EDITORS NOTE: Jeff Richardson recently retired as vice president of loss prevention and security for Pathmark Stores, Inc. after thirty-two years. He began his career at Pathmark as a field investigator in distribution and transportation security. As vice president of LP, Richardson was responsible for an organization of over 450 LP professionals supporting 144 stores of the New Jersey-based supermarket chain. During his loss prevention career, Richardson was active as an officer in the Northern New Jersey chapter of the ASIS, a member of the Food Marketing Institutes loss prevention committee, and chairman of the New Jersey Food Council loss prevention committee. He continues to serve on the certified forensic interviewer (CFI) certification advisory committee for the Center for Interviewer Standards and Assessment (CISA). Prior to his loss prevention career, Richardson enjoyed a brief career as an offensive lineman with the New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals, and Miami Dolphins. He earned a championship ring for Super Bowl III, the famous win y Joe Namath and the Jets over the Baltimore Colts. He played college football with Michigan State University.
EDITOR: How did you find your way from football to Pathmark and a career in loss prevention?
RICHARDSON: Two years earlier, I had helped arrange some football tickets for one of my family members boss, who happened to be vice president of human resources at Pathmark. After leaving football, my relative insisted I contact him. I really didn’t want to as I explained, I cant obligate the man for a job for four football tickets.However, after four or five weeks of job searching, I did call him. There were two openings at the time. I interviewed for both and was accepted by both. One was distribution supervisor on the floor in the DC. The other one was an investigator position in loss prevention.
EDITOR: What made you choose the LP position?
RICHARDSON: I saw more freedom and excitement in the LP job than being stuck in a distribution center as a supervisor. Plus, I felt that I could learn distribution in a matter of months and be bored to death. In loss prevention, I thought that I was going to be constantly learning, and thirty-two years later, I am still learning.
EDITOR: Tell us a little about your first experience in loss prevention.
RICHARDSON: I started as a trainee because I had no training or experience in loss prevention and quickly moved into a full-time investigators position.After six years in the distribution area, I moved to the retail side for our Brooklyn, New York, stores.
EDITOR: That must have been a big change.
RICHARDSON: Oh yeah. It was the roughest assignment in the company. There were huge problems at that time with youth gangs. They were organizing armed robberies just coming in at will, taking cash or whatever they wanted. For us to survive in that area, we had to clean up that situation. I spent seven years there, and we did get it cleaned up. In fact, if I were to venture into some of those same stores, even today, there are some ladies who would jump around my neck and hug me and guys who would shake my hand and say, Boy, we miss you.
EDITOR: What happened in your career after that?
RICHARDSON: There were a number of changes in the company that created some openings. The company was growing. There was turnover and restructuring. I had done a pretty good job in New York. We had turned some stores around that had been in the red for years, but were back making money. We had gone from fifty armed robberies to two a year, and eventually none. I was asked to come back to Jersey to be the regional in charge of Connecticut, NewJersey, New York, and Massachusetts. So I ended up as a regional with five people working for me.
EDITOR: When was that?
RICHARDSON: The early eighties.
EDITOR: In the world of food retailing at that time, what were your primary objectives or responsibilities?
RICHARDSON: We concentrated heavily on shoplifting. That was the thing that put a retail site in the red. The external theft issue. The internal piece was there, but it was by no means as important as it is today. Of course, today its very important.
EDITOR: And this would have been prior to the time that you had EAS or cameras.
EDITOR: Did you employ your own shoplifting detail of hourly detectives?
RICHARDSON: Yes. I started the program along with my manager in New York. At first, we utilized outside agencies, store detectives, and uniformed officers. But we soon started to change them over to our own people. About that time, New York City was bankrupt. They were laying off hundreds of rookie police officers. We picked up about twenty-five police officers with no more than two years service and turned them into plain-clothes, gun-carrying store detectives. That was one of the keys for our turning those stores in the red around and reducing our armed robberies.
EDITOR: When did you rise to the level of director?
RICHARDSON: It was about four years later.
EDITOR: So, you ended up being the director and then later the vice president for fifteen-plus years?
RICHARDSON: Thats right. We never had a vice president of loss prevention before me, and they have not replaced me since I left in April. They likely wont. They are running the organization with two directors now.
EDITOR: As you progressed through the nineties and up to your retirement, as opposed to shoplifting, what became the critical initiatives that loss prevention and security would undertake?
RICHARDSON: First of all, Pathmarks LP organization is made up mostly of uniform officers and store detectives, the biggest bulk being plain-clothes store detectives…they’re the workhorses out there. The workhorses still have a heavy obligation on shoplifting. We still do a lot of shoplifter monitoring and continue to exceed 25,000 apprehensions a year. At the same time, we have learned, like everyone else, that employee theft is a majority of a retailers losses. So, for the last five years, we have been dealing with employee theft. Specifically, I believe, that the front end is the key to employee theft.
