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From Store Detective To Research Scientist with the Loss Prevention Research Council

Read Hayes, Ph.D., CPP, is the director of the Loss Prevention Research Council(LPRC) and coordinator of the Loss Prevention Research Team at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Hayes started his LP career with Robinsons of Florida before joining J. Byron’s, which later became Ross Stores. He left his LP role to start a training and consulting firm called Loss Prevention Specialists before obtaining his doctorate degree and moving into academic research full time. Hayes holds an undergraduate degree in criminology from the University of Florida and a doctorate in criminology from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. He is an ongoing contributor to LP Magazine writing the Evidence-Based LP column.

EDITOR: You have been a longtime supporter and editorial contributor to the magazine, which we appreciate. Today, we want to flip the coin and have everyone get to know more about Read Hayes. Let’s start by telling us how you got started in loss prevention.

HAYES: As a freshman in college, I needed a part-time job. I was interested in law enforcement, maybe becoming a game warden. There was an ad pinned to a bulletin board at the college for a store detective at a whopping $2.85 an hour with Robinsons of Florida; at that time, part of Associated Dry Goods Corporation. My first apprehension, I watched three subjects, two males and a female, concealing apparel. The apprehension was wild. My favorite shirt was torn off my back. It ended up involving over 10 police officers. I had never had more fun in my life, so I was hooked.

EDITOR: Where did you go from there?

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HAYES: I was also a sworn deputy sheriff briefly, working undercover for nine months in a high school that had a crystal meth problem. When I graduated college, I did another two-year undercover stint in a drug taskforce. I then became a district loss prevention manager for J. Byron’s. At one point, I went off to army training and ultimately did 10 years as a reserve U.S. Army infantry officer. When I returned from my initial army training, my district was being reopened as Ross Stores. I did that for several more years, but I really wanted to do LP research and consulting, so I started a company called Loss Prevention Specialists. There were several major retailers who purchased and implemented the training since it was very interactive and based on real-world scenarios.

EDITOR: You have always been driven by two thingsyour own personal education and research in the industry. Tell us how those came together for you.

HAYES: When I was young, whenever we’d drive around with my physician father, he would listen to these horrifically boring, sometimes grotesque professional-improvement tapes about various diseases or medical techniques. I didn’t go into medicine as a third-generation physician probably because I was too squeamish. But I understood the purpose for the research, clinical trials, and so forth. I knew research helped guide what they were doing, how they were doing it, and why they were doing it. That was so different than what was going on in loss prevention. In LP, we were making the best decisions we could, but it wasn’t based on evidence or science. It was largely based on intuition and what others were doing. That led me to think about what we were doing and why, and how it really needed to be much more science and research-based, like medicine. Billions in theft, and daily life-safety issues demanded it. We needed to understand what we were doing based on rigorous studies and trials to build a better industry. That became my passion.


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EDITOR: Successful people often have those who have offered a helping hand over the years. Who are some of those who have been helpful to getting to where you are today?

HAYES: Mr. David Whitney, my first mentor in loss prevention, always encouraged me to follow my passion. He would tell me, “This DLPM job ultimately isn’t you. You’re stuck in the mud. You’ve got to get out of here and make a difference. And I’ll support you.” He was the first guy to do that.

UF’s Dr. [Richard] Hollinger and his counterpart in the U.K., Prof. [Joshua] Bamfield, really helped me pursue my education, which was a tremendous commitment. Also, Dr. Bart Weiss at the University of Florida helped me and Dick Hollinger construct the first National Retail Security Survey. He helped guide my doctoral research as part of my committee, and he’s one of the most dynamic people I’ve ever met.

They saw that I was driven by this need to do research, and worked with me to balance education, work, and family. They all accommodated and encouraged me so that I could get a quality education and still take care of my family.

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EDITOR: What was your job at that particular point?

HAYES: I was consulting and doing small research projects. Being in the reserves, I was also paid by the U.S. Army for my service. Marshall’s funded the research for my thesis, which I ended up getting published in peer-reviewed journal articles. King Rogers at Target hired me to do a couple of paid research projects and kept encouraging me, which also helped.

