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A Groomer Leaves and Takes All His Customers With Him. How Can a Shocked Business Owner Respond?

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Sadie waved goodbye to the last customer of the day, an older woman with a perfectly groomed Pomeranian. The dog’s coat looked soft and fluffy, and bounced with every step it took. Sadie smiled to herself. Billy, her groomer had done a great good job over the last few months turning the dog’s matted coat into show material. She locked the front door, and started cashing out.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

LINDA LIEBRAND is a former marketing manager for a successful doggie spa and boutique who is now helping others promote their local pet businesses. She writes about pet biz marketing at mybrandbuddy.com and can be reached at linda@ mybrandbuddy.com

“Sadie, do you have a minute?” Sadie looked up and saw Billy wrapped up warm and ready to leave the shop. He’d pushed his hands deep into his pockets and he looked a little sheepish, standing there like a shy kid. “Sure, Billy, what’s up?” She took her glasses off, and put them down. “Thing is”, he started, but then his voice trailed off and he looked away. “I’m leaving,” he mumbled.

“But why? I thought you liked it here? The customers love you,” Sadie replied.

“I know, but,” he hesitated again for a moment, and then sped up, “I’m starting my own business and I’ve rented some space in the new pet shop in the mall. I’m sorry Sadie, but I’ve always wanted my own salon.” Sadie knew the feeling of wanting your own business very well, and although she felt sad to lose Billy, she hugged him and wished him the best of luck on his way out.

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A few weeks later Sadie ran into Janet, one of her regulars. Janet’s Yorkie, Ruby, squealed with delight when she saw Sadie, and Sadie couldn’t help but notice the dog’s tidy coat. She must have been groomed recently, she thought. I wonder who might have done it? “Nice to see you Janet. I haven’t seen you and Ruby in the shop for a while.” she said, and decided not to mention Ruby’s haircut.

“Yes it’s been a while. We went to see the lovely boy from your shop at the mall for Ruby’s haircut this time. He was as good with her at yours, so when he emailed me a coupon we decided to try out his new salon.”

“He emailed you?” Sadie asked, feeling the beginnings of suspicion stir in her stomach.

“Yes, he told me he was leaving last time I took Ruby to your shop and when he asked for my email address I didn’t think anything of it. I’m so sorry — I thought you knew?”

Sadie, didn’t reply. She rushed back to her shop and picked up her grooming calendar. After flicking through the pages it was clear that several of her regulars were late with their grooms, and none of them had made new appointments. They hadn’t all gone to Billy, had they?

She picked up her mobile phone and Googled Billy the dog barber. A flashy website popped up and she did a double-take. Was this some sort of a joke? From top to bottom, her entire shop menu with grooming treatments was copied almost word by word! Even the heart-shaped “mutt stamps” she had invented and always sprayed on all her groomed dogs was in there. Sadie couldn’t believe her eyes. Billy had seemed like such a nice kid. Had he just worked with her to steal clients and copy her business? Or did he not realize what he’d done? Sadie’s sighed and put her phone down, what was she going to do?

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The Big Questions

  • What can Sadie do right now about the awkward situation with Billy?
  • How can Sadie win back her clients?
  • How can Sally protect her business from this ever happening again?

 

Real Deal Responses: Expanded Online Version

Jim R. Eau Claire, WI

For client theft prevention we have our groomers sign a no solicitation of our private client list. We put a dollar value on each client that if they wish to purchase our list they must pay us for each client’s value. Family and friends agreed upon prior to the start of providing service are exempt on a written list. This gives you leverage in a court of law, whereas a non-compete does not.

Sylvia T.Adamsville, TN

I have been grooming 55 years and have been through this sabotage repeatedly. After investing time and money to train or bring a groomer’s work up to pro standards they have left to start their own business, and without conscience have tried to take customers with them. The wages paid here are better than they could hope to clear operating on their own. The shop has all the best equipment and products available for their use. They are always treated respectfully, their taxes are legally paid, they have benefits … and yet the desire to operate their own business prevails. The best advice I can offer is have new hires sign a no-compete contract and vigorously enforce it. Since generally they will also apply for unemployment benefits when leaving, let them know you will report they are self-employed not unemployed. And the best deterrent: Tell them you will report their status to the various governmental agencies so they can be tax-paying citizens, as are all legitimate businesses.

