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The Joy Of Shoplifters – Comic Store In Your Future

Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics of Ankeny, Iowa, writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.  This week? Shoplifters.

Inventory, retail is all about inventory. Inventory, of course, is what retail uses to make a profit. The enemy of a retail business? Shrinkage. Inventory shrinkage occurs when a retailer has fewer items in stock than in the inventory list due to a clerical error, goods being damaged, lost, or stolen between the point of manufacture and the point of sale. This affects profit. If shrinkage is large, profits decrease. Many stories have been told of comic stores losing money due to anyone from strangers, employees, or even loved ones having sticky fingers.

Shoplifters - Superstitious Cowardly Lot - Comic Store In Your Future
Shoplifters – Photo courtesy of Rodman Comics.

One of the things about owning a retail store is you see what people are capable of. Both good and bad. Some businesses will help a person out, give a person their first job, hire someone down on their luck, hire someone who needs to make more money and sometimes steal. There are also people who have been helped out that did not steal. No one during a job interview announces they will steal from their employer.

When I was a kid, I would, at times, visit my uncle's barbershop. He had employees, and for whatever reason, he once talked with my dad (his brother) about how most of his employees stole from him. As a youngster who read comics, I was much more naïve. I could not believe most of his employees stole from him. Many years later, I now understand why most people work in a supervised workplace. I also understand better why so many comic stores just have the owner of the business working and no one else. My uncle's barbershop was usually a one or two manned barbershop. So, when he was not there, an employee could take the opportunity to steal money. As a kid, I foolishly thought he could just hire "better" people. Now, after dealing with people and listening to the stories of what other businesses have gone through with their various employees stealing, I understand it is not as simple to just hire people who will not steal. Currently, my uncle has no employees at his barbershop, and he does it all himself.

My store has been open for over a decade now. Sadly, we have had plenty of theft. My young, naïve kid self is now a jaded, more realistic adult. Part of the reason the third quarter of this year was so profitable was that shrinkage was nonexistent. We had fewer people on staff and fewer hours of being open for people to shoplift. We do have a camera, and I know when I work, I do watch people. As many retail workers know, even with cameras, people still steal. Staring at people as they shop would make them uncomfortable. Finding the balance between watching people to see if they steal and not making them uncomfortable is a delicate balance. I have had people I knew were stealing, so I actually stood next to them the whole time they were in the store, and they never came back. One kid in the past would, for whatever reason, take something he wanted to steal into the restroom and then leave. He finally stopped coming in after I told him the bathroom was off-limits. Why did I not simply confront him? I do not think he was putting what he was stealing (packs of cards) in his pockets but down his pants. I know one kid had a system worked out where he put comics in the front of his pants and his shirt over the top part of them to cover them up.

Have I confronted shoplifters? Yes. I even went to one kid's parents' home to let them know. My employee at the time thought I was crazy. None of the parents of kids and even young adults caught stealing that I have talked to; none have ever tried to pay for what was stolen. If I had stolen anything when I was a kid, my dad would have let me know how disappointed he was in me and most likely told me I better hope they would not press charges. He would never have gone to a store I had stolen from and tried to defend me. As for what my mom would have said, I would guess she would have asked what was wrong with me for doing something like that.

I even had a person steal from us and sell what they stole to another store in the area. A customer of ours was there when the items were sold to the store and let the store know. The other store called me and told me it looked fishy. I thought, okay, then why did you buy those things? They offered to let me buy them back. The police let me know that is not how it works.

Being so jaded through owning the store over the years, I rarely buy anything from people I do not know in order to better avoid items that might have been stolen. We have had too many people I have never seen before stopping in, wanting to sell comics, Magic cards, statues, and more, only to be contacted later by someone else saying their storage locker was broken into, their ex stole their collectibles, and so on.

So why do people steal? Often to resell. Something stolen costs the person nothing, which means any amount of money they may be able to sell it for is pure profit. The fact it cost someone else money is not a factor.

I have heard the most ridiculous lies from people who have stolen. Is the person hoping for a miracle? Hoping I am stupid? Even when I bring up, there is a camera; people say anything to try to get out of the fact they have stolen. I do not think people believe what they are doing is "wrong." They justify it in their minds. The person I am stealing from has money because they own a business, they owe me, they underpay me, and so on.

Why do some stores only have one employee, the owner? Because the owner knows he can trust himself. There will always be a never-ending battle against shrinkage. The only real loser in the battle? The retail business.

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Rod LambertiAbout Rod Lamberti

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