EDITOR: After you obtained your doctorate degree, tell us when the light went on leading to the founding of the LPRC [Loss Prevention Research Council].

HAYES: I did a survey with Dick Hollinger for the International Council of Shopping Centers, or ICSC, with the support of Dr. John Konarski. Once we got the questionnaire together, Dick and I literally built a mailing list from a book that listed all of the shopping centers in America. We had their fax numbers and planned to fax the questionnaire. At the last minute, Dr. Konarski called and said that the ICSC lawyers advised against the survey, believing there was too much risk in putting out benchmarking numbers that they could be sued over. So, Dick and I huddled in Gainesville. He’s looking at me, and I’m looking at him, and we just decided to go for it. The research was so valuable, and in our judgment would not harm, but rather help mall operators improve security. Just picture two guys faxing out hundreds of these questionnaires from two different rooms in a race against time before the mall executives realized ICSC was no longer part of the project. In the meantime, ICSC gets the word that these questionnaires are being distributed, and puts the word out not to complete them. We still received two or three hundred completed questionnaires back before they could get the word out. There’s a quick glimpse into the “glamorous” side of research.

EDITOR: I understand that King Rogers was instrumental in helping form the LPRC.

HAYES: I saw King Rogers at a conference, where he told me that he had gotten my book and asked me to come to Minneapolis to meet with him. When I arrived, he hands me the book, and it has scribbling and highlights all over it. King says, “One of my colleagues read your book, and has completely shredded it, saying that this isn’t a book that he would he ever use.” He’s staring at me with this stern look on his face, and I’m thinking he’s about to squash the whole thing. He tosses the book on his table and says, “I want you to know what I’m going to do about this. I’m going to buy 800 copies for my team. We’re having our LP team meeting in Phoenix. I’m flying you in, and I want you to spend time with me and my top eight guys brainstorming. After, I would like you to go in front of the overall group, and put together something interesting. Then I want to have a book signing.”

He then asked me to come up with the one thing that needed to be done to learn more so he and his team could improve. I suggested we talk to the “target” audience; in other words, the offenders he’s trying to convince not to steal from Target stores. King says, “I’m going to hook you up with my guys in the Orlando district,” which turned out to be local district LP leader Marvin Ellison. “I want you to plot and scheme. Whatever you come up with, I’m going to order the team to make it happen.”

All that led to a research findings presentation at the 2000 National Retail Federation LP conference in a general session. That’s when King challenged the industry. He tells the audience, “We’ve just been shooting our guns into the dark here. We need an entity to bring it together collectively, with a real scientist, and to start using better analytics.” So, the Loss Prevention Research Council was really his idea, not mine.


EDITOR: That started the LPRC, but I also know that Bill Titus played an important role in building the organization.

HAYES: In those first years, the Loss Prevention Research Council was holding its own, but it was really kick-started when Bill, who was a founding member with OfficeMax, got more deeply involved. In 2007, Bill came to me and said, “Look, you know Kmart’s a member, and Sears is now one. You know I want this thing to work. The industry needs a dedicated LP research team. Here’s the deal…”

Bill was as good as his word. He’s creative, he’s innovative, he drives the hell out of profits, and he makes things happen. He flew his team to Gainesville three times, and we white-boarded ideas to clarify where we wanted to go, and how to get there. Bill helped provide vision and supervision, and made sure things were driving forward. He told me, “You better get your act together because it’s going to happen. It has traction, and it’s going to go.” The end result is that over the last seven years that growth has been rapid and expansive.

EDITOR: Before I forget it, you mentioned your book. Tell us the name and where to get it.

HAYES: The latest book is titled Retail Security and Loss Prevention, second edition, and it’s available through Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other sources.

EDITOR: What’s the mission of the Loss Prevention Research Council today, and how is it organized?

HAYES: We now have approximately 45 retail chains involved, and we want to help them move to more of an evidence-based model. We strive to bring them together and collaborate with us, using science to provide actionable results. I think the mechanisms for that are our various working groups or action teams. We call it “informed engagement.”

