Combining Operations and Asset Protection in Total Retail Loss

A Profile of Paul Jaeckle of Meijer Stores

EDITOR’S NOTE: Paul Jaeckle, LPC, is vice president of asset protection for Meijer Stores based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He moved to Meijer in 2017 after nearly twenty years in various loss prevention and operations positions with Walmart. Jaeckle is very active in the industry serving as chair of the Retail Industry Leaders Association’s (RILA) Asset Protection Leaders Council, vice chair of the board of advisors for the Loss Prevention Research Council (LPRC), and member of the board of directors for the Loss Prevention Foundation and the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention.

EDITOR: I want to start with your contributions to our industry and the various roles you have with different organizations. Let’s start with RILA’s Asset Protection Leaders Council (APLC). Tell us about the APLC and your role with them.

JAECKLE: The APLC is a group of department leaders from the leading retailers across the US. It is a small, collaborative group of individuals who are focused on trying to solve many of the same types of problems within their companies. The council gives us an environment and platform where we can have open and transparent discussions that each of us may be facing, as well as trying to establish some continuity of the way that the industry looks at solving critical problems.

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EDITOR: What kinds of issues do you address?

JAECKLE: Some of the more recent topics include the total retail loss report produced by Emeritus Professor Adrian Beck, self-checkout and mobile payment, and the integration of brick-and-mortar and e-commerce retailing and how to define the scope and exposure of loss with this channel.

We’re not trying to necessarily solve the big topics with one-size-fits-all solutions but at least standardize the way people talk about common issues, provide clarity to the issue, and keep the topics relevant and on the front burner for awareness, resolve, and support. These are broad, wide-sweeping issues that allow the opportunity for decision-makers of their organizations to be able to talk through and to really understand what the scope of the issues are that exist in today’s retail environment and their impact to the asset protection business.

The nice thing about the APLC is that it mirrors what is in play for a lot of other different functionalities through RILA. Supply chain has a similar council. The CEO ranks have a very similar mechanism. This works very nicely to be able to give that level of discipline related to an asset protection and loss prevention lens for the decision-makers.

EDITOR: How often do you all get together for a face-to-face meeting?

JAECKLE: We’ll pull ourselves together usually two times a year as a broad group, and then we may have one or two additional breakout sessions throughout the year. As an example, this upcoming year we’ll be together at the RILA asset protection conference in Denver in May. We will then be back together for the joint meeting that takes place between LP Magazine, the APLC, and the Loss Prevention Foundation in October. Then there’s a third session that is being worked on now centered around self-checkout that will likely be hosted by a retailer midsummer.

EDITOR: You have a leadership role in the APLC, correct?

JAECKLE: I do. I chair the APLC and have done so for the last two years now. It’s been great to be able to work alongside of [RILA’s] Lisa LaBruno and some of her advisors that she brings in to help steer a lot of the topics. What makes it nice having a retailer that chairs the group, whether it be myself or someone else, is that you have a boots-on-the-ground practitioner who helps steer the relevancy of the topics and projects that are commissioned on behalf of the APLC, making sure that we’re providing value back to those who are involved with the council.

EDITOR: You mentioned Lisa and RILA. You’ve been a frequent speaker and moderator at their annual AP conference. Do you have a role to play this year in Denver?

JAECKLE: As a matter of fact, I’m doing a breakout session in conjunction with Professor Adrian Beck and Stephanie Lin, who is one of the research scientists at the University of Florida LPRC. It will be on the topic of self-checkout and the mobilization of payment devices within stores. What’s nice about this is that you have Adrian, who has conducted a significant amount of the study of this type of practice and understanding what works, what doesn’t work, who is doing what, and trying to assess risk. You have Stephanie, who is approaching it from why criminal activity happens a certain way, why do offenders do what they do, and what’s the mindset of the criminal element associated to that. Then you have me on the backend that pulls the science into the practice of what it all means and how a retailer can best be positioned to offset those risks but not slow your organization down from being able to remain competitive in this ever-changing state of retail we’re in today.


EDITOR: You mentioned the LPRC. Speak a little about the value of the LPRC and your role in the organization.

