Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Retail
Preventing Employee and Customer Theft

March 6, 2008  By By Michael Lascelle

My basic philosophy in regard to employee and customer theft is best expressed by the old adage, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’

 Who has the keys to your business?
Photos courtesy of M.K. Lascelle

My basic philosophy in regard to employee and customer theft is best expressed by the old adage, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ It really boils down to just two very simple principles:
1. Be diligent when hiring new staff, and always check their references.
2. Make it difficult for thefts to occur at your place of business.
And while there is no end to the high-tech surveillance equipment and security consultants out there, in the end, simple prudence will always prevent more thefts than any security camera will. With that in mind, here’s what you can do to prevent theft in your workplace.

The ‘Self’ Discount
Personally, I don’t purchase any of the plants or garden ware that I am authorized to discount, in order to avoid any possible conflict of interest.


A good example of this form of theft was relayed to me by the employee of another garden centre, who had a department manager who frequently discounted the items he wanted. A minor flaw became an 80 per cent discount and anything more serious put the item into the ‘give-away-to-staff’ category, of which he was always the recipient. Eventually the owner of this nursery got wind of these overly-generous personal discounts, and this department manager was fired. The best means of avoiding these conflicts would be a clear company policy, limiting the extent of any discounts or ‘giveaways’ to staff.

Many Eyes And Ears
All thefts start with people wanting something they cannot or will not pay for. And as far as staff is concerned, the best place to start is with their references or former place of employment – because chances are if they have been honest in the past, they’ll remain so, and if they have had a problem with theft, it is likely to reoccur. This is why it is so important to discuss all thefts with staff on a regular basis (preferably during a staff meeting with everyone attending). Ask them if they have seen any unusual behavior or activities.  Because it’s a lot easier to watch out for theft with many eyes and ears than it is to try to do it yourself, but if your staff is unaware of any ongoing theft problem, they won’t know what to look for.

Who Has The Keys?
The keys to your establishment should be in as few hands as possible – preferably just those managers who open and close each day. Of particular importance are the keys to storage facilities, which may house any machinery or tools, as these are prime targets for thieves. And you might be surprised just how much equity you have sitting in your shop or tool shed, and unfortunately far too many of us have had to wait until we are putting in an insurance claim for theft, to really appreciate this. The other problem here is that many keys are masters, capable of opening multiple doors or locks, and in the wrong hands they simply provide easy access to your business, day or night. The bottom line here is that you must implicitly trust those people to whom you entrust the keys to your business. And if there’s any shadow of a doubt, then you need to ask yourself the very basic question ‘why don’t I trust this person?’ and act upon it.

Information Theft
Computer theft is all the rage these days and it’s not just the resale value of a used computer that drives these thefts, it’s the information on it. When you consider the amount of account or credit card numbers, personal information and banking statements, which are stored electronically on the average business hard drive,  it’s not difficult to understand why thieves would be interested in stealing your company’s information. With this in mind, you should be sure your computer is difficult to steal by fastening it with a locking cable to the desk, and making sure that your office space is equally secure.

What’s Getting Stolen, And Where?
For the longest time, our most commonly stolen items were bales of growing medium, which were kept stacked on a pallet on the side of the front parking lot. The tactic was almost always the same – two people would drive up in a truck, one person would go inside to engage the clerk and keep an eye on the other staff, while the other person quickly loaded the bales. The inside person would ask a quick question and casually leave shortly afterwards, only to step into the already waiting truck, which quickly sped away with stolen goods in tow. We eventually solved this problem by moving the pallets of growing medium to the end of a very long aisle, where access is difficult and visibility is quite open, but this tactic doesn't always work. We also had another long-term problem with the theft of bulbs in packages – with the thieves usually slitting the plastic open, taking the bulbs and leaving the packaging behind. Despite having moved the bulb display to a more visible corner, putting up convex mirrors and lowering the shelves so we could see over them, the bulb thefts have continued unabated. In fact, we are now finding empty bulb packages throughout the nursery. So we are currently installing a video surveillance system, in the hope that the ‘deterrent effect’ will discourage would-be thieves or at the very least, enable us to put a face to these continual thefts.

Video Surveillance And Its Limitations
Video surveillance is just that ‘surveillance’ and unless you are willing to hire someone to watch those screens during business hours, then you are just going to have to accept the fact that its main effect is as a deterrent. As such, you should reinforce the fact that you have video surveillance with high-profile signage and you should even consider the use of additional ‘dummy’ cameras – as the culprit will have no idea which cameras are working or which ones are fake. No thief wants to get caught, so the more cameras (both working and fake) and surveillance signs you have displayed, the better the deterrent effect will be. You should also be aware that professional thieves are adept at working around video surveillance systems, often looking for blind spots or carrying merchandise to less conspicuous areas, where they conceal the goods on their person. In this case surveillance footage may be useful to identify those higher risk areas so they can be reconfigured for better visibility, even if you were unable to catch the thief in the act.

Getting Involved With Your Community
While there will always be random acts of theft by individuals, sometimes a high break-in rate can be directly linked to local social problems. Here in Maple Ridge, we have had a recent influx of homeless people and with them came a marked increase in street drug sales and break-ins, which have impacted both residential homes and businesses alike. As we have learned, it takes more than a soup kitchen or shelter to break this vicious cycle – businesses need to work with their local councils and law enforcement to find ways to lower incidents of opportunistic theft and find long-term solutions for the homeless, many of whom are dealing with serious addiction or psychiatric problems.

Similarly, you need to make sure that your garden centre or nursery is not a part of the problem – as there are far too many horticultural suppliers who readily supply people who they suspect are marijuana growers with vast amounts of plastic pots, soil medium, fertilizers and lighting. We need to show a little discretion, or at least ask a few more questions, when someone makes such large purchases – much the same way that pharmacies and hardware stores are limiting access to chemicals used in the manufacture of crystal meth. In the end, when we reach out to our community, we end up making it a better place for all of us to live and work.

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