The goal of the 2019 Loss Prevention Survey was to provide an objective window into the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of loss prevention professionals at all levels of leadership regarding what we do, where we are, and where we’re going. Gaining a more comprehensive understanding of how loss prevention professionals collectively and independently perceive these important questions can spark fresh thoughts and ideas on the best ways to address these topics to further enhance our contributions to the business while keeping our customers, employees, and other assets safe and protected.
Yet just as important is determining whether or not we see these issues in the same light—whether we’re on the same page when it comes to addressing the issues critical to the successful operation of our loss prevention and asset protection departments. There will always be areas that we need to work on. There will always be different opinions regarding how things should be done or what priorities should come first. But when it comes down to it, loss prevention professionals at all levels of leadership should have a fundamental agreement—or at least an understanding—of what’s necessary to take those next steps.
Why is this so important? Because it establishes the foundation for everything else that follows. Working together toward a common goal shouldn’t be a catchphrase but a legitimate means of accomplishing the important tasks that we address as a profession.
Breaking Down the Results
We were encouraged to find that in most areas important to the health and well-being of the profession, the 2019 survey indicated that, whether a positive trend or an area of opportunity, we are fundamentally in agreement. In fact, in some areas it was astonishing just how closely aligned the responses were across all levels of loss prevention leadership. This is a very promising outcome, setting a positive tone and a united front when dealing with the various issues we deal with on a day-to-day basis.
By the same respect, there are still some critical areas that we need to work on. Perhaps not surprisingly, some areas of opportunity might benefit from additional attention—or at least some additional information.
There are times when having alternative opinions can have a healthy and positive influence. By voicing these differences, we can open doors for additional discussion and perhaps meaningful change. But this requires thoughtful and constructive outlooks, progressive attitudes, and a willingness to accept new information.
Keep in mind that everyone believes that their opinion is correct. By definition, if they didn’t think their opinion was correct, it wouldn’t be their opinion. But opinions can change. What makes the difference is the ability to listen, accept new information, process facts, evaluate our positions, and make intelligent and reasonable decisions based on what we know and what we’ve learned. This is an important part of what it takes to be an effective leader at any level, regardless of title or years of experience.
Yet while having the information is always important, the ability to take that information, interpret what it means, and apply it in a pure, logical, and meaningful way takes things to an entirely different level. Leadership and responsibility should always go hand in hand, and it all comes down to what we do with the information that’s presented to us.
A Call Out to Industry Leaders
In this follow-up to the 2019 Loss Prevention Survey, we look to further digest and interpret the industry response. As part of this process, we felt it vital to hear the voice of industry leadership, including how today’s leaders reacted and responded to the results.
We reached out to leaders from across the loss prevention industry to garner their insights and opinions on several of the subjects addressed in the survey, focusing on several areas of interest to provide a candid overview of the topics discussed. Industry leaders were given the option to remain anonymous to encourage the most candid and meaningful responses. We then compiled those responses to provide both a general consensus and specific views, and how that will help drive the future of the industry.
The Future of LP
Retail is evolving at a furious pace, driven by the latest innovations in technology and coupled with the ongoing demands of the next generation of retail consumers. In this fast-paced environment there is an urgency to find the best possible ways to protect assets, control losses, and enhance profitability in concert with the needs of the business. This will ultimately impact the role and perspective of the profession and how loss prevention will function as we move forward. How will we fit in?
Professionals at every level of leadership feel they have the opportunity to further their careers in loss prevention if they choose to do so. Why do you feel so positive about our future prospects?
“There are so many different business units within the different LP programs today that a wide spectrum of career options are available,” said one director of asset protection. “The environment offers both equal opportunity and career growth for the right individuals—those willing to learn, grow, and adapt.”
“This is only the beginning,” said a vice president of loss prevention. “LP is expanding into many different areas of the business and will continue to provide new and different opportunities. However, LP professionals must also be willing to expand their resumes and create their own options. Don’t lock yourself in a box.”
“To be successful in loss prevention, you must have a broad knowledge of the business, build strong relationships, and learn valuable leadership skills,” added another vice president of loss prevention. “This gives you the opportunity to either move into different areas or take on more scope as you move up in your career.”
Do you believe we’re ready for the changes that are coming?
“I believe that some are ready, but some are still living in the past,” said a vice president of asset protection. “No one has a crystal ball or has the ability to fully anticipate the changes that are coming, but all of us must do a better job of applying vision and understanding what to expect. While much of this will depend on how progressive an organization may be, all of it will depend on our willingness to adapt and accept guidance as we move forward.”