JAECKLE: Going back to when I was still at Walmart, I had the opportunity to be involved with the LPRC to make sure that I had my team fully engaged. That carried over when I moved to Meijer. The value of being engaged on the Loss Prevention Research Council is threefold.

One, it has applicability to anybody in the LP industry, regardless of the level one has in their organization. Whether you’re leading a department, you’re a VP or director, you’re a manager in the field, you’re a corporate team member, or whether you’re just trying to understand how criminal activity works and the value of solutions put in place to offset those risks, everyone can learn from it.

Second, the LPRC is taking their science to practice. As they work through certain projects and reports, engaging with the criminal community that is exposing some of the gaps and creating loss for retail establishments, their research gives you a better understanding of how and why the psyche of individuals works the way that they do, so you can hopefully stay one step ahead.

Finally, I find significant value in it because it’s a great way for me to help get my team engaged and develop their further learning. And it becomes a good platform for me to be able to take credible learnings and apply that with my senior leadership to help them understand that this is not just a Meijer issue but rather an issue affecting the industry. At the same time, it provides credibility to the solutions available that can be put in place to protect profitability and sales to manage against the risk of the deviant and criminal behavior that comes into our stores. Best of all, these insights are coming from an independent, credible organization built on research and science.

EDITOR: One other organization you are involved in is the Loss Prevention Foundation. Why do you play a role in the foundation?

JAECKLE: My view is similar in terms of how we’ve talked about the other two. The LP Foundation is great because it gives our industry a platform to impact the direction of where asset protection is going. It is also deeply focused on and rooted in the development of individuals through its LPC and LPQ certifications.

I took the plunge to earn my LPC back in 2013. Investing in this was one of the best moves I could have made. As an individual who had earned an undergraduate degree, had gone into the workplace, come back for graduate work, and then applied those learnings of both education with practical experience, the continuing education certification in my specified field was phenomenal and has helped me achieve a lot of the success I have today.

What makes it so impactful is that all too often, especially in large organizations, we end up with a very specific, narrow viewpoint within asset protection. You may only be a security person, or safety focused, or a numbers guy. We may not have visibility into the other aspects of asset protection like supply chain or import security, finance, or legislation and legal risks. The foundation education touches all those and more to put asset protection into context of the larger enterprise. It’s an essential program for individuals wanting to grow their careers.

EDITOR: That is great, Paul. We applaud you for your involvement in the industry and how you’ve been able to give back to others. Let’s shift gears a bit and look back at your college days and how you ended up in loss prevention.

JAECKLE: I attended Western Illinois University where I majored in criminal justice hoping to go into law enforcement. I had a family member who was an Illinois State Trooper, which is where I wanted to end up. The university is in a relatively small town where there were basically three places to work. One of those was the local Walmart where I took a temporary Christmas job as a people greeter. One of the benefits of that position was I was the employee who often went out on a shoplifting incident as the witness with the store detective. It so happens that the store I worked in had a good store detective who made a lot of apprehensions. With my interest in law enforcement, I became intrigued with loss prevention and became a store detective with Walmart while I was still in school.

Shortly after I joined Walmart and after I graduated, I was promoted to essentially what, at that time, was a district LP manager. Here I was, a 21-year-old kid who was supervising nine stores where most of my store managers had been with the company longer than I had been alive. What that meant for me was that you learn quickly that it’s a humbling experience and that you’ve got to be able to listen really well. You must be able to show value and credibility in what you’re saying but acknowledge when you don’t know the answer because otherwise, you’ll get caught in a bluff.

I enjoyed that job and was promoted to a regional position in the northeast with Walmart. I had gone back to graduate school in organizational design and had a good operations partner whom I trusted a lot. He was my mentor and still is to this day. We began to work on a transition plan for me into operations. It was the scariest conversation I’ve ever had because all I had ever known was the idea of being in law enforcement or loss prevention. However, with my graduate experience, my leadership, and life lessons I had accumulated over the years, I decided to take the plunge and relied on my instincts of knowing that I’d surrounded myself with good people who were going to help me through situations when I didn’t know the answer.

