer

Sources of Shrinkage in the 2007 National Retail Security Survey. Courtesy of University of Florida.

Judy Lantz has taken the law into her own hands to fight theft in her Tarzana, Calif., pet retail store, Parrots Naturally.

She even chased down suspected thieves in her car—reaching speeds over 100 mph—after she interrupted a late-night break-in. This failed attempt to steal livestock from her shop occurred just days after her prized red-fronted macaw, Gilda, was stolen from its perch.

Lantz and police authorities investigating the case of her stolen macaw believe that this crime was planned and carried out by multiple suspects.

“Several supposed witnesses to the crime gave the police false identification names,” Lantz said. “So, now we know they were in on it, too.”

Lantz has since learned that there’s a large black market for birds and livestock in Las Vegas, just hours from her Los Angeles-area store.

“They seemed like everyday people, very engaging, and knew enough about birds that you’d never suspect they’d do something like this,” she added.

Crime: Not a New Issue

Many businesses use security systems to keep watch on customers and employees.
Lantz is not alone. While not all crimes experienced by pet retail owners are as methodical as this recent incident, most retailers can recall an experience when their stores have been victims of theft on some level.

Shrinkage accounts for more than $34 billion of loss to retail markets each year, according to the 2007 National Retail Security Survey preliminary results report. However, pet stores rank among the lowest in overall loss from theft compared to books, gifts and apparel, according to the 2007 survey.

“The pet industry is facing many of the same problems that occur in other consumer product markets,” said Bob Vetere, the president of the American Pet Products Assn.  Knockoffs and fraud of high-end products are a growing problem in the pet industry. Vetere warns upscale boutique owners that if a deal seems too good to be true then it probably is.

“There’s such a stiff markup on these high-end products anyways, and if someone sells knock-off products, then they’re making quite a bit of money,” Vetere said.

Designer dog breeds and exotic pets are also hot commodities on the black market, Vetere says.

Six Steps to Prevent Shrinkage

Setting up a proactive loss-prevention system can deter thieves from pilfering from a shop, said Richard Kensinger, the general manager of Scales ‘N Tails Exotic Reptile Pet Shop in Northglen, Colo.

Below are six steps that help ward off thieves.

  1. Go electronic. Tracking inventory electronically makes it easy to see where discrepancies may occur and indicate the need to investigate further, said Donna Garrou, store owner of BirdStuff, a retailer in Orange, Calif.
  2. Lights, camera, action. Potential thieves are deterred by the thought that they are under surveillance, Garrou said.
  3. One is the guiltiest number. Never let a lone employee open or close the shop because those are the times of day with the largest possibility of theft, Kensinger said.
  4. Discount driven. Giving employees a discount can help an employee feel less inclined to steal, he said. Don’t let them ring up their own merchandise, he added.
  5. Locked up. Placing livestock behind lock and key may create less than desirable displays but will cut down on theft, Kensinger said.
  6. Small is susceptible. Keep small items behind the counter so customers aren’t tempted to slide them into their pockets, he added.
“These crime rings will target small, high-end stores that don’t have the protection that other shops have and come after the store in several different ways,” he added.

This summer, a pair of pythons and four ferrets were stolen from a Springfield, Mass., Petco store before it had opened for the day. Earlier this year in Springfield, 50 parakeets were taken from Dave’s Soda & Pet City.

Dry goods can also be susceptible to theft, said Dave Visniski, the owner of Petland in Tyler, Texas. Fish food, thermometers, aquarium tank light bulbs and other items that can easily be slipped into a pocket are some of the hottest items for shoplifters at Visniski’s shop.

“People assume that a big retail store will never miss a few bucks,” Visniski said. “So, they rationalize it and say, ‘I’m tired of getting ripped off at this store,’ and then they slide it into their pocket.”

Sticky Fingered Employees
While consumer theft and fraud are problematic, employees account for the greatest dollar amount of loss every year—about 47 percent—according to the 2007 survey. Four employees were accused of stealing more than $33,000 worth of pet supplies and cash at a Petco store in Kirkland, Wash., earlier this year.

“Most employees feel underpaid, so taking a bag of dog food doesn’t seem wrong in many people’s minds,” said Michael DiTullio, president of Especially For Pets, a small retail chain in Massachusetts.

“I’ve caught people stealing from me that I’d never dream would do such a thing,” he said.

Even employees who retailers treat like family can be the culprits behind those mystery missing items from inventory reports, said Dottie Allen, owner of Aquatic Village in Ventura, Calif.

“They steal when they get comfortable,” said Allen, who had an employee steal more than $7,000 from her in a three-month span.

“Sometimes it’s your most trusted employees who steal from you,” she said.

Allen no longer accepts cash from customers so that her employees won’t be tempted to take cash from the till. However, she still keeps an eye on supplies and even checks the Dumpster for missing supplies.

Some employees will take supplies off the shelf, hide them in boxes in the Dumpster and then retrieve them after hours, Allen said.

Many retailers may not want to pursue criminal charges when they catch a thief in their midst, but DiTullio warned that retailers must take swift and immediate action.

“It sends a loud message to anyone else considering stealing,” he added.

DiTullio even takes his employees or customers to court to make sure others know that he takes security seriously.

“If people feel that they can steal without impunity, they will,” DiTullio said. “If you have no system in place and no one is watching out for this, then you’ll have a rampant problem.” <HOME>

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