Recently, asset protection professionals from each of the Kroger divisions converged on Cincinnati, with division AP leaders and assistants, high-potential district AP managers, and the core “GO Team” from the corporate office coming together for their national meeting. The event was once again held at the Graduate Hotel and Conference Center adjacent to the University of Cincinnati, with days filled with presentations and interactive discussions on topics critical to the success of the business and the operation of the department.
Annual meetings provide a golden opportunity to bring the team together to review where we are, what we’ve accomplished, how we need to grow and develop, and to implement a plan that takes us forward into the new year and beyond. But it’s also an occasion to set the tone and share a message about the culture of the department. This is a place where traditional values are important, but creative energy and innovative thinking point the way.
Mike Lamb and the entire AP leadership group at Kroger did a fantastic job throughout the week leading discussions on critical topics and recognizing the excellence of others within their teams. But rather than simply reviewing the agenda and the topics covered, let’s dive further into the message and meaning behind the meeting and how it was received by all involved.
The Power of the Team
Team dynamics are at the heart of every successful asset protection program, and empowering the team to lead, speak, act, share, and openly participate provides ownership and deepens the commitment to the entire program. Clearly, this was demonstrated by having the entire general office leadership team lead the learning sessions throughout the meeting.
But beyond that, this was a very interactive event. Each of the division leaders from across the Kroger family were encouraged and actively participated in all the sessions, bringing both shared perspectives and unique insights to the ongoing conversations. This input added tremendous value to the dialogue, keeping the discussions genuine and meaningful for the entire AP team. It provides diversity of thought and ensures the program is inclusive across the enterprise.
Taking it a step further, Kroger also included top-performing district asset protection leaders from across the divisions and recognized each of them for their accomplishments. Each of these up-and-coming leaders were asked what they felt could be done to enhance and improve the performance of the asset protection department. They were given a voice, and that voice was heard, discussed with the leadership team, and incorporated into the meeting notes for actionable response within the departmental plan.
Team building games also offered a little fun to the event, including superhero trivia and several spirited rounds of Family Feud competitions between divisions. All of this resulted in some good-natured fun, along with an interesting education on the life and times of our favorite comic stars—and their fans.
Solving Shrink Through Sales
Successful asset protection programs recognize the need to keep pace with the dynamic changes that take place across the business, adjusting to these influences and how they impact the retail enterprise. This leads to new challenges and responsibilities for everyone, and programs must adjust and adapt to survive.
In today’s retail world, asset protection departments will assume a spectrum of roles and responsibilities to keep the stores safe, secure, and successful. Shrink reduction is an important part of what we do, but ultimately, the role of asset protection is to enhance the profitability of the company—just like every other role in retail. The retail business is powered by sales, and increasing store sales is the best and most effective means to control losses. “Solving Shrink through Driving Sales” was the over-arching theme of the meeting, with “Bending the Curve” on sales and shrink performance, and working together to build partnerships across the organization to achieve these goals must be seen as mission imperatives.
To further emphasize the critical importance of this message, Carlo Baldan, group vice president, center store merchandising at Kroger was invited to address the AP team. “We can’t talk about shrink without talking about sales,” he stressed. In grocery where so much of the business involves perishable goods, asset protection must wear many different hats to help control losses. While mitigating theft and similar losses are an important part of the equation, compliance concerns such as managing out-of-date products, the Cold Chain, product rotation, and markdown excellence to drive sales are core responsibilities—along with improving the customer experience. An important message to all asset protection leaders was to ensure strong partnerships with the store teams to help control loss, while always operating in a way that supports driving sales.
To win the war on shrink, leaders across the organization must speak the same language and focus on the same goals—to sell more and lose less.
Safety in the workplace isn’t simply a goal—it must be seen as a commitment. This was a message emphasized by Tina Baumann, senior manager of safety and OSHA compliance, in her presentation to the group. In addition to discussions on general safety issues, Tina along with Ashlee Heavrin and Alex Johnson spoke on threat assessment and management as well as the Kroger AllSafe! initiative and the ongoing success of the program across the enterprise. This presentation included an in-person recognition and a heart-warming video presentation highlighting Kroger employees that have gone above and beyond to contribute life-saving support to customers and employees across the enterprise.
Emphasis on the Supply Chain
The asset protection role across the supply chain network has grown considerably in recent years, and continues to grow even today. The advancements in technology, the evolution of e-commerce, the importance of farm-to-fork controls, and the mounting sophistication of cargo theft will continue to revolutionize our role throughout the supply chain network.
Recognizing the importance of this relationship, members of the supply chain AP team offered a presentation followed with a Q&A session with the team. This is an aspect of the organization that is an area of opportunity for many in asset protection, and one where our professional development can benefit from our focus and attention. Everything sold in the stores must in some way pass through the supply chain, and this insight and understanding will only make us better at what we do.
