Loss prevention is an important consideration for all convenience stores, but every chain approaches it differently.
Marietta, Ohio-based Par Mar Oil Co., which operates 165-plus Par Mar Stores in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, is currently working to streamline its strategy, said Terri Caldwell, regional director of operations for the chain.
Caldwell’s been with Par Mar for 20 years now and was recently promoted from the director of loss prevention role.
“I’ve implemented a 20-point inspection for all the supervisors to do at their location,” she said. “It’s going to pinpoint anything that could cause a loss to the company or injury to an associate. Do you have too much product over here by the door? Is your office disorganized, so you can’t count (inventory) properly?”
Because Par Mar tripled its store count in four years, streamlining and training are more important than ever. Before the end of the year, Caldwell said, the goal is to have all loss prevention training completed with each district.
“The lady who took my place (as the director of loss prevention), we’re starting to do some training together on our PDI system,” she said. “Her goal is to go through the whole company and just make sure our system is being used the way it’s meant to be used. … I was at a store today, and the manager was trying to find a transaction. Well, she couldn’t find it because the associate rang it under (the wrong category). With our back-office system, it was easy to pinpoint exactly what that associate did.”
As a back-up to its preventative approach, Caldwell said, Par Mar utilizes between 10 and 20 cameras per store, depending on the size and the location.
“If we couldn’t find the transaction, we could’ve looked at the camera,” she said, “which we do have on our ATMs, our money order machines, our Coinstar machines, on the associates.”
Video surveillance plays an important part in Kansas City, Mo.-based Fav Trip’s loss prevention strategy, too. The two-store chain really struggled with shrink when it first opened.
“When we started the business, shoplifting was an everyday issue, even with regulars,” said Fav Trip President and CEO Babir Sultan. “We used to put up their photo on the door. And that created some buzz. And then we were putting a picture on Facebook, and that got us some attention.”
Finally, the company decided to try uploading shoplifting videos to the chain’s YouTube channel — with commentary, recorded and edited by Sultan himself. Now the Fav Trip YouTube channel has close to 50,000 subscribers — and a reach of 8 million on Facebook in July, up from 900,000 a few months prior.
Customers will visit the store — sometimes from out of state — just because they’ve seen the videos. “It’s almost like a destination for them,” Sultan said. “And they buy our shirts and hoodies.”
Not only are the videos attracting customers and driving engagement (and ad revenue), but shoplifting has significantly slowed, too.
“We’re a neighborhood store, and people know — these guys don’t tolerate it,” Sultan said. “Even employees, when we hire them, they’ve got to sign off on, ‘if you steal, you give us the right to publish your video.’ So, rarely do we have an employee steal.”
Of course, Sultan noted, this is a strategy that works best for a small, neighborhood chain, where “everybody seems to know everybody else.” In fact, customers will often identify shoplifters in the videos.
“What we’ve done as well is, if somebody comes back and says, ‘Hey, I made a mistake, I’m sorry about it, I’ll go ahead and give back the money,’ we’ll take down their video or picture too,” he said. “We had one guy whose fiancée said, ‘I’m going to leave you if you don’t make this right.’ So he came back.”
For community members in need, Fav Trip’s there to help; the c-store hosts a food drive every year.
“And, all year round, if somebody comes to us and says, ‘Hey, I need a sandwich, I’m hungry,’ we’re happy to take care of them,” Sultan said. “It’s always been our policy.”
These days, Fav Trip’s video strategy works so well that it’s running low on content.
“At this point right now, we don’t have a single video of a shoplifter to post. So it’s a double-edged sword for us,” Sultan said. “It’s a good problem to have, but at the same time, people want more content. So we’re diversifying quite a bit. We have a few things up our sleeves to keep our customers entertained.”
The company’s keeping busy on other fronts, too. It’s currently building its third store from the ground up in Grandview, Mo., which will be 4,000 square feet — twice the size of the other two — with an updated, modern design.
Will Fav Trip film shoplifters in the new store, too?
“Oh, yeah,” Sultan said. “Anywhere. Because in our store, if they shoplift, we will post them.”