It was a great decision because it gave me a completely different perspective in terms of what it meant to be in retail and not just from the LP side of things. I had the opportunity to open stores in the District of Columbia, run a district in upstate New York for a while, and supported a lot of corporate programming rollouts for the stores I supported. It was extremely refreshing to think about things from a process and operationally driven organization and see how I could apply some of the leadership skills that I had acquired in asset protection to the operations side of the game.

EDITOR: When did you return to loss prevention?

JAECKLE: After four years in operations, I had the opportunity to come back to lead the stores in the eastern third of the United States. The territory had around 1,500 stores from Puerto Rico up to Maine. That was a phenomenal experience because it taught me the value of making decisions that are holistic in approach. I really had to rely on my team to be able to run that large operation. I was able to apply a lot of the learnings from operations into asset protection to help right the ship on where shrink had been going in the wrong direction at that time for the company.

That also gave me the great opportunity to interact with Mike Lamb, who I consider one of my all-time favorite people both as a mentor and friend. When he was promoted to vice president with Walmart, Mike asked me to come into the home office to lead the corporate AP operations. I did that for about two years and really enjoyed the experience, education, and exposure it provided. It set me up for where I’m at today at Meijer because it gave me a much more strategic look at how programs are designed, why they work or don’t work, and a lot of executive presence of marketing and selling your ideas and programs.

EDITOR: So now you are leading the AP team at Meijer out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Talk about that transition and give our readers who may not know the company some background on Meijer.

JAECKLE: When I first began talking to Meijer about my current role, I was intrigued by the company and the opportunity. It has been a very refreshing experience because I’m surrounded by a really great team, and we’ve been able to collaborate to start to move the needle quickly on our goals over the past two years in both shrink and safety performance. It has also allowed me the opportunity to engage in other areas of AP like international security risks, supply chain, crisis management, and other areas too.

For those who may not know, Meijer is a regional retailer centered in six upper Midwest states—Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, and Wisconsin—comprised of more than 240 supercenters, specialty pharmacies, distribution centers, and a few off-shore global sourcing offices. We have a few things that help make us unique. One, we have our own manufacturing facilities that allow us to secure and control the process from cradle to grave and manage cost. We have our own creamery where we make many of our own brand dairy products. We also have a nut roasting facility. In addition, we have what we refer to as the “central kitchen,” where we produce a lot of our prepared food and ready-to-eat meals that are shipped to our stores.

Another thing that makes us unique is our specialty pharmacy operation. We ship pharmaceuticals to customers across the country, specifically to patients with complex chronic conditions. Many pharmacies cannot stock these types of medications in-house because of cost.

EDITOR: What does a typical Meijer store look like?

JAECKLE: Meijer stores are supercenters. Our average store is between 160,000 and 200,000 square feet. We pride ourselves as being a top-tier grocery store first, with the convenience of a supercenter that also allows our customers to buy high-quality general merchandise goods at a great price. Being a tier-one grocery retailer means we’re cutting all our own meat, sourcing to the highest grades of produce, and making sure that we have quality products and a great service model for our customers.

EDITOR: Tell us about the history of the company.

JAECKLE: The company will be eighty-five years old this year, being founded in 1934 in Greenville, Michigan. It is family-owned with the Meijer family still active in the business today. It was founded by Hendrik Meijer as an effort to meet the needs of a small town with a small grocery store and fair prices and by 1962 had pioneered itself into the supercenter concept we operate today. His son, Fred, had been involved with the business from an early age and active in the company up until his passing in 2011. Fred and his wife, Lena, have three sons. Their oldest son, Hank, is our executive chairman and still in the office every day, while the other two are active on the board.

One of the things that makes Meijer such a great organization is how involved we are in the communities that we serve. That commitment is not just on the high quality of food and products we provide in our stores; rather, it also means our involvement with the community where our customers shop and our team members live. We are highly engaged with supporting activities and organizations, whether it be with local sports, law enforcement, or hunger relief efforts.

One of the joyous things about working for a private company that is family-owned is that it has strong beliefs in giving back to its community. Meijer continues to handle its business based on the simple philosophy that led Hendrik to start this business in the first place: “…take care of your customers, team members, and community…and all of those will take care of you, just like a family.” Having been family-owned for eighty-five years, Meijer is as much about family as it is about business.