So, our two missions are informed engagement and actionable output. Think about having monthly conference calls with colleagues, brainstorming, and telling each other what they’re doing, which is great. Now we have one or more of us scientists on the phone asking, “What do you want to know, and how would you use it?” We can then go and conduct surveys, focus groups, interview offenders, implement experiments, do statistical modeling; whatever is called for to give them something short and actionablea one-page document with more detail if they want it.

EDITOR: Give us a little more background on some of your working groups and action teams.

HAYES: The video solution working group involves anything video imagery related. We have members who employ auto plate lookup, facial recognition, and similar technology. We’re doing all kinds of things with analytics both in the interior and exterior of the building.

The data analytics working group is all about data modeling and understanding how to make the data work for us. While many retailers are now performing their own predictive models, we can vet them and help enhance the process.

We have a supply chain protection working group. Every retailer has a supply chain, and that’s an active, productive working group.

We also have an ORC working group. We’re doing an industry survey tied in with Dick Hollinger, and then we’re going to do some specific offender interviews to help learn how to get better intelligence.

The product protection working group is developing and testing better protective packaging, fixtures, and other merchandise-display solutions.

The action teams are vertically aligned for groups with common issues and interests. For example, the drug action team includes Rite Aid, Walgreens, CVS, Kroger, Publix, BJ’s, Walmart, Meijer, Target, Wegman’s, Kmart, and others that manage food-and-drug issues. They may discuss pharmacy robbery, food protection, and other issues they want us to study. There are several other action teams, including department stores, auto parts, and so forth, looking at the shared issues that they face.


EDITOR: Give us an example of one of your projects or research initiatives.

HAYES: As I mentioned, my dad is a doctor. Let’s say you walk into his office and your chief complaint is headaches. He’s going to take your history, do an examination, and follow his diagnostic protocol. He then says, “I think you’ve got this problem, and this is probably why.” He’s followed his diagnostic process, which is evidence-based. There’s some gut, it’s still a lot of heart, but basically it’s evidence-based. He’ll then go through his options based on the available research to determine the best course of action. That way, he can make scientifically informed decisions. In loss prevention, we don’t quite have that ability yet. There’s nothing even remotely like thatno rigorous, diagnostic, and treatment option process. That’s what our retailer members want.

In many ways, our projects and research should help us build that process. We conduct randomized trials, study trends and the available research literature, issue white papers, and take other steps. We’ve talked to customers to determine how LP actions or inactions affect the shopper and his or her perspective of the shopping experience. We pull all of the information together and say, “Here’s what we know, and here are some best practices based on studies.”

We’re still collectively losing billions of dollars a year as an industry, and while some individual companies are making progress, overall, not so much. That’s why the Loss Prevention Research Council and the UF team were started by retailers. We can go in and start to narrow down the issues by listening to retail experts and other employees, going into their stores and DCs, innovating with them, and moving things around to determine how we can make improvements. We then do experiments to validate the assumptions so we can tell retailers, “Here’s what we found, here’s what the ROI seems to be, and here’s what the shoppers say.” Then if somebody else starts breaking down your case, like a buyer, your operators, or whomever, you’re covered because you have all that independent information, which is based on rigorous evidence.

EDITOR: Is there an operating board or an advisory board that helps decide the direction of the LPRC?

HAYES: Yes, we have a very active board of advisors (BOA), which is currently led by John Voytilla, the VP of global loss prevention and safety at Office Depot. There are also three vice-chairs, who serve as an executive committee. The executive committee includes Brian Bazer, VP at dressbarn, who focuses on administration and operationsmaking sure that we’re a viable, efficient entity. Dennis Wamsley from Publix is the vice-chair for finance, providing guidance and financial advice so we can execute needed research. Then there’s Mike Lamb, senior director at Walmart, who oversees the working groups and action teamsmaking sure that they’re productive and meet our members’ needs.

EDITOR: You mentioned your annual conference. Who can attend that and what type of agendas do you typically have?

HAYES: Any member of the Loss Prevention Research Council gets two free slots to the conference as part of their membership. They can also earn further free spots if a member serves on the board of advisors or leads a working group. Non-members may participate as well. There’s a fee for non-members to cover materials, food, and things like that.