EDITOR: How did you approach the front end?
RICHARDSON: When I first came back to Jersey as a regional, we began dealing with different companies to help develop some type of cash register interface. Before some true technology came out, we had one company, Controlled Access, produce a splitter for us. One camera was on the register in the monitoring room, the other camera was on a particular cashier. We only had the capability to view one register, so if we wanted to monitor a particular cashier, we’d have the front end move that cashier to that register. We would split the screen, and then use the managers key and get the register read out in our security room, which was on tape. We had several of these in different stores, and we were knocking em dead with it. The dishonest cashiers finally got wise to the fact that if they were moved to a certain register, we were looking at them, so we had to give it up. Then came along TVSTransaction Verification Systems out of Virginia. Then Controlled Access developed DBS, which was the replacement for TVS. Then we went to a couple of other more sophisticated computer-based units, one that the Katz Brothers sold to Checkpoint, and finally to the version that were using today, Store Vision.
EDITOR: In respect to the world of food retailing, weren’t you way out in front in terms of this kind of technological approach?
RICHARDSON: Absolutely. But putting in the technology is not all there is to it. The key is using it. Its the same with anything. For example, I believe in CCTV a hundred percent. But if I have a CCTV system with no man-hours to monitor it, I might as well throw it away. I’ve got to use the system 100 percent.
With Store Vision, we’ve gotten our front-end operations to completely buy-in to the system. We have a system where the front-end managers have their own monitoring station to handle their front end. They do all exception reporting through the system. It used to be they would take the old exception report, which may have been eighty pages long, and sit down with cashiers to talk about mistakes they may have made the previous week. These mistakes could have been theft issues, but they didn’t know. Today, that report may be ten pages long, but they don’t really even look at it anymore, because they identify every issue with Store Vision, hit the mouse and bring up the shot of what happened. So, now when they sit down to talk to a cashier, they tell them exactly what they did. That’s a huge difference. We’ve actually seen in the last year, in several stores, an actual reduction of turnover in the stores as well.
EDITOR: I understand you also use this system to impact safety and reduction of accidents.
RICHARDSON: Oh yes. When we put a system in, we not only cover the front end, but we cover every aisle. The store detective can use it for shoplifting, internal theft, as well as safety issues in the aisles. For instance, if no one takes care of a spill, he can make sure it gets taken care of quickly.If we do have a slip and fall, the system helps us determine if its fraudulent or legitimate right away. If were at fault, we work to settle the case quickly, hopefully for $10,000 rather than $200,000. If its fraudulent, we pay nothing, and were ready to go to court when and if we have to.
EDITOR: Weren’t you also very progressive with audit types of programs within your stores?
RICHARDSON: Yes. We actually go into the stores and look at the work that has been done on the system to see whether or not store detectives or front-end operators are capturing the data that they’re supposed to and noting it for the record.
EDITOR: That’s kind of an interesting twist. When you say audit, most people think in terms of auditing the operations of the store, the merchandising of the store, inventory control issues. A piece of your audit was to actually assess the performance and utilization of the equipment, and thereby your security people.
RICHARDSON: That was part of our shrink audit. Our shrink auditors audited every section of the store on the merchandising side, and then they did the same thing on the loss prevention side. They would do merchandise audits by department. Based on stores with higher shrink numbers, we do even more audits, as many as four times a year until the numbers change.
EDITOR: So often in food retailing, you hear about the problems and challenges of waste, spoilage, and things that are thrown away that end up being a loss. How did you manage that type of loss?
RICHARDSON: During the shrink audits, for instance, in the bakery, we had formulas produced by the merchandising group that told us how many loaves of bread or cookies should be made out of a particular batter so we could monitor those things. In fresh bake for example, we might see that the throwaways of rye bread have been twenty loaves a day for the last fifty days. While we don’t want them to run out of bread, they can drop production down by fifteen and only throw away five.
EDITOR: Talk about the receiving issues in the food world from the contractor’s standpoint and the ability to control access and minimize exposures.
RICHARDSON: Because every department is received at the receiving door, thats where you need the strongest control. In our case, the receiver is called the security receiver. While he reports directly to the general store manager, he is hired, disciplined, and trained by loss prevention. Even in New York where the receivers are union, it is still our pick who goes in the back door. The management team and the receiver are the only ones who can open a backdoor.
EDITOR: Didn’t you develop a program for managing errors?