EDITOR: Because I grew up in a small town, Marion, Indiana, that had a Meijer store, I witnessed that community involvement first hand. Small and midsize cities are your typical markets, correct, instead of urban areas?

JAECKLE: We do have some stores in larger cities, such as Detroit, Louisville, Columbus, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati. But you’re right. We go where we have the opportunity to provide a service and where our customers live. Fred Meijer always said, “Customers don’t need us; we need them.” At Meijer, we focus on our customers and thrive by meeting their needs and exceeding their expectations.

For a company that’s eighty-five years old, we are still actively growing even in today’s retail environment and remain extremely healthy. We opened six new stores last year. We’re opening three stores in the Cleveland market this summer. We continue to build out in the Wisconsin market, and we’re now filling in the gaps inside some of the Michigan communities where the company grew its roots. We are also working on a small-format store concept that is really a neighborhood grocery store. Our first small format, called Bridge Street Market, opened in Grand Rapids’ west side last year.

EDITOR: With your arrival at Meijer, what have been your objectives from an asset protection point of view?

JAECKLE: When I first arrived, we put a major focus on shrink and loss rates, so we embraced the mechanism of the total retail loss approach, consistent with what we see now quite frequently in the industry. It’s given us the ability to understand how loss happens and that it’s not just the responsibility of asset protection to solve, but that there’s skin in the game whether you are a merchant, an operator, or you’re in supply chain. We’ve taken this approach to ensure that everybody understands that they have some responsibility to be able to manage and solve for our loss.

At the same time, we’ve also adopted a better balance on prevention with recovery in regard to malicious activity. The idea of playing cops and robbers and seeing people get hurt is just not a winning strategy. We’ve spent a lot of time reengaging how we go about doing that in terms of-I’ll use the term “hardening the target”—to make it understood that, one, it’s not acceptable behavior within a Meijer store and, two, we’re not going to rely on you getting caught to get you to understand it’s not acceptable behavior. We’ll get your attention ahead of time.

We’ve also repositioned ourselves to focus on operational opportunities and core retail fundamentals within our business that are self-inflicted. As an example, we’re a grocery store first, and while we may have theft that happens in our fresh produce or meat sections, how we source, how we order product in, how we rotate product-all that dictates what our throwaway and loss is related to those products. This is a really important step for us to engage the organization to not think about it as loss, but to think about it more as waste.

EDITOR: How have you organized your AP team?

  Our corporate AP organization is responsible for protective security, which includes executive protection, campus security, and security at our specialty operations, including some of our off-shore locations in Bangladesh and Hong Kong. We also have responsibility for our supply chain asset protection functions. We have a centralized investigative unit that we lead out of our Grand Rapids office, which we refer to it as “ROC,” our Remote Operations Center [see photo page 30]. And we also have a corporate analytics and project management team for our AP operations and continuous improvement work based in our corporate office.

In the field, we have regional managers who oversee about 100 stores each and market AP managers who oversee about ten stores each. In every store, we have an asset protection team lead.

EDITOR: Why do you have AP in every store?

JAECKLE: It was important because, with implementing the total retail loss strategy, we felt we needed to have somebody who understood the operation of the store from a total asset protection lens and was able to help drive process execution and conduct the necessary audits to validate execution that they are working the way that we intended. This also allowed for us to continue to execute in the traditional space of asset protection to make sure we have the right controls in place, as well as a focus related to investigative work, whether it be internally or externally. We also have store detectives, which vary from store to store based on the risk of theft in each building.

One of the first things that happened when I arrived was we absorbed the people greeter position into asset protection. This is part of what I mentioned earlier about hardening the target and making sure that the teams understood that employees engaging customers, including the dishonest ones, supports this idea of deterrence. So making that good first impression was one of the first things that we did, and we invested in training for our teams.

EDITOR: Given the type of organization you have described, I imagine that you have a strong commitment to developing and promoting people internally. Is that right?

