Gathering LP practitioners, research scientists, and academics can be a little like herding cats or—as might be more likely in Gainesville, Florida—alligators. Here, I’ve put on my alligator wrangling gear and done the hard work for you. What follows is a Q&A with Read Hayes, PhD research scientist at the University of Florida and the Loss Prevention Research Council (LPRC); Cory Lowe, PhD research scientist at LPRC; Chad McIntosh, chief operations officer for LPRC; and Scott Ziter, vice president of risk management at Northeast Shared Services and chair of the LPRC board of advisers (BOA). Let’s dig into all the who, where, what, and how behind the LPRC and the yearly conference they put on in Gainesville, known as IMPACT.
Stefanie Hoover: Read, at the most recent LPRC IMPACT, you spoke a little about how the LPRC itself was formed. For those who couldn’t attend, can you give us some background on its beginnings?
Read Hayes: Thanks Stefanie. After conducting a large-scale offender interviewing project for Target with then vice president King Rogers and Marvin Ellison in 1999, King, Ellison, and I presented the study results in Orlando at the 2000 NRF LP Conference. With King recruiting nine other major chains to help form an independent industry R&D organization, the group founded LPRC in 2000.
The LPRC founding group wanted to leverage research specifically, (the scientific method) to better understand theft, fraud, and violence dynamics and create and test better crime and loss prevention processes and technologies. Some of the retailer leaders at that time expressed their concerns that just using their experience and benchmarking with others might not be enough when dealing with the critical life safety problems they experience. They also wanted some scientific and independent input.
Stefanie: In terms of growth, what was your headcount and working space then compared to now?
Read: LPRC started with ten retailers including OfficeMax, Gap, Beall’s, Walmart, The Home Depot, and Target, and hovered around twelve to fifteen chains for years. The group then voted to add solution partner members. As membership grew, we were able to add another researcher, and an operations team member. Bill Titus as the LPRC’s BOA chair helped grow membership to over forty-five members and set the stage for the next growth phase. Today we have approximately seventy-five retail corporations and their divisions as members, over 100 solution partner (SP) members, most of the retail industry associations, and manufacturers like Proctor & Gamble, Mead Johnson, and beyond.
We first worked out of my home dining room, and then moved to a small storage area in the local Sears store. Randy Dunn and the Sensormatic team provided annual sponsorship resources to allow us to move into a lab and workspace area with now five team members. Today we’re at fourteen team members and growing, working in six labs in the University of Florida (UF) INNOVATE Hub building, also leveraging the four surrounding square blocks as the UF SaferPlaces Lab; we also use multiple stores in a challenging eastside Gainesville multi-block area as our UF SaferPlaces Eastside and are now standing up our nearby regional mall as the UF SaferPlaces Lab West/Mall.
Stefanie: How have the founding and early retailer members influenced your direction over the years?
Read: The retailers have always made sure we’re focused on the theft, fraud, and violence problems they’re facing, and that we provide them short, actionable Research in Action briefs they can go to work with. They also recruit fellow retailers and SPs they want to work with into the LPRC community. The retailers wanted a focus on shoplifting prevention for the first years, later asking us to set up violent crime and retail fraud working groups.
We now include data mapping analytics and supply chain protection working groups. Finally, we’ve got over thirty major retailers and select SPs steering our LPRC INNOVATE program to create and test integrated crime scenarios across our indoor, VR, and outdoor lab ecosystem.
Stefanie: Cory, tell us about your background and how you came to work with the LPRC team. What is your role today?
Cory Lowe: Thank you, Stefanie. I became interested in criminology, and later, crime prevention, because of my family background—there is a good bit of criminality and substance use in my family. During my first stint in college, I started as a mathematics major at Southern Polytechnic State University in Georgia but dropped out because of family problems related to my father’s substance abuse. A few years later, I returned to school, and was interested in why so many people in my family, and in the South generally, struggled so much. In other words—I was interested in why the South was the most uneducated, poor, and violent region in the United States.
Because I was interested in the “big” issues, I started out studying history and political science with a focus on the American South. Over time, I focused more and more on the problem of crime and deviance. I ended up doing my master’s degree in sociology and criminology at Georgia Southern University, and then moving on to the UF, where I completed my PhD in criminology. At UF, I primarily focused on the causes and prevention of youth substance use and delinquency, and my dissertation examined the effects of religious families and communities on youth substance use and delinquency.
While I was primarily interested in developmental and community prevention at UF, I also learned a lot about situational and environmental prevention. During my final years at UF, a position opened at the Loss Prevention Research Council. Since I was passionate about crime prevention and wanted to stay in the area for family reasons, I applied. Fortunately, Read hired me.
Today, I am the research team leader. While I facilitate some of the working groups and still conduct research, I also work with the research team members to ensure they are completing projects that help our retail members.
Stefanie: Cory, the working groups have been a mainstay—why have you found those to be important, and is there anything you would want to change moving forward?
Cory: The working groups are important because it is where retailers can work together to generate research questions, conduct research, and solve problems.
It is the only place where retailers can talk to each other about the challenges they face, it is a safe place and from a team development perspective it really drives that.
