What will it take to open doors again? Today every company is facing this question. Some want a more aggressive plan of action and some wish to be more restrained. Regardless of the approach, loss prevention professionals will have a major role because—let’s face it—we are accustomed to dealing with problems, risks, and crazy situations more often than other departments.
Of course, none of us have ever dealt with the crisis of this proportion; I certainly haven’t in my 30 years in LP. But our past experiences can guide us toward helping our organizations get back into business while mitigating risks. The key, as I have learned many times over, is in building a clear strategy—one that will encompass all departments and partners inside and outside the company. Here are a few thoughts on that process.
How Are Your People?
The first and most important topic to consider is your people. They went through stressful times, and for some of them, things won’t go back to normal for a while.
I will relay a personal story. In my past life I was responsible for the emergency response teams in Florida where we have hurricanes every year. One year we had five. After every one of them, we asked employees to call in to report they were okay. For anyone who didn’t call in, we’d drive to their house.
We had teams in the field specifically for this purpose, with water in our trucks, spare gas if they needed it, and most importantly, we brought with us a genuine desire to help them get back some semblance of normal life. We wanted them to know that they were not alone and that their company was there to support them.
What You Left Isn’t the Same as What You Have Now
To think that you can just pick up where you left off would be naive. Neither your buildings, merchandise, nor supplies will be in the same shape where you left them. Let’s consider buildings first.
Thinking back to hurricanes again, we often lost buildings not because of the storms but because of fire sprinkler systems that opened up and caused a flood. Have a restaurant or a food court in the building or nearby? You may have rodent problems if food was left behind. Was some equipment left on that shouldn’t have been? It may be broken now and have damaged something else.
We had assigned teams responsible for entering buildings. They had clear protocols on what to do once inside. They would come back with a comprehensive list of what needed to be done to reopen, and then we’d prioritize tasks.
First, we would make sure life safety systems were functioning. Then, is there power? Water? Then, can we meet the basic needs of the customer—facilities must be operating and in good shape. Air conditioning helps, too. People will be looking to get out of home and see other people, but they will want to be comfortable.
Time Doesn’t Stand Still
Retail shut down at the end of winter but will be reopening at the beginning of summer. The merchandise you have (or had) in stock may not be what your customers are looking for now. This means working with your merchandising and logistics teams to restock stores.
But it also means having to redo some of your product protection strategies. Here’s just one of many small details. Retailers often use EAS or RFID tags and labels for merchandise. The ones you bought in the winter may not be the ones you need for the summer.
Your vendors, of course, have been dealing with the same issues as you. Many have been sitting on orders with nowhere to ship them. And their supply chains have been interrupted, especially in regard to getting product from overseas. The sooner you get in touch with them and start making plans for what you need, the sooner they can start figuring out how to get it to you.
PPE and Compliance Challenges
One of the largest ongoing issues we will all likely continue to have is obtaining enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for our employees. Manufacturers are trying to catch up, but geopolitics is the wildcard that can throw things off. Speaking from personal experience here, some shipments for our company have been delayed, intercepted, and diverted. These things need to be taken into consideration when creating a reopening plan.
Training and compliance are other extremely important areas to focus on. Employees within stores have different levels of contact with customers, which probably means different needs for PPE and policies for interacting with people.
For example, how will you deal with people who have a different opinion about the virus than you do? Some think the virus is a farce and not a serious threat, and some will insist on those 6 feet of separation. How will employees handle that conflict? Will the LP team get involved?
Will you limit the number of people in the store? How will that policy be enforced? Do you plan to add new equipment, like barriers at checkout stands? Lines on the floor? Signs to remind customers of social distancing, or audio announcements via the PA system?
Are you considering heat-sensing cameras? What will you do if the camera identifies someone who might have a fever? Will you have an employee at the door to prevent them from entering?
All these questions reveal sources of potential conflict and must be answered before you open.
How LP Is Going to Change
The way we think about loss will probably be different going forward. For example, social distancing rules will likely lead to more teams stopping apprehensions. Many retailers have already stopped them, but now even fewer will want to risk physical contact with offenders.
This may lead to more loss. Shoplifters may take advantage of the social distancing rules, realizing that no one is going to stop them. But if you do plan on continuing with apprehensions, new policies will need to be created and communicated to the frontline employees. For example, what if someone claims to be infected with coronavirus? You don’t want your employees to have to make that decision on behalf of the company on the fly.
There is also the question of interviews. How will you set up the room? Will you be doing them with masks? Will you increase the number of phone interviews? A comprehensive look at all your LP policies will be needed for what is now called “the new normal.”
This Isn’t Over
I know I’m stating the obvious, but the challenges we’ve all been having will not stop once the economy reopens. Some will continue, and plenty of new ones will pop up. And here I would like to offer two parting thoughts.
The first is to take the time to document everything you are doing so that next time you are not starting from scratch. Lessons learned now can and will apply to other emergencies in the future. Be open about what worked and what didn’t so that you can either build from the success or learn to not repeat the same mistakes.
The second thought is the one that’s been a bit overused lately, but it’s true so I’ll say it too—you are not in this alone. Include other departments across your organization in your plans. Include your vendors. Especially include (and listen to) your frontline employees. We all have similar concerns and have been thinking about them from different perspectives. It’s precisely by looking at the problem from multiple angles that’s the quickest way to finding the solution.
Loss prevention teams have a big task in front of them. Including others in the planning and execution will not just help us accomplish that task but will also help us demonstrate our leadership and value to our companies once again.
About the Author
David Cutherell, CFI is senior vice president of business process automation at Prosegur USA. Prior to this role, he held multiple loss prevention management positions with Macy’s and Burdines.