JAECKLE: We do. We’ve been able to promote a few of our market leaders to regional positions and have had quite a bit of movement in the structure of our corporate teams and how to further position us to be a proactive asset protection team. In the stores, the asset protection team lead position was a brand-new position that also happened shortly after I got here in 2017. That was 100 percent a ground-up position, and I think we promoted about 85 to 90 percent of that population from within Meijer, mainly our store detectives and some highly functioning team leaders from the operations side. This transition has really been able to give them a platform to be more engaged as a leader in their individual stores. It’s been a good transition and journey over the last few years.

EDITOR: Are there any special initiatives that you have implemented either from technology or from programs that you want to highlight?

JAECKLE: Right now, we’re spending a significant amount of time on mobile shopping and mobile payment. It’s no surprise that Meijer had a commitment to mobile shopping inside our stores as we announced in 2018. With new shopping patterns comes the opportunity for risk, and so we are spending a significant amount of time working through analytics on how to best offset that. In fact, you can hear more about that at the upcoming RILA conference during my breakout presentation I mentioned earlier.

We’ve also spent a significant amount of time on working our big data to help the organization understand exactly what problems to go after. When you’re selling hundreds of thousands of different items in a building, it becomes difficult to figure out, if you’re not careful, where to start. You can’t boil the ocean, so we’ve spent a lot of time on letting the data guide our decisions and streamlining it to make useful data points for the teams to act against. That has been a real blessing in disguise to get the teams centered around the things that matter the most.

EDITOR: Earlier you mentioned Mike Lamb. Are there other people in your background who have been important in your career?

JAECKLE: I had the good fortune to work with Mike for about three-and-a-half years while he and I were both at Walmart. He is probably one of the most influential people for me, especially preparing me for my current role. Mike helped me understand what executive-type leadership really means—being able to manage upstream, the willingness to take a risk when appropriate, and having the confidence to be able to stand behind your decisions. I learned an awful lot of that from Mike, and he and I stay connected today even though we’re at different companies.

It may be easier to talk through this by thinking about the core competencies that I have learned from my mentors and what it means to me today. While I haven’t worked for all these great leaders, they are all people I have admired along the way as I have interacted with them and have tried to glean something from them. For each of them, I am extremely fortunate and grateful to have crossed paths and learned from them.

Let me start with dignity and respect. One of the things that makes Meijer great is its commitment to winning with your team. My current supervisor, Todd Weer, has been at Meijer for over thirty years and models every day that how you show up to work-your attitude-and how you treat those around you, will define how successful you and your team will be.

Self-discipline and drive. I had probably the toughest supervisor, still to this day, and she was absolutely the best thing for me at that time in my career. Renee Norton was one of my divisional directors, and I had the highest appreciation of her lessons on self-accountability and one’s commitment to seeing things through.

Attention to detail. Craig Ledbetter was my regional at Walmart when I was first promoted to a manager. The first district that I took over was his former district. If you really want to learn something, follow in the shoes of your predecessor and boss because they already know all the skeletons. You’ve got to be on your toes in that situation.

Persistence and passion. Paul Jones would be one of those individuals that I have a lot of respect for showing me what’s out there in the industry, different ways of thinking about how to view the world of asset protection and knowing when to put a foot on the ground on something that you believe in with all your heart.

Continuous growth and learning. Gene Smith is someone who embodied the idea to never stop learning and willingness to invest in yourself. Those who know what Gene has done for this industry know the passion he carries.

EDITOR: You certainly can hear the enthusiasm as you describe the work you are doing here at Meijer and your connections in the industry. But outside of the workplace, tell us about your family.

JAECKLE: I’ve been married over sixteen years to my college sweetheart. We met at Western Illinois, and she has been gracious enough to move around with me as I’ve worked up the ranks at Walmart and now to Grand Rapids with Meijer. We’re both from Illinois and still have family there, so being back in the Midwest was important to us. She is nearing the end of her doctorate work with the University of Arkansas, and I am so proud of her and our relationship of supporting each other as we pursue our goals in our professional lives. We were also blessed about five-and-a-half years ago to become parents to our son. What a blessing that has been. He is a ball of fire and has the same passion and drive in life as my wife and I have.

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