Is there anything I would change? Of course! In fact; we have already begun making some of these changes. For example, each of the working groups need the dedicated attention of a research scientist; therefore, we have limited the number of working groups that any team member is responsible for. We are also working to reinstitute regular working group communications and to enhance the working group section of the LPRC knowledge center to ensure that everyone is aware of what each of the working groups are doing or have done recently. Finally, to ensure that what we are doing in the working groups is relevant to all your retail members, I have tasked each member of the research team to have one-on-one calls with active and inactive working group members. They have found that retailers are a bit more talkative in one-on-one calls than in working group discussions, and this has led to a lot of helpful feedback for each of the individual working groups.
Stefanie: Chad, please tell us about your background and your role at LPRC. Why LPRC?
Chad McIntosh: I have had a great career as a loss prevention practitioner. I began while attending the University of Maryland as a part-time store detective for Woodward & Lothrop, a regional department store in the Maryland, District of Columbia area. At Woodies I was mentored by Lew Shealy and was challenged in many different managerial roles.
In 1985, I was approached by Ed Wolfe to go to Neiman Marcus where I was part of a new regional manager program they were developing. The training and preparation that Ed and Gary Manson left with me was nothing short of amazing. I felt so prepared for the role that I carried that feeling throughout my career in the care and training for anyone I brought on to my team.
Little did I know that my connection with Ed Wolfe would take me to Home Depot. This is where my shortage reduction education began. We didn’t catch a lot of bad guys at that time, so we focused on operational controls and cashier accuracy to reduce shortage. My time took me back and forth across country.
My next adventure with Ed was at Polo Ralph Lauren. I went about reorganizing the resources to support the stores, putting LP professionals in the field and developing a scored audit to address operational deficiencies. The impact of which was great shortage performance and the LP team winning an award for making the most significant contribution to the business—one of my proud moments in my career.
Next would be the beginning of my Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s career. In 2010, Jay Fogg asked me to be the vice president of asset protection for Bloomingdale’s. I was now in my dream job. I built a progressive and innovative team there and was willing and open to new ways to solve the challenges of the day. I retired there in October of 2018.
I moved eleven times in my career with a partner and family that was all in for the adventure. I had some amazing leaders involved in my development and career guidance. One of my guiding principles throughout my career is “be so good they can’t ignore you.”
I failed retirement and went to support Dr. Hayes and the LPRC. I spent the past year and six months as the COO. I came on at a time when the operation’s team needed some support to help grow the research team and Read’s vision. Having been a founder of this great enterprise twenty-two years ago, I can’t think of a better way to continue to support an industry we all love.
Stefanie: Chad, it is interesting that you have an LP background and now collaborate with academics daily. I’m picturing you on the UF campus riding a skateboard. What have been the challenges? What has kept you excited about continuing this work?
Chad: Stefanie, no, no skateboarding for me. I hope I bring an air of practical experience to the group that they would not normally have. It is amazing and invigorating to be around these incredible minds and committed professionals. My biggest challenge with academia is that research moves at a methodical pace that requires one to adjust for all the right reasons.
I’m excited by the commitment to safer retail spaces and how the team is bringing to life Read’s vision. What they are working on isn’t replicated any other place in the world. I tell everyone that you have to come to Gainesville and see it and the team in action. Bring your skateboard!
Stefanie: Why should a retailer get involved with LPRC? What’s in it for them?
Chad: Retailing is facing some difficult challenges today— active assailants, aggressive homelessness, as well as ORC, to name a few. The research that is being done at LPRC is focused on theft, fraud, and violence. LPRC is the only place where the community works together to find solutions to these challenges. Come and get involved and help us change the narrative with these business challenges. We all want safer places and people.
Cory: There is no other organization where retailers can collaborate on an ongoing basis, or that conducts the types of research that we conduct. It is that simple—if retailers want to know what works and what their colleagues in the industry are doing, then they need to be a part of our community.
Stefanie: LPRC hosts IMPACT yearly in Gainesville. Can you talk to us a little about this conference and what makes it unique, from an ex-practitioner’s perspective?
Chad: The annual IMPACT conference is the culmination of the year’s research. It’s the only conference where you can see demonstrated science to action and the results achieved by retailers and solution partners working together. The 2022 conference was no exception. We had 388 attendees that had the opportunity to experience sixteen Learning Labs that illustrated opportunities for improvement, new ideas, and scientific results to improve your business.
What also made IMPACT unique from my perspective was team and individual development. It was an opportunity to see a team challenged with new perspectives on problem solving and getting involved in leadership roles with the council. I always saw LPRC as a way for me to identify technology I wanted to deploy that had a strong ROI.
Building and managing a conference like IMPACT has a lot of moving parts. It is the definition of a true team effort—research on content and operations on logistics. We rely on the support of our BOA leadership for their voice on what’s important and quality control. Content has always been the differentiator and what separates IMPACT from other conferences. The response and support of our solution partners is the oil that drives this machine.
During the development process we would face challenges we couldn’t solve on our own. The LP community is always willing to answer the call and help where needed. We have already started preparing for IMPACT 2023. You won’t want to miss it.