Where do you feel the industry will show the greatest growth and/or changes over the next five to ten years?
“It truly appears that business acumen and analytical skills, along with leadership, will be the competencies most needed for the next generation of LP practitioners,” said Bob Moraca, vice president of loss prevention with the National Retail Federation. “I’m also a firm believer that LP and AP professionals will continue to need a clearer understanding of their roles regarding the IT security concerns of their companies. The continued convergence of LP and IT is coming at us faster than we can see.”
“None of us know exactly what changes are coming, but we need to do a much better job of applying the vision and understanding necessary to react to what lies ahead,” said a vice president of loss prevention. “But we need to change. We must get on board with technology and data. We need to open our eyes and our minds. If we do, I think retail will learn in time just how valuable our positions are within the company.”
“I think there will be significant evolution in the profession over the next five to ten years with a much greater shared-services role that speaks directly to the overall protection of the organization,” added another vice president of loss prevention. “Moving forward, LP needs to be more focused on the bigger picture rather than micro issues. Times are changing, and the rate of advancement in technology presents a constant challenge.”
Retail is an extremely competitive industry, and loss prevention has become an integral function of a successful retail model. To remain successful, we must be able to perform our duties with optimum efficiency, make sound judgments, and interact appropriately with customers and professional colleagues. Our professional competence must be characterized by strong problem-solving and decision-making skills, a superior knowledge base, and the ability to effectively apply that knowledge and experience to the diverse situations that we face on a day-to-day basis.
Why is it important to invest in the education and development of our LP teams?
“Loss prevention adds significant value to a company by improving profitability,” said Shannon Hunter, vice president of loss prevention, safety, and sustainability at Office Depot. “The more you invest in the development of the LP team, the more valuable they are in driving profitability. As the retail landscape continues to change, our teams must keep up with that change to continue to add value.”
“Show me an organization that doesn’t invest in their team, and I can surely predict their results,” said Shane Sturman, CPP, CFI, president and CEO at Wicklander-Zulawski. “Our people are our most important and influential asset to the organization. Their skillsets are what lay the foundation for a world-class loss prevention team.”
“By the same respect, our development is our own responsibility,” added Dave Zulawski, CFI, CFE, senior partner at Wicklander-Zulawski. “Although we hope that our company leaders and mentors will invest financially into our development, it’s the self-accountability of the employee that truly makes this successful. If a professional is always waiting on somebody else to support their career growth, they’ll witness the competition pass them by.”
“Retail is changing at an unprecedented rate as consumers have more options to interact with retailers,” said Terry Sullivan, LPC, president at the Loss Prevention Foundation. “As such, having an educated team allows retailers to make informed decisions, strategize based on the trends and data, and provide better levels of profit enhancement and loss prevention. But it’s also important for every professional to invest in themselves. This demonstrates the desire to better ourselves and highlights the ability to adapt, persevere, and deliver the world-class results every organization desires.”
Some in the industry say they are beyond the need for educational enhancement as a means to further their careers. Why are the various industry courses a valuable and worthwhile investment for LP professionals at every level of leadership?
“There are a variety of certifications and designations available for the LP professional, including the LPQ, LPC, and CFI,” said Dave Thompson, CFI, partner and vice president of operations at Wicklander-Zulawski. “Every certification has a unique niche and benefits associated with it. Overall, earning a designation exhibits many of the qualities of a professional: initiative, passion, subject-matter expertise, and work ethic. Many professionals credit their years of experience as a substitute for certifications, and although we all gain knowledge through experience, a certification with peer-reviewed test questions will validate that knowledge as credible and reliable.”
“The LPQ and LPC courses are a valuable and worthwhile investment for every organization at every level within the LP world,” said Mat Schriner, LPC, director of operations at the Loss Prevention Foundation. “Certification establishes a foundational knowledge within our industry, widens perspective on areas of potential influence for every professional to improve profitability, and addresses challenges every LP professional will face in their career.”
The three primary reasons given for not investing in the certifications was time, financial commitment, and the belief that the courses are unnecessary. How would you respond?
“First and foremost, saying that continuing education is unnecessary is stating that ongoing personal growth in unnecessary,” said Sullivan. “As I look at the changes to the retail landscape over the past twenty-four to thirty-six months and what is on the horizon with the Internet of Things, [artificial intelligence], and omni-channel growth, how are LP professionals going to be able to keep up with the changing demands in preventing losses without continued education and a firm foundation on the basics of our industry?