The conference typically looks strategically at where retail is going, emerging technologies, and current events like cyber-attacks and what that means for retailers. We’ll often have a speaker on overall crime in the United States or another topic of interest to the industry.

We generally have multiple breakout sessions, where we try to make those sessions as interactive as possible. The breakouts involve the working groups and action teams. They’ll go through what they’ve learned through the past year’s research, and then brainstorm and plan the next year’s research objectives.

We’ll come together again for presentations or video tours of some of the innovations going on in our StoreLabs. In 2014, Tyco pledged a total of $150,000 to help fund a state-of-the-art Innovation Lab located in the University of Florida’s new and growing Innovation Square, adjacent to the sprawling 2,000-acre campus.


EDITOR: Tell us more about what you refer to as StoreLabs.

HAYES: We have abouta couple dozenretailers, some that have more than one store, who allow us to come into their stores to conduct research with different technologies or multiple countermeasures to see how they impact loss, sales, and the shopping experience. We also work in DCs and in parking lots. We have all kinds of interesting things going on in the various StoreLabs. The retailers who participate in the StoreLab program often bring in their LP team to see first-hand what we’re doing and how it impacts their stores.

EDITOR: Who are some of the retailers involved with your StoreLab program?

HAYES: Some of the most active include Walmart, Big Lots, Lowe’s, Home Depot, CVS, T-Mobile, AutoZone, to name a few. What we do in Gainesville is initial alpha testing. We need to see how to do things, and how those things affect shoppers, employees, and, of course, offenders before going out to higher risk or busier locations. Then we take those findings and go to higher crime areas like Miami, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Chicago, or DC. To give you an example, we start in a Gainesville Home Depot store, then have a Home Depot StoreLab in Los Angeles where you have to pass through a security guard just to park due to the crime challenges. That gives us a different look at how things work or don’t work in different environments.

EDITOR: What are you most proud of that has come out of the LPRC?

HAYES: I think the idea that now, very respected leaders in our industrysenior decision makersare buying into research in loss prevention and starting to adopt some of what we’re doing would be the first answer. The second is going to industry conferences and hearing new people saying, “Wow, this is the way to go. I believe in the Loss Prevention Research Council or evidence-based practice, and I’m going to get involved.”

EDITOR: What are the next steps for the LPRC?

HAYES: I would like us to get an additional 10 or more retail chains involved so we can grow and accomplish more. That also would give us a more diverse work environment. We currently have two Loss Prevention Research Council full-time scientists under me as well as UF faculty and grad students, but I would like us to have four LPRC scientists to allow full-time focus. I think that will take some time.

What’s being done with the LP Foundation and the content of the LPQ and LPC certifications is great, but I would like to see them become even more saturated with evidence-based content than they are now. Gene Smith and everyone at the Foundation are great. They’re always asking me, “What are you doing? Is there any way that we can get you more involved?” I want to make sure they’re incorporating our research findings into their content. That would be the next step. Medical school content is evidence-based, and so should LP training content.

Also, I feel that we haven’t arrived until we are sitting and talking to the CEOs, CFOs, and COOs at the NRF Big Show, for example. We will have arrived when the CEOs are expecting that their key LP decision makers are adopting evidence-based content and that level of expertise is required.

EDITOR: You don’t think we are there yet?

HAYES: We are certainly making strides and some retailers are further along than others. Recently I was at a corporate office with their esteemed SVP of LP and his team. The COO comes into the room, as part of their amazing strategy session. The COO starts off saying, “Last year we did great. Here are the numbers. This year we’re on track to do this well. But with all the cost pressures, here are the three things we’ve got to do to maintain where we arenot to keep growing, but just to maintain.” He then says, “Look, here’s what loss prevention needs to do to help me meet this objective, to meet this one…” and so forth.

Here we have a C-level executive saying in a very intricate way exactly how strategic LP is. It’s not a peripheral issue. He is not just checking a box. He’s saying we’re going to have these key objectives, and this is how LP can structure and work the process to support these things that are absolutely paramount to what we’re trying to accomplish. It was incredible because that’s where we’re all trying to go. LP more than matters, it is critical to successful retailing.

This article was originally published in 2014 and was updated March 22, 2016.

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