Pam A. Cleveland, OH

This has happened to me several times. Sometime customers have stayed with me because they thought that it wasn’t ethical what the groomer did. I think that it is just the nature of the beast.

Dawn T. Vero Beach, FL

Sadie should approach Billy on a professional level to see why he did it. Also, to let him know it was unethical of him, but maybe they could work something out so maybe they both can be happy. She could run an awesome special for returning clients. To protect her business, she should have her business trademarked and sole proprietorship with legal documentation to protect it from anyone from stealing her designs/website and such from competitors and employees. Have the employees sign confidentiality agreements.

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Clayton B.Simsbury, CT

I would sue him. That is disgusting.

Patricia B.Charlottesville, VA

I actually had this happen to me, and I found out when five new grooming tables were delivered to my store instead of hers. She lied and said they were for “home use.” (She had one Boxer.) I took her to court for defamation of character and theft of corporate identity and property. And won. Now, I have the most lock-tight, non-compete contract that includes my clients, a 5-mile radius and all my corporate marketing materials and website are legally protected from copying. Even nice people put themselves first when it comes to a business that takes time and money to develop.

Paul L.
Webster, NY

Legally, I’m not sure Sadie can do anything about Billy taking her customers. Billy saw the opportunity and ran with it. I had an employee who offered to board a regular customer’s bird for him, a bird that regularly boarded with us. He did it one time felt bad about it, told me what she had done and I treated it as if she had stolen product from me. She was terminated.

Ramie G.
Evanston, IL

I always want to assume the best in people, but be prepared for the worst: Did he realize this was wrong or not? The results are the same: There is damage to Sadie’s business. There are legal means to stop the use of the website that Billy copied, the use of the stamp Sadie invented and a simple cease-and-desist letter might get the job done. Some states allow non-compete clauses for employees to prevent stealing trade secrets and client lists, so she should consult an attorney to prevent this from happening again. But to maintain her clients, she needs to remember that she trained Billy, she is the original groomer they liked, and by offering superior service and contacting them directly, she can salvage the relationship by offering bounce-back coupons and referral bonuses if the client refers a friend. Price is not the only thing she can offer; quality service and products and appreciation for their business go a long way.

Raymond P.Alamogordo, NM

Just recently I have found myself in a similar situation. I have an aquarium maintenance service. Recently, I fired an employee and who was doing 75 of my accounts. He ended up taking five of my accounts (mostly just family and friends) and is now also starting his own business. When he started he knew nothing about the business. I am curious to see how Sadie handles this.

Christine D.Harrisburg, NC

Sadie can meet with Billy or even set an appointment to drop by his shop to say “hello” and broach the conversation after seeing for herself. She can attempt to win back her customers by emailing them personally and offering welcome-back specials. Another option is to be honest and open about the situation and let clients just choose for themselves. She should require all employees sign a non-compete form as a part of her hiring packet and keep it on file. This will allow her to protect herself. It won’t stop someone from doing this, but it allows her recourse against the offender.

Kristina R.Falls Church, VA

Ouch! Sadie, you earned your stripes in reality with this fellow. It happens, and it happens a lot. I own a grooming spa and a dog-walking company. For the last 27 years, I have had my folks sign non-compete agreements, tried the lawyer act (where I would say if you do end up breaking the contract, I will have my lawyer contact you), and I even sent an email out to all my clients letting them know that should their groomer or pet sitter contact them about leaving, please let me know. But none of the attempts to stop someone from starting their own company worked. Here is the thing, (I believe) if a client loves the groomer who loves their dog and the dog loves them back … I don’t care if you offer free grooms for life (well, that may work), they will follow that groomer. It is about the bond.