“It’s never easy to find the time, but if something is important to you, you’ll make the time. Lastly the cost of LP certification has not increased since the inception of the LPQ and LPC. We want to make sure that certification remains affordable to all. We also offer discounts through the year and opportunities to apply for scholarships.”
Time is our most valuable asset, and it should be dedicated to our most valuable investment—ourselves,” added Wayne Hoover, CFI, senior partner at Wicklander-Zulawski. “If career or personal development is important, we can budget the time to achieve that goal. Just like any business decision, we should be looking at return on investment when it comes to continuing education. The potential rewards should prove to yield a greater return from the investment. If you have a drive to be better and more knowledgeable than you were yesterday, continuing education should be on your road map.
“First of all, ask if financial support is available. There are many corporations that have scholarships, tuition-reimbursement, or even have a budget for continued education. Asking for support is not a conversation to shy away from. The worst-case scenario is that your company said no, but they are at least aware of your passion to improve yourself to better their organization.”
“There are many other options to help individuals with a desire to obtain certification as well,” added Schriner. “There are scholarship opportunities from solution provider partners and the Bob MacLea Scholarships that cover the cost of the course materials. The Loss Prevention Foundation also runs several discounts throughout the year and offers a payment plan for six installments to purchase the course if that option better fits your needs.”
One of the most critical aspects to determine whether or not loss prevention professionals at every level of leadership are on the same page is through our ability to effectively communicate our mission, vision, and culture throughout all levels of the organization. Even when we agree on the fundamental concepts of loss prevention as a profession or the retail business in general, without the ability to effectively communicate our message or channel our ideas and opinions, we will continue to face challenges moving forward. Based on survey results, this remains one of the greatest areas of opportunity within the loss prevention hierarchy.
What steps can be taken at the leadership level and in the field to improve communication between company leadership and the field teams?
“This is something we need to do a much better job of driving—getting better at finding ways to communicate more regularly and effectively with the entire team,” said one vice president of asset protection. “Objectives can change at a fast pace based on company priorities, and too often our communication strategy lags.”
“Every leader should identify how communication is truly supposed to cascade down through the team and validate that it’s actually happening,” said another senior vice president of loss prevention. “This is just too important not to get it right. As messages change hands, especially in verbal communication, the meaning can change based on the delivery. Perhaps consider a weekly email summary of critical communication, to include any central company messages, to improve the overall process.”
“The leadership team needs to use multiple ways to communicate and then ensure everyone knows you are open to feedback,” said Hunter. “We have calls with the entire team, so everyone hears the same message, calls within individual business units, calls with smaller groups in the field, and even individual calls. In the smaller groups and individual calls, you have to make sure you listen, address concerns with transparency, and take action where necessary. If you commit to something, make sure you follow through. But the field team needs to also commit to being engaged in this process. Everyone at every level must be engaged and committed.”
“It’s also important to give the team, at all levels, opportunities to present and communicate during annual meetings, team calls, and similar functions,” Hunter added. “This gives them the chance to practice their communication skills and the opportunity for leaders to provide feedback, so they can improve. Leaders need to ask for feedback as well to ensure that the message is clear, and then seek out ways to continuously improve those skills. But the key here is to ensure you, as a leader, are listening. If you don’t take any action, the feedback will stop no matter what channels you provide.”
“Communication is a two-way street, and we all have to be careful,” said a senior vice president of asset protection. “The higher you go, the more removed you are from what really happens at the store level. That’s what many in the field believe—and they’re not that far off for the most part. By the same respect, those in the field need to have a better perspective on the true role of senior leadership and all of the intricacies that are involved in the decision-making process. These are business decisions, and a lot goes into it—more than most realize. Always keep that in mind.”
Building partnerships is and will remain a primary concern to the health of the loss prevention profession. For the loss prevention program to be successful, the company must be committed to communicating the purpose and importance of the program and instilling a culture that reaches all levels of the organization. However, it’s just as important that this commitment is made to those responsible for carrying out the plan and moving the program forward.
Why is it so important that asset protection practitioners work to build strong relationships with their partners in other areas of the business?
“Building strong partnerships across the entire organization is the only way to be effective within retail today,” said Scott Draher, vice president of loss prevention, safety, and operations at Lowe’s Companies. “This isn’t new and has always been the case. Those who adopted this approach early on in their careers have long realized the benefits. To be successful, an AP professional must adopt an enterprise mindset and focus on what delivers the best value to the overall organization—and not always just what’s in their best interest. This approach will help you secure a seat at the table where some of the most important and impactful decisions are being made for the organization.”