Major Crimes and ORC
Active threats, ORC, and other major crimes can impact almost every resource within the retail enterprise. To effectively battle these threats, innovation and creative thinking must lead the charge, putting Frank Patercity, the director of corporate security, investigations, and ORC and his team in the spotlight for several critical presentations. The team’s approach to these issues revealed several key themes:
- Customer service remains a gamechanger. Teach and train associates to provide top-level customer service to limit theft opportunities and heighten the customer experience.
- Be aware of and control how much high-risk product is made available. We need to establish viable limits that balance customer needs and theft risks.
- Product location is also important. Working with the stores to determine where and how high-theft merchandise is displayed will have a direct impact on product vulnerability.
- Educate associates on how to respond theft incidents. Above all else, there’s nothing in the stores worth someone getting hurt.
These incidents remain a tremendous threat to every aspect of the business, as Patercity underscored by describing a recent multi-retailer/multi-jurisdictional investigation in the Chicago market. The operation involved tens of millions of dollars in stolen product, a sophisticated fencing and repacking operation, and abusive human trafficking crimes.
An encouraging highlight featured Kroger’s approach to extreme risk stores in select markets across the enterprise. A viable solution only when the need is extreme, Kroger has approached these locations with an assertive program that combines measures to harden the stores, control store entry and exit, and provide outstanding customer service. Additionally they have implemented an “Elite Guard Service” in these stores that involves exceptional training expectations and performance standards as part of a specialized guard force. In markets where other companies have been forced to close stores, Kroger’s Extreme Store program has thus far shown exceptional results. By the same respect, the program will remain limited and restricted to locations where the approach is shown to be appropriate and cost-effective. More to come…
Hardening the Target
When it comes to innovative solutions and the tools of technology, Kroger remains an industry leader. This was underscored in a session delivered by Chris McCarrick, senior manager of asset protection solutions and technology. Whether it’s cutting-edge technology, anti-theft shopping carts, advanced camera integration systems, innovative product protection devices, software applications, or any other best-in-class solution or platform, Kroger is always looking for the best and most creative ways to address shrink solutions. However, especially considering the size of the organization and the demands of the business, strategic planning focused on priority and performance are necessary to build an effective rollout strategy that maximizes resources and the value of the investment.
The challenges faced are complex, and the answers to difficult problems must be approached with innovation, creativity, flexibility, and cooperation. We’ve come to understand that it takes a diverse and collective effort to accomplish our goals and objectives. An advanced game plan is necessary that maximizes the investments made by the organization, with solution providers strongly encouraged to work together and with the asset protection team to create holistic solutions that amplify value and productivity.
Our solution provider partners should do more than simply offer products and services. They should become an extension of our team and colleagues in the success of our department, our program, and our company.
Kroger invited their primary solution provider partners to attend the event as part of an exposition hall, giving all meeting participants direct access to these valued partners to ask questions, learn more about the latest products and innovations, keep everyone up to date on the latest trends, and build important relationships. The generous sponsorship of leading industry solution providers also helps fund events like the Kroger AP conference, offering valuable support that helps make these meetings so successful.
Confident and forward-thinking partnerships can help us become more strategic, enhancing the performance of our departments. The opportunity to meet and interact with these partners is a prime opportunity for division leaders to strengthen these relationships and take valuable information back to their teams.
Leaders as Teachers
Building successful programs is all about building successful teams. Providing opportunities to learn and grow is a hallmark of asset protection programs at every level of leadership, whether dealing with store associates or working with the asset protection team. This was also an emphasis at the meeting, focusing on several key areas:
- Having a robust onboarding plan for store associates. Especially as we move into the busy holiday season, this should be a primary objective in the stores.
- Consistencies in training. Whatever the specific type of training, it’s essential to provide a consistent message for everyone involved in the training initiative.
- Cross-functional training. Perspective is a crucial aspect of professional development. Learning the primary functions and objectives of other areas of the business should be a goal of every AP professional.
- Sharing ideas between divisions. Communication, information sharing, and creative ideas make the entire team better.
- Standardized DAPM training. Developing a standardize program builds consistencies, improves the message, and opens opportunities across the organization.
- Building a strong bench. Through the succession planning process, top performers are identified and developed based on their perceived growth potential to develop their knowledge, skills, and abilities while preparing them for advancement into increasingly challenging roles.
Next-Level Asset Protection
Asset protection has taken an important seat as part of the retail community, and successful programs understand the need to fill that seat with leaders willing to embrace a progressive culture that moves the program forward. Fighting shrink, driving sales, and executing with excellence is a collaborative effort at Kroger, infused into the daily functions of everyone across the organization.
A culture that emphasizes creative thinking, embracing change, and approaching the needs of the business as a valued partner is what takes the program to the next level. It can’t just be something that’s talked about—it must be something that we demonstrate and act on.
The corporate team with Kroger asset protection and the collective leaders from across the organization didn’t simply send a message—they set an example. It is this type of example that sets the stage for the coming year and beyond, energizing the team and providing clarity for the program. Nicely done!