Pennye J.
Washington, DC

She needs to have her attorney contact him and let him know they will file suit for copyright infringement on her website. She should then contact all of her customers and offer them a special coupon to return to her salon.

Bonnie B. Chicago IL

This happened to me. Thankfully my loyal clients stayed with me. The employee who left sent out letters to my clients that he opened up his own place and that he had worked for me. I had my lawyer send a letter to the former employee telling him if he didn’t stop recruiting my clients that we would sue. As for winning back her clients, Sadie can send them notices for discount washes, grooming, etc. If they are loyal they will come back.

Jan G. Cary, IL

Never give your groomers your clients’ phone numbers or addresses — only first names. And be sure you always call your clients when their dog is ready to pick up. Make all your appointments yourself also. Maintain a relationship with your clients.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you’re invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.

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Real Deal

Word of a Massive Chain’s Intentions 
to Build Nearby Has the Local Pet Store Owners Worried

What should they do? Here are your thoughts.

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IN A Small But artsy rural community in Wisconsin, news of a big-box store potentially opening its doors in 2020, has been spreading like wildfire among local business owners. Currently, downtown has a Main Street dotted with retail stores, restaurants, a coffee shop, an art studio — and the only pet store and grooming location for many miles.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at . nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com

PawPaws has been in the town for about 15 years, and for the last four years Mike and Tom have owned the store. They were locals who moved out of town to pursue big-city careers, and after moving back home, they bought the store and the building. Now business-savvy pet parents, they knew they could make the local pet store even better. They kept the store aesthetic with the rural, artsy, small-town vibe while offering fantastic customer service.

“Tom, you know we have to fight this. I know our town is small, but this is going to kill our downtown, and we are going to lose customers,” Mike said, tossing aside a postcard announcing a Chamber of Commerce meeting to discuss the big-box store. “It’s bad enough that locals are shopping online — you know I see those delivery boxes.”

“OK, you know this topic is super important to me, but we have to concentrate on the Groomathon that is happening this weekend,” Tom said as he was unpacking grooming supplies. The Groomathon was an event they did every six months to wash, groom and nail-trim the local municipal animal shelter pets to help them get adopted.

“Yes, but while we are unloading we need to discuss this so we can get the Chamber of Commerce fully involved,” Mike said. “You know they are not up to speed on these things, sadly.”

“But isn’t it just a proposal within the town and not something that is set in stone?” Tom said. “I guess we will can really see if anyone else in the Chamber can get together with us to fight this.”

“Now that’s more like it!” Mike said excitedly. “They don’t carry all the same pet products or food we do, but it would be way too close for comfort after we have worked so hard the last few years here.”

The following week at their local Chamber meeting, Mike brought up the big-box store. “So who will help put together a petition to stop the mega-mart from landing in our backyard?”

A few grumbles and only a couple hands went up.

“Really, no one here is as worried about this as we are?” Mike said.

“It is going to add a lot of much-needed jobs in our county,” a tax preparation business owner chimed in. “So would it really be that bad?”

“What about our downtown? If that mega-mart comes in, a lot of people are just going to go there, and stop shopping at my boutique!” a gift shop owner said.

“I don’t know. It seems like it would add some convenience to our area, I don’t think it will affect our businesses in the way you both are worried about,” said a local bank owner, who was a big supporter of the project. “It will be about 10 minutes from the downtown.”

Mike sighed, looked at Tom, shaking his head, and said, “Clearly, we have a lot of work to do.”

The Big Questions

  • What should Mike and Tom do to show their other area business owners the potential negative impact the big-box store could have?
  • In addition to a petition, what other avenues should they look into to stop the box store from landing in their backyard?
  • How can they keep their business going strong if the big-box store gets approved?
Janet M
Rockledge, FL

We have big-box stores within a 5- to 7-mile radius. If Mike and Tom’s pet store offers high-end food, your customer will not be shopping for food there. You offer grooming services, which will help keep you going and have those customers coming back to you. Up your game and always be ahead of the curve. Offer items and services no box store can compare to. Customer service will be your best friend.