Stefanie: Tell us about the team who supports putting on IMPACT.
Chad: IMPACT is an “all hands on deck” event, so every team member plays a role in making the event a success. The research team is responsible for the agenda and content, while the operations team is responsible for most of everything else. Diego Rodriguez has had his hands in pretty much every aspect of planning and execution over the past three years, alongside Bryan Hayes, the CFO. However, the team has grown in the past year, which has enabled us to spread the workload. Wilson Gaberino and Kim Ruffier joined the team this year, and they have taken on the work associated with retail member engagement and event coordination, respectively. We also had assistance from several interns.
We also receive a lot of support from the IMPACT Planning Committee and Operations Committee of the BOA. Both groups are comprised primarily of retail practitioners, and they help guide the planning process, advise the team on the agenda, provide constructive criticism of all the content, and play various roles during the event. For example, John Copen and Lindy Mercer from TJX managed the audio and visual in the main ballroom during the conference. Of course, we also hire a few different teams to assist with audio and video, and provide catering.
Stefanie: How did the IMPACT conference come about? What was the impetus?
Read: LPRC IMPACT started a couple of years after the LPRC was founded in 2000-01 and stemmed from an earlier set of large group brainstorming meetings called BrainStorm held in 1995-97 and hosted by Walt Disney World. We were able to get dozens of LP leaders and their top direct reports together to discuss and share their greatest challenges and protective responses in a new and engaging format.
Disney then hosted the first three IMPACT conferences with the first one focused on a significant FBI ORC case called American Dream that allowed us to have the lead Target ORC investigator, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement case special agent, the FBI case agent, and the main convicted ORC group leader (turned FBI confidential source) describe their roles in the case—what happened, what they and others did. The IMPACT participants were in working groups and worked through an exercise at several key parts of the case for retail LP practitioners to improve their own anti-ORC efforts.
This event set the stage for annual IMPACT conferences primarily hosted by retail members at their home offices including The Home Depot, Office Depot, and Sears then at the UF for the last ten years. Our event attendance has steadily risen from the initial 100 to closing in on 500 this year. The UF venue is preferred by our members since we’ve got our six labs, a unique university environment, college student and faculty participant energy, and more.
Stefanie: Why attend IMPACT? There are many conferences out there. What does LPRC bring to the table?
Cory: There are two things that differentiate IMPACT from other industry events. First, there is our content—we work on research projects throughout the year with our members and then we present this content at IMPACT. We present some of our research at other conferences, but no other loss prevention conference has as much evidence- based content as LPRC IMPACT.
The second difference may seem trivial, but I am not aware of any other group with the same close-knit sense of community as the LPRC. I believe this is due to the year-round working groups and events that enable our members to get to know each other and collaborate, but it is also due to the culture of collaboration, openness, and respect that we promote throughout the year.
Stefanie: Scott, how did you come to be involved with the LPRC?
Scott Ziter: I met Dr. Read Hayes during my time as chair of the Food Marketing Institute Asset Protection Council. Read provided insight as to the direction the LPRC was heading in, and I was intrigued to learn more. My good friend and colleague Jim Cosseboom and I worked together at Ahold USA and in 2014 we set up a meeting with Read to visit LPRC in Gainesville. After spending time with the group, Jim and I felt strongly that we should pursue joining the LPRC. A few months later, I accepted a position at Price Chopper Supermarkets. Both Ahold USA and Price Chopper became members of LPRC that year.
Stefanie: As the new chair of the BOA, can you share any new goals for IMPACT or changes?
Scott: The LPRC team and BOA will take what’s learned at the kickoff meeting in January and will brainstorm at IGNITE in February to create goals and objectives for IMPACT 2023. I’m confident that Fred Becker (vice chair of operations and IMPACT committee) and team will once again develop an agenda that will attract hundreds of attendees to Gainesville, Florida in October.
Stefanie: What tips do you have for solution provider partners who want to get involved with IMPACT?
Scott: My advice would be to speak with LPRC leadership or a member of the BOA to gain a better understanding of what the LPRC’s mission is. A prospective solution provider should know that collaborating with other solution providers (perhaps even competitors) and retailers is a very important component of being a member. One of LPRC’s goals is that solution providers work with their team and retailers to come up with ideas and solutions that will help LP departments address areas of concern such as organized retail crime, violent crimes, inventory shrink, and other industry trends.
Stefanie: What advice can you give to a retailer who is a first-time attendee to IMPACT?
Scott: My recommendation would be to attend as many general and learning lab sessions as possible. I would also encourage first- time attendees to visit solution providers during the Solution Center Experience to learn more about the newest technologies and solutions in the industry. My best advice would be to make sure you network and collaborate with other colleagues as in most cases, they are experiencing the same issues as you and your company. The sky’s the limit as to what you can take away from the IMPACT conference. I hope to meet many new colleagues at IMPACT 2023.
Cory: The best tip I can offer is to get involved long before IMPACT. IMPACT is a much better experience if you have been participating in the working groups and other events throughout the year because you are already a part of our community and get to meet your colleagues face-to-face and catch up on projects and common interests. Learn more at lpresearch.org/impact.