RICHARDSON: We ran a program called the Honest Mistake Program where receivers would challenge any vendor that made a mistake in their order. For instance, a bread guy comes in and checks his shelves. He makes his orders from his gaps on the shelves. He takes his stales and damaged out and issues credit for it, writes the order, then goes to the truck and fills the order. If he comes back in and he’s two loaves short, we mark the invoice two loaves short and write him up for an honest mistake. You wrote the order, you selected the order, and you’re two loaves short. Did you expect us not to count? That honest mistake will generate a letter to his company, telling them that we will deduct $50 from their next invoice. If that same driver continues making mistakes, the fines go up to as high as $450, even for just one or two loaves of bread. It stays that way until the guy cleans up his act for a three-month period.
EDITOR: After you initiated this program, did the mistakes diminish?
RICHARDSON: Honest mistakes dwindled like crazy. You could actually follow the better receivers as they were transferred store to store and see the stores numbers change. It also helped to identify the weaker receivers. For example, when Sam was in a particular store, there were always some honest mistakes. Now Sams gone and Joes there, but he doesn’t detect any. So we use our camera system to monitor that receiver. We always cover the receiver.
EDITOR: Would you say that that’s a pretty unique way of diminishing your loss and tightening the controls on the receiving end?
RICHARDSON: Absolutely. I had to sit down with the top management at numerous vendors over this program. As you might imagine, they were concerned about the fines and deductions that were coming off of their invoices. Usually, I found out that their salesmen had never really explained the program to them. I simply told them that I had no desire to fine them, but I had to make their drivers pay attention to the fact that they were creating problems at our back door. They know that if their drivers get their hands on extra product, they’re going to sell it for their own profits.
EDITOR: As you look back on your career at Pathmark, what would be some of your proudest accomplishments?
RICHARDSON: While it’s not a positive situation, some of my proudest accomplishments surrounded labor strikes. When youre in contract negotiations and people are out on strike, you have an obligation to keep the stores running as well as possible, while keeping peace. I felt that we did an excellent job with that.
If we had a strike in Jersey, I would call on my New York people. They would come 200 strong. We were able to keep the peace on numerous strike situations without anybody getting hurt on either side, and without having a store loss because of damage, fire, or things of that nature. To be able to rise to those kinds of occasions with hourly associates and management associates and keep good control over them, Ive always been so proud of that.
EDITOR: As you think about the challenges ahead for the people you have left behind not only at Pathmark, but elsewhere in food retailing, what do you see are some of the future challenges for the LP profession?
RICHARDSON: As competition gets tougher and tougher, as Wal-Mart moves into the market, how do you keep your head above water? You still will have all the duties you normally have, but you’re likely going to have budget cuts at the same time. In order to stay afloat, you have to reduce costs. How do you continue to produce? The shoplifting, the employee thefts, are not going away. But if you lose people, they’re going to increase. How do you manage those functions without staff? That’s going to be a difficult piece.
EDITOR: Where did you find help along the way for the many challenges you faced?
RICHARDSON: The people at FMI [Food Marketing Institute] and the New Jersey Food Council, for sure, as well as my peers in the industry. To pick up the phone and call anybody in the industry, even partners right down the street in different companies, such as ShopRite and Wakefern. To be able to discuss issues…what are you doing different than I’m doing…and being able to share. I don’t think there’s anybody out there that I didn’t use at one time or who didn’t use me.
EDITOR: It seems like LP executives are able to share and talk to others about their similar problems. Why do you think we have such a cohesive group willing to dialogue?
RICHARDSON: Because we don’t tell upper management were doing it.[Laughter] Upper management is always afraid were going to be discussing issues that make us perform better than the other guys. But on the loss prevention side, I’ve always said that I can use the same tools as you use. The key is can I manage my tools better than you? Ive always thought that Ive been able to manage tools better than someone else. If there was one failure in my managing tools, it was EAS. I just couldnt get it done. Tagging was the issue. I was relying on store personnel to do the tagging. I had so few stores, it was a losing battle for me. The only way I could have done it was by going company-wide and source tagging.
EDITOR: Looking back at how you got started in loss prevention, if a young person was sitting across the desk from you with no LP experience, what would it take to hire them?
RICHARDSON: It depends on the individual and what that individual has to offer. It’s not necessarily having a loss prevention background or education, but having the gumption to be a person that is willing to work. When I interview somebody, I actually scare them. I tell them exactly what I expect. Its not every day that Im looking for you to turn over every single rock in the park. But, I expect you to know when to turn over a rock and get it done. I expect you to know when you need to stay here until the jobs done without me telling you. If it takes seven straight days, then thats what you do.
If you have a store with a shrink problem, you have to do whats necessary until you get the numbers in control…even if it comes down to identifying a weak management team. Put it in writing, and lets talk about it. Ill sit down with the VP of operations and describe why we think that the manager is weak and creating our shrink problem. I dont pull any punches on the interviewing side.
