How the Retail Council of Canada Leverages Collaboration

Rui Rodrigues, executive advisor on loss prevention and risk management for Retail Council of Canada

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rui Rodrigues is executive advisor on loss prevention and risk management for the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) based in Toronto. He can be reached at rrodrigues@retailcouncil.org.

JACK: Before we discuss RCC and the LP industry in Canada, give us a brief summary of your professional background.

Rui Rodrigues
Rui Rodrigues

RUI: I’ve been in LP in Canada for about thirty years. I started as an LP officer and investigator on the floor at a department store called Eaton’s. I have also worked with Hudson Bay Company, Best Buy, and Staples. At Best Buy, Staples, and most recently at Holt Renfrew, I had the chance to lead their programs. I’ve been in the industry quite some time, took on different roles throughout, wanted to learn and be a well-rounded retailer with expertise in loss prevention and risk management. I worked in stores, in district roles, but also looked after supply chain, health and safety, and risk management, really to learn as much as I could and focus on the areas where losses could occur in an organization.

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JACK: How long have you been associated with RCC?

RUI: I’ve been involved with Retail Council of Canada as a member for eighteen years. I’m very passionate about our industry, as are many of my colleagues in Canada. I have also worked with my colleagues in the US, whether it’s through NRF, RILA, or through the parent companies of Best Buy and Staples. I recognize where we have a lot of similarities and where we have some key differences. Recently I joined RCC as an advisor. I am a consultant now, and they are a permanent client, which gives me the opportunity to continue to do what I’m so passionate about in a manner where I can actually work with many retailers to support our common objectives.

JACK: Tell us a bit more about the broad mission of Retail Council of Canada.

RUI: Obviously it’s an association set up to support its retail members. It also believes in creating information that can benefit others who are not members. RCC is all about serving and advocating for retail, doing the heavy lifting that’s needed for members, whether it’s advocating with government, police, the crown, you name it. They’re very good at doing that. Specifically in the loss prevention and risk space, it’s really about gathering our leaders together to talk through common issues, common concerns, and coming to the table to work together, sharing information and best practices where we can. Most critical is getting things done. I’ve been on the member side for a long time where it’s easy to say, “What’s RCC doing for us?” I’m a big advocate of asking, “What are we doing for ourselves?” RCC is there to help, but as retailers, we have to come together with a common ideology of what needs to be done, and then leverage RCC to do that. I believe RCC is extremely strong at facilitating the conversations, narrowing in on a common focus, and then helping identify what we are going to do. What is the activity that needs to happen? It’s always keeping the retailer front-of-mind and involved through that process, and then reaching out to the relevant parties that need to help, whether it’s government or police agencies—being that common glue that brings us together, keeps us together, and keeps driving that agenda forward.

JACK: What are some RCC programs that are in place specifically to support LP, asset protection, and risk management?

RUI: We have some common recurring events. We have a Loss Prevention Forum or Conference every year that allows everybody to gather, share, network, and learn, and it facilitates the discussion with our peers and vendor partners. However, those one- or two-day events are not enough. RCC has facilitated other gatherings such as webinars, to triage information from the teams about their concerns, what’s bothering them, what they need help with, and then working on activities to deliver content back to the members. We also have a Loss Prevention Community Hub on the RCC website that has several really useful resources for retailers on helping to protect people, profit, and assets at retail. It’s a great resource to bookmark: retailcouncil.org/community/loss-prevention/.

One thing I’m very proud of over the last year is getting an advisory committee together. About twenty-eight retail members have come to the table and said, “We want to work together.” During COVID, RCC did a great job keeping people together. Crisis has a way of doing that, but when the crisis is gone, people can easily gravitate back to their own work and are busy. So, we stood up an LP advisory committee representing all of Canada, different verticals of retail—grocery, pharma, big box, small, specialty—to talk about common issues outside of COVID. We started with about thirty items that the group discussed and prioritized three that are important to everybody, are not going away and need attention. Those became three strategic objectives for the advisory to steer, guide, advise, and move forward.

JACK: During the COVID pandemic, Canada was pretty severely locked down. How did you support your members during the pandemic?

RUI: I started out as a retail member at the beginning of COVID before joining RCC, so I can speak from both sides. One thing RCC did very well through the crisis was connecting with members and keeping them informed. For example, they had daily member calls keeping members informed of COVID stats, announcements, and regulations changing every day. RCC had a dedicated page on the RCC website to make sure there were updates by province on the latest information including masking limitations, quantities, and occupancy rates.

RCC has government relations directors in the various provinces who are all very connected within their own areas, speak to members regularly, and stay aware of what’s happening there so members were getting the information firsthand. They trusted that RCC would keep them updated. More than that, RCC created some great content. As things happened and regulations changed, members as well as non-members could go to the RCC website to find content for posters, occupancy requirements, shutdown playbooks, reopening playbooks, government regulations, and general templates. Even the smallest retailers who might be hard pressed with everything they were dealing with, who may not have the resources and people larger organizations have to work on posters or plans, could go to one central place and leverage what RCC created or gathered from the various government agencies. I’ve heard from a lot of members through COVID that RCC did a great job. The crisis brought the best out of RCC.

JACK: What are some of the retail brands that are represented on your advisory council?

