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Interviews

An interview with “Mr Loss Prevention” 

John Wilson, Executive Editor

Laurence King is regarded by many in the retail sector as the founding father of modern LP. During a career spanning almost fifty years, he has become renowned as champion of cultural and behavioural change and coined the phrase—“If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” He grew up through the ranks of retail after leaving school and has held senior LP positions at major high street brands, including The Burton Group, B&Q, and Castorama in France. King is also credited for being the man who introduced data mining at the point-of-sale—an industry first. Latterly, as a well-respected consultant, he was one of the parents to the retailer-led ORIS Forums, a now award-winning collaborative LP tour-de-force that spans eleven forums, almost one hundred brands, and represents £200 billion worth of turnover as well as 35,000 stores, not to mention the online offerings.

EDITOR: You have been involved in loss prevention for some time, but have you always worked in retail?

KING: Yes, I started working in retail straight from school in 1964. It was pre-decimalisation and Resale Price Maintenance had just been abolished. I worked as a trainee company secretary for the chief accountant of Swan and Edgar, a West End department store. Back then it was all very “Grace Brothers,” but it was a wonderful hands-on experience and it taught me all the basic principles of retailing, from the shop floor to the accounts department known then as the “counting house.” I have worked in all aspects of retail, operations, logistics, finance, and of course security and loss prevention, for which I have a passion. I have also worked in a wide range of sectors, from department stores and multiple fashion retailers to DIY outlets.

EDITOR: So which retailers have you worked for?

KING: Initially, I worked for Debenhams. I then joined The Burton Group, Arcadia, BHS, and B&Q, and finally for six-months I worked in France for Castorama. After leaving front-line retail, I went into consulting and developed ORIS Consulting as an addition to the already existing ORIS Systems business. 

EDITOR: What are the highlights of such a long career in retail? 

KING: There are many. Retail is a people business, and I have worked with fantastic people, many of whom are now life-long friends. There is constant change and a wonderful energy and buzz in retail that I have loved. Twenty years ago I was the first person to introduce analytics of point-of-sale data to detect internal fraud and that technology has become an industry in itself and has created a far greater awareness of the incidence of the internal problem. It is good to feel responsible for creating a step change in the industry. 

More recently, it has been seeing the success of ORIS Forums. ORIS Consulting sponsored and organised the first ever Retail Loss Prevention Forum, for fashion retailers back in February 2006, and it is very rewarding to see how successful ORIS Forums has now become. (See page 16 for more on ORIS Forums.)

EDITOR: Have things changed much during 
your career?

KING: When I first became interested in risk and stock loss, the emphasis was very much on the security approach. Security departments were very hands on, intuitive, compliance, and investigation-led. Emphasis was on the front-end, public and shop floor loss. Physical security of stock was paramount. Resources were devoted to auditors and security staff visiting shops on a cyclical basis. Now resource and expertise has moved away from focusing purely on the front-end and now looks at the whole supply chain. I recently read that the last BRC Retail Crime Survey showed that crime suffered by retailers increased significantly last year which, alongside the mounting pressure on law enforcement resources, places immense pressure on retail profits. I have massive respect for today’s heads of loss prevention and their teams. They have to be multi-skilled and multi-talented. The role has become highly professional.

EDITOR: So, how has the LP role had to change?

KING: Now the loss prevention remit covers the whole supply chain with multi-channel and new payment methods being the latest addition to the risks which require addressing. For many retailers the LP role now has to also understand and know how to deal with cyber-crime, online delivery losses, and the fact that many online merchants are now globally recognised brands, making them victims of serious organised crime.

EDITOR: Given all those new risks, what does a good LP department look like? 

KING: Loss prevention departments are now intelligence and information-led, using all the latest technology so that resource can be focussed on the actual causes of loss rather than the perceived causes. Today’s LP specialists are very different individuals to those when I first became involved in the industry. This was when there were many “retired coppers” running security departments. 

EDITOR: Looking back, was LP a very male-dominated function?

KING: It certainly tended to be, although there were some exceptions. But it is excellent to see that as the role has become more complex, it has opened up increased opportunities for women in senior LP roles. They bring a wealth of skills, general management experience, and fresh ideas to the loss prevention craft. It is also tremendous to see more and more heads of loss prevention operating at senior executive or board level. LP is now recognised as a crucial retail function. 

EDITOR: What key skills are now required?

KING: Apart from knowledge of their subject, to operate at these senior levels means that LP executives have had to develop excellent persuasion and influencing skills. These interpersonal skills are very important in order to maximise the benefits of co-operation and collaboration, both internally and externally. Today’s LP professionals have to appreciate and practice such things as collaboration with every function within their own organisations; solid relationships with other retailers and sharing of information as proved by the growing success of the Retail Loss Prevention Forums; association with Police and Town Centre partnerships; mutually productive contact and rapport with the providers of loss prevention solutions. Partnership relationships with suppliers are so much healthier and beneficial than the adversarial position that some purchase-led relationships bring.

EDITOR: Lastly, when it comes to loss prevention, there might not be any silver bullets, but what are your golden rules?

KING: Don’t be crisis driven. Have a strategy which is owned and understood by executive management and the whole business and stick with it. Constantly monitor and understand what works well and what doesn’t and tweak your strategy accordingly. Communicate results…repeatedly…and keep the whole business informed of positive progress. Recognise success and use it to generate excitement and belief in doing what works. And finally, be passionate about your job and be willing to put your head above the parapet to achieve your goals. 

Mr Loss Prevention’s Golden Rules

Loss prevention departments 
are now intelligence 
and information-led, using 
all the latest technology 
so that resource can be
 focussed on the actual 
causes of loss rather than 
the perceived causes. 

Today’s LP specialists 
are very different individuals 
to those when I first became involved in the industry. 
This was when there were 
many “retired coppers” 
running security departments.

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