I’ve worked in retail for over fifteen years. I started out in the grocery business and then ventured over to the retail pharmacy sector. In both settings, we had to figure out ways to stop shoplifting on a daily basis. The grocery store I worked in had absolutely no retail theft prevention tools: no EAS system, no cameras, nothing. Well, we did have a fake camera. The small retail pharmacy I work for has made leaps and bounds through the years, upgrading their tools and methods to stop shoplifting over the last decade. When I first started with the company, only the couple inner city locations had any sort of camera system, and they were ancient VHS recorders that required you to change the tape daily. Most stores were in the process of getting Checkpoint Systems installed around the time I was hired, though. Now, over a decade later, all of our stores have DVR systems, Checkpoint Systems, and retail theft prevention plans in place. Just like most retailers, we talk with our staff regularly about the importance of deterring shoplifters. But one thing we don’t talk about enough is robbery prevention or what to do if it does happen.
I worked in one location in our pharmacy business for a little over seven years. It is out of the city limits, near several affluent neighborhoods full of million dollar homes. There is a huge lake nearby. And that same store was the setting for four armed robberies. The last three were all prescription drug related, committed by criminals feeding their opioid addictions. They were actually pretty low key incidents, and the perpetrators were not really looking to create a big scene; they just wanted the pills. The very first robbery, however, was a terrifying experience that I hope to never go through again.
We closed at nine back then, and I was walking over to lock the door when three men came inside. They were all dressed in black from head to toe, and I knew immediately what was happening. (The man that lived across the street saw it happening too; I’ll get to him later) Two of the men demanded access to the office and they wanted all the money dumped into a bag. They wanted all of it, everything out of the drawers, and everything in the safe, including the rolled coin! There were three of us there that night, and while one guy held a gun on me dumping the money, another one held a gun to my assistant’s head and told her she better not move. Meanwhile, outside the office, the other guy had my cashier and was literally dragging him through the aisles at gunpoint. My cashier told him there was nobody else in the store, but he wouldn’t stop until he saw for himself. Once the two in the office verified the safe was empty, they made my assistant dump her purse into their bag as well. Then they made us all go to the stock room and told us to stay and count to a thousand. If one of us came out before they got out the front door, they said they’d kill us all. We did as we were told and waited.
However, they had a surprise waiting for them outside. The man that lived across the street was out there waiting. He had already called 911, and he was on the phone with them. He had his gun too. They started firing at him and he fired back. He got several shots into their getaway car. He was hiding behind his big SUV, but one shot ricocheted off something and hit him in the leg. At that point he lit up their car with the rest of the bullets in his clip. They flew out of the parking lot. Then he came in and found us, assured us it was okay to leave, and got us to safety. The police were outside already when we came out, all with our hands up. They got our neighbor to an ambulance to treat his leg, and figured out which way the robbers had gone. (They didn’t get far because of all the damage he had inflicted to their car.) They found the car abandoned, and the men were actually hiding under a boat slip, hoping the police wouldn’t find them in the water. They did find them with no problem, and a year later they all got maximum sentences at their trial.
There is no way to predict a robbery is going to occur, but if one does, your staff needs to know what to do. We did exactly what we were told, kept our heads down, not looking up or making any eye contact, and never once did any of us try to be a hero. We used caution exiting the building afterward, coming out with our hands up to ensure the police knew we were not the bad guys. That seems like an insult to injury, but it’s for everyone’s safety. All those little things were what kept us alive and resulted in the robbers leaving quickly.
Our neighbor recovered quickly and was hailed as a hero. Our friendship with him will never waiver. I have since moved to a couple different locations, and have never had any incidents at either one. I share this story, not to scare my current staff, but to make them aware that it can happen. Please have the conversation with your employees and if it ever does happen in your business, I hope you have a similar outcome. Focus on the daily job to stop shoplifting, but remember knowing what to do in case of a robbery needs to be talked about too.
Need information on how to stop shoplifting? Contact us or call: 1.770.426.0547.