Snap Shot from across the pond
EDITOR’S NOTE: The merchandise may be stationery, but the day job covering more than 1,500 stores across the U.S. is far from stationary for Rob Shields, director of global loss prevention field operations for Staples, who deals in risk and reward on a major scale.
Staples, Inc., together with its subsidiaries, operates office products superstores. Headquartered in Framingham, Massachusetts, the international office-supply giant offers a range of office supplies, business technology products and services, computers and mobility products, and office furniture. It also provides copy and print services to retail and delivery customers, as well as technology services.
LP Magazine EU interviewed Shields about the challenges of his “day job.”
EDITOR: How many stores do you have within Staples North America?
SHIELDS: We operate about 1,500 stores in the U.S.
EDITOR: What is your specific area of control?
SHIELDS: I oversee all tactical field operations within the United States. The team conducts a variety of audits and training sessions, initiates and completes investigations, and attends and supports meetings with our operational partners.
EDITOR: What are your key challenges in the U.S. with such a large estate?
SHIELDS: Each field loss prevention manager, or Field Loss Prevention Manager [FLPM], handles about thirty store locations as well as any distribution centers that may fall within their territories, which may cover a large geographic area. Their responsibilities include regular store visits that may involve operational audits, investigations, training, and the annual physical inventory process, along with other necessary tasks.
Of course, any investigation has the potential to increase the frequency of our visits, which can significantly increase our travel expenses when the incidents result in multiple trips. Similar to every department within the organization, we must operate within our budgets. Each field director is responsible for forecasting expenses and delivering our services without over-spending. Managing the process can be very challenging, especially when an area has a significant number of investigations that must be handled.
EDITOR: Who looks after “online fraud?” Is it a separate team?
SHIELDS: Our marketplace fraud team is separate and operates independently from our field LP organization. However, if they should uncover an issue or notice a pattern within the retail store space, they will contact the respective field LP director so that the matter can be further investigated and appropriate loss prevention assets can be deployed.
EDITOR: What is your approach to your job?
SHIELDS: I approach my responsibilities as the field leader with a sense of perspective. You must have an understanding of the demands and pressures that the directors, FLPM’s? and auditors have on their respective plates, and what they have to accomplish in a given week. I make certain that communication to the field is concise and easy to interpret.
I also participate in as many field conference calls as I can and webinars that are scheduled so that I can clarify or amend operational direction. Lastly, I am always looking forward to the proud opportunities to recognise and reward those team members who have gone above and beyond the scope and purpose of their role. I always send a congratulatory message to him or her, as well as the supervisor, to support their performance and contribution. It is critical that the team knows that the home office is aware of exceptional work. My vice president is also stellar in sending a note or message when he is made aware of a great effort on the job.
EDITOR: Take us through a typical day for you and the team.
SHIELDS: I will typically contact one of my field directors to ascertain how a previous day’s investigation or target audit was concluded. If I am in the home office, I also like to visit with our investigations group to see what trends they are following and the volume of cases they are working on, as it helps me stay in-tune with the investigative workload being assigned to the field team. I have regularly scheduled and reoccurring meetings with human-resource partners and store-operations leadership, as well as attendance with senior supply chain leadership to stay informed and up-to-date with that aspect of the business. All of this involves numerous telephone calls and emails to provide information, direction, follow-up, and resolution of important business issues. I also have to take the necessary steps to schedule my field travel dates.
The field directors regularly travel with their direct reports (FLPM’s) and often attend significant investigations involving loss and other prominent issues. Directors will also have many administrative tasks. For example, they will have various reports to review, trends and business analysis to determine, meetings with operational partners to attend, topics and updates to present at regional and district meetings, and SVP staff meetings that take place every period. The FLPM’s will devote approximately 40 percent of their time completing the various audit requirements of stores, FCs, SDOs, and distribution centres. Each audit is entered into a case management system, as are completed investigations. This entails the primary administrative component of the FLPM’s job.
They also access company reports by region, district, and store to determine trends and seek partnership for resolution with operational counterparts. FLPMs present at district and regional meetings as well. On the job training is also scheduled by directors, FLPMs, and auditors.
EDITOR: What do you see as the key differences between the U.S. and Europe in terms of cultural and physical differences? For example, our perception of the U.S. would be that you experience higher levels of weapon-related crime.
SHIELDS: We have a robust MPP, or merchandise profitability program, that’s in place. This program is intended to deter, or disadvantage, a suspect from contemplating removing our products from the sales floor location.
EDITOR: What are your challenges around law enforcement? Do you have full support or is law enforcement pushing back on the retail community to police itself, as is the case in some parts of Europe?
SHIELDS: As a general statement, we find law enforcement supportive of our investigative efforts to bring effectively investigated and evidence-supported internal and external cases for prosecution when that is the avenue we choose to pursue.
EDITOR: What is law enforcement’s attitude towards retail or business crime?
SHIELDS: We generally find cooperation with the investigators assigned by the city or county, as well as other law enforcement entities. With a significant number of our retail locations having installed CCTV systems, often there is direct video evidence of the suspect that is captured. This evidence becomes highly desirable for law enforcement investigators to utilize in efforts to catch the involved perpetrators.
EDITOR: Do you see a lot of ORC incidents across the estate?
SHIELDS: No, we don’t experience a lot of ORC occurrences. But on occasion we will determine that we were victimized in one of our retail locations, and we will then enter all pertinent information into our case management software. We then look for trends through regular analysis and review.
Typically, it would appear that the role of a U.S. LP director mirrors that of his or her European counterparts, with many of the same daily challenges exercising the LP teams on the “other side of the pond.” The ORC model is also being replicated in Europe, as there is evidence of Police forces increasingly engaging in collaboration on travelling gangs and sharing information to track, trace, and trap European distribution fraudsters and pursue them for restorative claims by seizing their assets.