In the world of retail loss prevention, executives can find themselves wearing many hats: crowd controller, emergency response coordinator, crime scene investigator and even retail security. But at the end of the day, asset protection – in whatever form – is goal number one. And to hear Alan Tague tell it, the devil can be in the tiniest of details.
Tague, VP of Loss Control for Gander Mountain, took some time to discuss how small details in process monitoring can exponentially reduce shrink and make a big difference in the bottom line. Read on to learn about Gander Mountain’s ROI on exception reporting, technology they are investing in now, how partnerships with local law enforcement make a difference, and the responsibilities that come with being a retailer that sells firearms.
What overarching trends are you seeing in retail loss prevention?
The two that I am most cognizant of are leveraging technology and process monitoring.
Our industry continues to push the envelope on leveraging technology – often to make up for lost people resources. I find myself thinking as of late, “we have been doing so much with so little for so long, that we are very near to doing everything with nothing!” From leveraging CCTV by remote access and video analytics to exception reporting systems that are becoming increasingly sophisticated and automated to integration of everything from alarms to access control to EAS, we are constantly experimenting and innovating. This trend is likely to continue as loss prevention professionals find more ways to drive efficiencies and senior management becomes more inclined to invest in technology than hire a larger staff.
By process monitoring I am really talking about “thinking outside the theft” and acknowledging that much of the loss that we recognize as shrink in our stores is caused by poor controls and poorly executed processes like receiving, direct store delivery, markdowns, price changes, shipping, return to vendor, etc. I see more companies focusing on finding ways to identify, monitor and correct these processes, recognizing that a significant share of our shrink is impacted by these processes.
How is loss prevention for an outdoor lifestyle retailer like Gander Mountain different than other companies?
I think the biggest differentiator for us is firearms. Firearms drive a whole new level of physical security requirements and internal controls around the product, our associates who sell firearms and our customers who buy them. It impacts our merchandise layout and the staffing levels required to properly support the sales of this product. We are subject to regular and extensive audits by federal and state regulators and are often called upon to work closely with federal and local law enforcement. As a federal firearms licensee we have a obligation to manage our firearms business responsibly and we take that responsibility very seriously. It requires a disciplined approach and a commitment to execute at the highest level, but we see that as a competitive advantage, particularly as more and more retailers forgo the hassle and get out of the firearms business.
Across the country, loss prevention professionals are working with law enforcement in their local communities to curb retail theft. We are also seeing a growing effort to engage law enforcement on a national level to combat organized retail crime. What’s your opinion on the effectiveness of of these law enforcement initiatives when it comes to asset protection?
Partnering with local law enforcement can pay big dividends. There are excellent programs in many communities that start in the schools, educating our kids about shoplifting, and the costs that are passed on to all of us. There are programs for small retailers that share information about tools and techniques to prevent retail theft. In the end, these programs contribute to our overall effort to raise awareness and get these crimes taken seriously.
I also believe that the partnerships we are creating with law enforcement on a regional and national level will be real “game changers” in the retail theft equation in coming years. NRF has supported these efforts through the development and promotion of LERPnet, the Investigator’s Network meetings, NRF Fusion Center at the LP conference and partnerships with all levels and types of law enforcement agencies including the FBI, DHS, and ICE.
In a recent STORES article, you talked about how exception reporting has helped your company identify and prevent fraudulent activity. What have been some of your biggest takeaways from this initiative?
At Gander Mountain our biggest takeaway from exception reporting is how broadly it can be used across the company to manage our business and how much the return on investment is improved when it is. We use automated functions within our exception reporting tool that flag certain high risk transactions daily in a report to the manager in every store so they can quickly investigate and follow up. Our merchandise, sale audit, treasury, regulatory compliance, and operations departments all use the tool on a regular basis. Besides being excellent for fraud detection, our exception reporting tool has also become a great information resource for use by all aspects of the business.
As the Chair of the Loss Prevention Conference planning committee, talk about what goals were in mind when planning the 2010 show.
Our goal for the 2010 show starts with our fundamental desire to have the absolute best conference for retail loss prevention professionals in the nation. To do that we have built on our past successes with compelling and current keynote and general session speakers, a wide variety of breakout sessions with topics that are real and relevant to our attendees, and the best collection of loss prevention solution providers in the industry in our Expo Hall. We wanted to have a good balance of the tried and true features that keep attendees coming back year after year and enough newness to keep it all current and interesting. We also set out on a new path this year – utilizing Wednesday to specifically highlight and promote education and professional development.
This is the 25th year of NRF’s LP Conference. What big changes can attendees expect in 2010?
I think designating Wednesday as our Education and Professional Development day is the biggest change to this year’s conference. We will start the day with an excellent session, “Advance Your Career: Bring More Value to Your Job and More Satisfaction to Your Life“, presented by Ken Kuznia, the perfect combination of successful entrepreneur and engaging speaker with worthwhile information to share. Ken takes a decade of successfully coaching business professionals through the biggest employment moves of their careers and incorporates that into a keynote that will have a lasting impact on our attendees. From there, we have four excellent sessions that include managing your reputation online, effective communication and building partnerships, media and crisis skills, and public speaking, finishing with an excellent discussion of ethics by Patrick Kuhse, whose compelling personal story will make this presentation meaningful and impactful.
What do you think will be the biggest key takeaways for retail executives attending this show?
The real secret to the success of our conference is that the biggest takeaways will be different for everyone. There are enough general sessions, breakout sessions, roundtable discussions, exhibitors, attendees, special events, a Fusion Center, workshops and networking opportunities that your biggest takeaway might happen at any time during the conference. Mine are different every year and often come when I least expect them. What I am sure of is that they will come – I can count on at least three to four takeaways every year that by themselves are worth the price of admission.
For me the NRF LP Conference is the one “must do” event every year. It keeps me grounded, helps me to better understand what is happening around the industry, allows me to benchmark against other retailers and most importantly helps me to cultivate the network of friends and colleagues that have been the real secret to my success for many years.
You’ve spent more than 30 years in retail loss prevention— what’s the most fulfilling part of your job?
I love the incredible variety of the work we do, the problems we help to solve and the people we get to work with across the organization and the industry. Our business is the type of work that is never really finished – every answer begs another question, and it is that paradoxical certainty that I find most fulfilling. I guess I really like a puzzle that can’t ever be totally solved.
Name three sessions you’re most excited about attending.
I think “Positioning Your Department for the Economic Comeback” will be a great session that will help everyone set their sail for the new winds blowing in our economy. “ORC Investigations without a dedicated ORC staff” will resonate for everyone that is strapped for resources with ORC problems that are growing exponentially – a definition that fits quite a few now days. One of the more interesting sessions I heard about is “Cyber-fencing – Innovative Methodologies Beyond Traditional Investigations” that will explore some very creative ways to identify stolen product being sold online and the connections between sellers. This will be held as a workshop during the Expo Hall so be sure to look for it.
Of course, the “LP from a C-Suite Point of View” was a huge success last year and we have brought it back this year with a panel of three retail industry executives that will talk about their expectations of loss prevention. And then there is Wednesday – our new education and career development focus.
I’m sorry – did you say three sessions…?
What’s your favorite product at Gander Mountain?
It’s really hard to pick because Gander Mountain is something of a toy store for me, but I really love all the shooting sports, so I suppose the short answer for me is firearms.
Tell me something about you that your peers in the LP world might not know.
Not everyone knows that I have three lovely daughters that finished college and promptly all got married within six months of one another. It was kind of my own personal economic crisis! The good news is it has resulted in two lovely granddaughters so far.