Brookshire, Spartan Train Early to Reduce Shrink

During employee orientations, Brookshire Grocery Co. presents new hires with footage documenting worker ingenuity as part of its effort to get them to do the complete opposite. They watch a video that includes a lot of employees who are stealing, Ed Van Fleet, vice president of corporate asset protection for the Tyler, Texas, chain, told attendees at the Food Marketing Institute Show during

LAS VEGAS — During employee orientations, Brookshire Grocery Co. presents new hires with footage documenting worker ingenuity as part of its effort to get them to do the complete opposite.

“They watch a video that includes a lot of employees who are stealing,” Ed Van Fleet, vice president of corporate asset protection for the Tyler, Texas, chain, told attendees at the Food Marketing Institute Show during the “Winning the War on Shrink” presentation given here last week. “People ask me why we're teaching them how to steal. I say, ‘They already know how to steal; we're teaching them how they're going to get caught.’ It's like raising children — if you never address the subject, they're going to make up their own rules.”

Van Fleet's philosophy is shared by Tim Bartkowiak, director of loss prevention and security for Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich.

“When you acquire that new associate, you've got to give them the tools they need to decide what side of the fence they want to be on,” he told attendees. “If they choose the dark side, they know the consequences for it.”

Such was the case with a Brookshire employee who engaged in a “sweethearting” scheme with her parents. Instead of scanning items at the register, the associate initiated price checks for $500 worth of items and ended up charging her parents just $5.

“She came to us at the end of the day and said ‘somebody stole $50 out of my register today,’ so we went looking for it” on the store's closed-circuit television system, said Van Fleet. “I don't know that we would have caught her if she hadn't come to us and asked for our help.”

Suspicion was sparked after a review of the footage revealed that another consumer transaction was completed in the middle of the price check scheme. All three family members were prosecuted.

Employee theft is the most substantial contributor to retail shrink at 39%, followed by shoplifting (31%), vendor theft (9%) and other circumstances (21%), according to FMI.

An incident documented at Brookshire falls into one of the latter categories.

“It was the third day after we installed a camera system, and the guy that checked it wanted to know why a vendor was throwing away brand new merchandise” in our trash compactor, said Van Fleet. “That person had a boss who said, ‘The better you do at moving product, the better your bonus will be,’ so he moved that product, religiously. You might say he was there every Sunday morning. I didn't prosecute him, but I did go after his boss.”

Not all clues lead the way to such dramatic results, noted Bartkowiak.

“Sometimes cases are input when there should have been a piece count, so when a store receives product, the numbers from the accounting side don't match up,” he said. “So make sure you look at some simple things first before digging down into some finite areas.”