Nancy G.
Fredericksburg, VA

What other people are doing is none of your business. If you’re focusing on someone else’s business, your energy and time are taken away from your own. Focus on your business, and your business will thrive.

Frank F.
Farmingdale NJ

I believe that their time and efforts would be better spent on how to make their business stronger and more appealing to their existing customer base. I am also a firm believer in the free market for everyone. Both big-box and e-commerce should have the same rights as I do to compete. It is ultimately to the benefit of the consumer that these choices are available. Unfortunately, some retailers think that they are entitled to calling certain products, territories or demographics as “theirs,” and feel they are also entitled to make a certain margin on those variables. In actuality, the only entitlement that any of us should demand is the right to try and succeed. It is always to the detriment of the consumer if we ever take the position that we are entitled to succeed. As business owners, we inherently must be willing to assume that risk of uncertainty every day. If I can’t be relevant enough to the consumer, then my company doesn’t deserve to exist in the marketplace. For those reasons, for the last 32 years I have said to big boxes, “Welcome … let’s go to war!”

Wendy M.
Moore, OK

Do what sets you apart best! Give personal customer service. Not only in-store, but on your website, fun emails, interactive Facebook posts, encouraging participation. Have a great and varied selection of products that people want, and need — especially those disposable items that make them come back for more. Send your customers’ animals birthday cards to come in for a treat and discount. Do monthly or quarterly events … fun things that people can bring their pets to. All of the personal touches that you can provide will make a big difference in bringing your customers back.

Joyce M.
Faribault, MN

My store was the only full-line pet store until 10 years ago. [A major pet chain] decided to come on the recommendation of our Chamber of Commerce. According to a reliable source, they were told Faribault didn’t have a pet store. The local newspaper wrote an article stating there would now be a place in town to get all your pet supplies without a trip to the Twin Cities. I asked the Chamber — that I was a member of — to please write an article alluding to the fact that there would be two places to shop with even more variety. They said they would and then conveniently forgot. I don’t think PawPaws can stop them from coming, but I think they will be OK if they have a good, loyal customer base.

Rachel D.
Littleton, CO

If they are coming, you cannot stop it. So, plan ahead. Isn’t it great to know you have choices and lead time to prepare? Big-box stores have lots of turnover, so now is the time to build up the best staff you can have. Create learning opportunities for knowledgeable staff, better incentives, staff values and teamwork.What do they offer to potential clients? Fast in/out, I think. So, have a way to notice those clients who want to be fast about it versus chatting away. They’re there, you and your staff just need to pay attention. Finally, perception is reality. I don’t share this often, just now, in this awesome magazine. If you believe and act as though you have abundance in business, you will. Clean store, happy clients, friendly and knowledgeable staff and never downtime. Plan events during the known slow time, and you’ll never feel lacking. Never have the ‘lack of’ attitude, and you’ll always win! Good luck. You’ve got this!

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you’re invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and you’ll get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.

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Real Deal

The Recipient of a Fundraiser Disputes the Sum Raised by a Business and Suggests the Non Profit Is Owed $500 More

Here are your thoughts.

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DYANNA WAS FINALIZING the figures of the recent Doggie Festival fundraiser she hosted for a nonprofit that works with their city’s shelter.

This was Dyanna’s first event held at her dog-training facility. The spring weather was perfect, as their event had both indoor and outdoor festivities. Outside, they hosted a hilarious Dachshund race and beginner’s agility tryout in the grassy area of her training center. Inside, there were vendors, training demos, a veterinarian providing dog health care tips, a pet portrait artist and adoptable dogs from the shelter.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at . nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com

Dyanna, her employees and trainers were thrilled with the success of the event. They had 200 people and dogs show up, and all of their vendors said they would be back for the next event.

They raised $2,000 for the nonprofit, which Dyanna knew would be put to good use for the dogs at the shelter. Her costs to promote the event, food and refreshments, rentals chairs and tables, supplies, paying her employees and trainers added up to just under $3,500. A few monetary sponsors and vendor fees helped offset that, and her total outlay ended up at $1,500.