RUI: If I go West to East Coast, we have brands like Aritzia, a women’s fashion brand based in Vancouver. Sobeys and Save-On, which are both grocers. Big brands everyone would recognize like Walmart, Home Depot, and Staples. We have SAQ, which is a liquor brand in Quebec. LCBO, which is another liquor brand in Ontario. Sephora is a smaller retailer, but with a lot of stores. Rexall, which is primarily pharmaceutical.

JACK: Talk about the three specific initiatives the advisory council settled on.

RUI: One was our concern with the increase of violence, arson, and property damage that we’ve seen through COVID that is not going away. While we’ve seen the increase in violence, we haven’t seen an increase in response from the police. We are all very understanding that police resources are stretched as well. We want to talk to them and work on some solutions. That’s a critical one.

The second one was collaborating with police, the crown, and government. Not just saying, “Hey you, I’ve been waiting eight hours. I didn’t get a police response.” Is there an opportunity for the retail sector to look at these wait times and acknowledge that we’re not going to call for every shoplifting incident, so we don’t tie police down with a hundred calls when maybe only a few really needed an urgent response? Can we get to an agreement that when we call it’s because there’s a threat of life, a real risk of assault or violence, then we do get priority response?Then there’s the perception in the court system that every crime in retail is a property crime, that there’s no violence, no victim, which is not true. But I think retailers own a bit of that to clarify when there is an incident, where there is violence, we need to lead that with a good victim impact statement that clearly identifies to the police and the crown that this isn’t about losing X number of items worth X amount. This is about an employee who has been assaulted and is out for six months and forever impacted by what occurred. I think we’re still going through that piece of understanding, but that collaboration is critical. And I’m happy to say we now have police at the table, we’re reaching out to the courts, we’re reaching out to some of our government agencies and ministers to get them to speak with us and to work with us on solutions. Conversation is great, but it’s better when those conversations lead to aligning minds on something to do, and then going after it.

The third strategic objective is organized retail crime (ORC). We have formed a working group with police partners at the table in discussion with us. We’re now getting some crown and other government participants to look at redefining ORC because I think people are tired of hearing the term and not understanding it. Some think it’s just shoplifting. I think the concern now is a more serious one around the professionals, the black-market demand, and the prolific violent offenders and gangs. We know that as the market has boomed with e-commerce creating all kinds of different avenues for people to shop, that has also led to an increase in the ORC enterprises that are able to sell online. Combine that with COVID and the economic hard times that it’s put people through, there are a lot more people willing to buy black-market merchandise that is stolen, which two years ago may not have been the case because people were in better economic situations. That supply and demand fuels the ORC activity. We need to get a handle on this because right now we feel like we’re losing this battle.

JACK: ORC is a topic that everybody’s struggling with. It’s certainly prolific in the United States, but I didn’t realize that it was as prolific as it is in Canada. I think there’s going to be learnings from what’s going on both in the US and Canada, which brings me to my next question. How can US and Canadian loss prevention professionals better connect to learn from each other?

RUI: I think it starts there, Jack—connecting. We have great relationships with the NRF and RILA, and now that we’re getting our structure and strategic objectives in mind, it’s time to start reaching out to our LP communities. There’s obviously a lot of retailers in Canada with parent companies in the US. There are going to be differences, but there’s value in sharing. For one example, over the last few months with the mob-type of thefts happening in California and other areas like Chicago, it’s easy in Canada to get sucked into the media. The reality is though, that it hasn’t happened in Canada to the same degree. Are the risks there? Sure. But we don’t necessarily have the same level of population density in as many US cities. So, there are risks that are apparent in the US that may not be in Canada. That doesn’t mean we don’t learn from them. We just need to be conscious of sharing best practices and leveraging each other but recognizing those subtle
differences because I think sometimes it’s easy to run with something that is happening in the US or other parts of the world and try to make that relevant in Canada. We lose our ground and our credibility when we try to argue for something that people can say, “Wait a minute, that’s not happening here.” So, I think we need to be cautious here, not to sensationalize things happening elsewhere in the world, if we can’t substantiate it in Canada, but learn and prepare.

JACK: This has been very interesting, Rui, and I hope that our readers have learned something about the RCC. Is there something that you want to say that we haven’t touched on yet?

RUI: You know what, Jack, I think we have a great bunch of people in the US and Canada who are very passionate about the safety of our shop workers. Whether it’s the operators, HR, LP, or the support teams, what I’ve seen through COVID is people have come together to help each other out. If we’ve gotten nothing else out of COVID, it is closer sharing, leveraging each other, and maximizing what we can from each other. My goal and my hope is that we continue to do that. My goal at RCC is to keep people at the table, sharing, talking through best practices, collaborating, and realizing that COVID was just one example of how when we work together well, even through a crisis, we get some good things out of it. I welcome our US partners, and I’ve been looking forward to reaching out to the teams there. If people in the US see this interview and say, “I should reach out to Rui and connect with RCC up there and see what we can do to help each other,” then that’s a win for me.

JACK: Hopefully, as things open up more, and we start to have in‑person conferences again, we’ll be able to meet face-to-face and have some of that networking and share some learnings together. Thanks again, Rui. Hopefully, we’ll see you soon.

RUI: Thank you, Jack. I really appreciate it.

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