“Retail is changing faster than ever before, and the pace of change is expected to accelerate,” added Joe Schrauder, vice president of asset protection and safety at Walmart. “In an ever-changing environment it’s important that AP leadership be viewed as business partners and not just subject-matter experts. Experienced AP leaders understand that retail is an ecosystem, and it’s our role to connect the dots between strategic initiatives and results or face unintended consequences.”
“Our value is in persuasion,” said Scott Glenn, JD, LPC, vice president of asset protection at The Home Depot. “The reality is, we are a support partner within most organizations, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. It’s our job to persuade leaders of our value and contribution and determine where that contribution comes from. Too many LP executives get stuck in a rut, deliberating between what we’ve always done versus finding new ways to reduce total loss. This is where LP executives can build lasting relationships, embedded in the business for the long haul.”
What tips do you have to help LP/AP practitioners build these relationships?
“Be inquisitive and build trust through collaboration,” said Schrauder. “Understand your company’s mission and strive to add value to that mission, rather than simply through traditional key performance indicators for the industry. Be transparent, educate other areas of the business on the full value of asset protection, and show them how asset protection can enable change.”
“Naturally, it’s important to be the subject-matter expert in your own business, understand industry benchmarks, and stay on the edge of the curve,” added Glenn. “That way, when your CEO calls, you can speak fluently and offer your opinion easily. But more importantly, understand the larger company business strategy and look for opportunities to contribute. Speak with authority in your area of expertise but aim to surprise your executive teams with your familiarity with their priorities.”
“It’s important to understand the priorities of other leaders across the organization,” said Draher. “Learn what motivates them, how they’re incentivized, and what you can do to assist them in achieving their goals. Helping others succeed will typically have a direct or indirect impact on inventory shrink. Since much of our losses are a derivative of things not operating well within other areas of the company, it can be an easy win-win if you can offer solutions that help them do their job better or more efficiently.”
Organized Retail Crime
Organized retail crime operations are responsible for tens of billions of dollars in losses each year. With the reach and sophistication of these networks, the advancements in technology, the potential profitability, and the diverse ways that they can impact the retail business, today’s professional criminals are attacking retailers with a voracious appetite. They are highly motivated and exceedingly mobile, and the ability to resell or move product has reached unprecedented levels.
What do you feel is the most misunderstood aspect of dealing with organized retail crime?
“The most misunderstood aspect of organized retail crime is the belief that this is only a minor shoplifting offense when it’s often much more than that,” said Detective III Joe Hopkins with the Los Angeles Police Department Commercial Crimes Division and director of the California Organized Retail Crime Association (Cal-ORCA). “Some members of law enforcement may not truly understand the severity or ramifications of this type of crime. Not only does organized retail crime impact the bottom line of the retail establishment, but also it negatively affects crime statistics as well as the much-needed tax base that is utilized to pay for law enforcement resources.
“One of the most important aspects of retailers actively participating with an organized retail crime association (ORCA) is the ability to communicate with similar stakeholders. ORCAs act as a force multiplier, specifically for organizations that may not necessarily have a robust ORC investigative team. Equally as important is the ability to identify the law enforcement member who can best assist with your investigation or cut through the red tape by placing you in contact with the best agency or individual to help move your investigation along.
“Quite often during ORCA meetings, a case is presented in which an individual or ORC team may be impacting one retailer only to reveal that multiple retailers have been victimized by the same perpetrators. More often than not, enough information is gathered during these meetings to further the investigation simply by having this dialogue in an open forum.
“It is no secret that almost every company has felt the sting of organized retail crime at some point in time. None of us, whether law enforcement or retailer, can solve this issue on our own. The best way to combat this crime is by strengthening the partnership effort and getting involved.”
When it comes to finding answers to the biggest issues facing the loss prevention industry today, none of us are as capable as all of us. Our best results come when we work together and find common ground. But having leaders at every level of loss prevention that are willing and capable of sharing their voices, as well as their skill sets, will be what motivates the next generation of loss prevention. The future starts today, and we have everything necessary to take us where we need to go. As long as we continue to do everything we can to move forward and stay on the same page, our role will only grow more important to the future of retail.
You can view part 1 of this article, “The New Generation of Loss Prevention: Are We on The Same Page?” in the May–June issue of LP Magazine. We also encourage you to download our special report to take a deeper look at the survey results. This report provides more detailed information on each survey question along with comments offered by the loss prevention community.