EDITOR: This interview is coming out in our January/February issue. I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that it coincides with the Super Bowl. Tell us a little about your experience in the Super Bowl.
RICHARDSON: Recently, my grandchildren in Little League football had their banquet, and I was the guest speaker. I hadmade quite a few of their games, so the kids and the parents had seen me. But, none of them knew that I was an ex-football player.I talked about education being key to being able to do the things that I did in my life. If I didn’t have education, I would never have gotten to Michigan State or the Rose Bowl or the SuperBowl, and I wouldnt have become a vice president of Pathmark. Then I talked about football in general. But when I finished that speech, I gave every kid a picture of me and signed everyone. They just went absolutely bananas about the Super Bowl, and I thought to myself, that was thirty-something years ago. But that was great, wasnt it? It was like walking on a cloud when we finished that game.
EDITOR: You played against Bubba Smith in that game, right?
RICHARDSON: Youre right, Bubba Smith was on the other side. But he was my old college roommate, my freshman year. We were in Orlando ten days before the Super Bowl. Baltimore was favored by sixteen points. We were the new kids on the block. Every article written was talking about the other team and the other league. They didn’t seem to know our names. When they would interview one of us, we would talk about how great they were, and how we didn’t stand a chance. One morning, I was interviewed and asked about Bubba Smith. I said, I can remember in college when the stands roared and rocked with the chant of Kill, Bubba, Kill, Kill, Bubba, Kill. I went on and on about how he was a superstar, and that I don’t know if we had anybody that could handle him. The next morning when that hit the paper, he must have called me before he got out of bed, thanking me for such a great article. So, we just reeled them right in, and then we went out and kicked their ass on the field.
EDITOR: Of course, that game was famous because you were such underdogs and yet Joe Namath predicted that the Jets would win. Did you as a team expect to win?
RICHARDSON: Prior to the championship game with Oakland, Joe Namath and Johnny Sample called a team meeting with no coaches. We talked about our differences, about us as a family and as a team, and what we needed to do to accomplish what we wanted, which was winning the Super Bowl. After that meeting, we felt we were going to go all the way, and there were no doubts. It shook us a little when Joe made that announcement, because we didn’t want anybody to know that we were going to win.
EDITOR: Do you ever see your teammates?
RICHARDSON: I see the guys every now and then. There were quite a few of us together this past August at training camp, and the pride is still there. Joe was there, Winston Hill, John Smitt, quite a few of the guys. And the pride and the camaraderie, the hugging, its more than thirty years later. It’s just like that day again.
EDITOR: Your career as a football player is distinguished by being a part of two very historical events, Super Bowl III and one of college footballs greatest games ever, the Michigan State/Notre Dame game that ended in a 10-10 tie. Your career at Pathmark is equally as distinguished. Can you draw any similarities between a sports team and the ability to put together a successful loss prevention team?
RICHARDSON: let’s go back to that game against Notre Dame. Sonny Worblin, who was the owner of the Jets, was at that game. At one point, Bubba Smith was dragging and not playing as hard as he should. Sonny was watching very closely, because he was looking at drafting Bubba. We were in the huddle, and I grabbed Bubba around the collar and shoved him around and told him to get on the ball. On the next play, he destroyed somebody. Sonny said at that point, he didn’t want to draft Bubba, he wanted to draft the mechanism that made Bubba work. Thats why he drafted me.I do the things that I have to do. That kind of leadership started back in high school. I would stay out past ten o’clock driving my father’s car to check the neighborhood to see if any of my teammates were out. They knew that if I found them, they were in big trouble. So, I’ve always been the enforcer in my groups.
When I ask the LP guys in the field to do something, whether its strike duty or regular work, none of them every say, You do it, because they know that I’ve already done it. Very often I will do something in front of them without asking one of them to do it. For instance, I’ll take a truck by the bumper and walk through a picket line. When I leave the scene, I know that my guys will get every truck through the line.
EDITOR: What about the teamwork aspect of athletics and work?
RICHARDSON: As an athlete, there wasn’t a position on the field, on either side of the ball, that I couldn’t give someone instructions. I could tell the quarterback on a particular play whether he needed to swivel to the left or to the right or go straight back. I wasnt a specialist in the position, but I was knowledgeable about it. In my work environment, everybody needs to be a specialist in something, but general over all. You have to identify those individuals who are special at particular things. For instance, I had an hourly store detective who was excellent in interrogation or interviewing. Often, his boss would call him in to do the interviewing instead, because of the touch this guy had. This same fellow could not be a manager. He just did not have those types of skills. Just like in football, its key to surround yourself with the different types of skills that you need. I’ve always tried to surround myself with people who have some special expertise besides being a generally good person and good manager.