“Even though our costs were a bit more, I know we already landed new clients and potential new clients from this one event. But what really makes me happy is that we raised so much for the rescue and shelter,” Dyanna said to her manager, Susan.

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Susan just finished double-checking the numbers, since they wanted to be accurate before writing the check.

“Keeping the cost at $10 per person really worked, raising $2,000 for the rescue,” Susan said. “I got the same figures you did.”

Susan handed Dyanna the calculator and paperwork. “I think it is safe to say we can contact Rosa and let her know she can come pick up the check for her org.”

“Remember, we want to take a picture of us handing it to her, so we can send to the local papers and pet bloggers that were here,” Dyanna said. “And since this was our first event, I think next year we can be even bigger and raise more for them!”

A few days later, Rosa stopped by to pick up the check, and they all took pictures. Rosa was very grateful and thanked them over and over in person.

About two weeks later, Dyanna was checking her email and yelled out: “Susan! You have to come in here and read this … I am … I am dumbfounded!”

“I’m coming, I’m coming! What is it?” Susan said, out of breath. She read the email, “Wait, let me see that!” She grabbed the laptop and read aloud:

“Dyanna, I wanted to thank you again so much for all you did for our organization and for the donation. I really don’t know how to say this, but according to your calculations you said 200 people were there, which is where you came up with the $2,000, but our volunteers counted that 250 people were there. Wouldn’t that then equal $2,500 for us? You said the door fee went to us, is that correct? Maybe we can all go over the expenses again together, I know you showed me the other day, but I didn’t get to really digest it all.

“Looking forward to your response. Rosa”

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“What? What is she talking about? I am at a loss for words!” Susan exclaimed as she shook her head at Dyanna, “The nerve!”

“How do I … What do I do? We worked so hard to make this a great event and gave them $2,000! I don’t even know how to … to respond to this,” Dyanna said, as her hands trembled.

The Big Questions

  • How should Dyanna respond to Rosa’s email?
  • What is the best way to handle a situation like this to keep both parties on friendly terms?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Karen C.Delavan, WI

We’ve done our share of fundraising, and one thing that is a must is to have procedures in place for all aspects of the event. I can see where it would be very easy for a head count to be off: Were staff and volunteers there who didn’t pay the door fee? Were there free tickets to the event that would increase the head count but not the total collected? Simple things like wristbands can help identify who paid and who didn’t. Having great communication between the host and the organization — before, during and after — is critical. To have a misunderstanding can tarnish the good intentions of the event and hurt the future of the relationship.

Wendy T.Moore, OK

My first thought was that if it was a gated event, then the count would have been correct. Maybe the volunteers over-counted if they were just counting the crowd? And if that is the amount collected, then there shouldn’t be a question. If I were to respond, I think I would kindly review the numbers, stating that according to our records, these are the numbers from the event, this is how much was collected, and this is the reason why the check amount was what it was. Absolutely do not get defensive, but be factual and state what a pleasure it was to work with them.

Krista L.Wolcott & West Hartford, CT

I had a similar experience too! Couldn’t believe that the nonprofit would look a gift horse in the mouth! I was exhausted from the work and the expense to have it, but proud and excited for the positive response. Giving back to the community is a necessity for any successful business. From their point of view, I think that they have every right to ask for validation. But there are plenty out there that need the help and would be appreciative of ANY amount raised. Not all nonprofits are the same! To prove integrity and correct any errors, be transparent and cross-reference their info with yours. What their people said may not be the correct count. Was it per dog? Per person? There’s a difference that they may not be clear on. Keep record of all attendees, (proof of vaccines were required) then share that list with the person to confirm the amount. Show them your expenses too! Don’t let it keep you from future fundraising efforts.

Alan F.Sag Harbor, NY

Don’t answer from a defensive position. If you become adversarial, you might end up undoing the good and might even have a negative light on the event and in the community. Double-check how you did your count, then ask to meet with them to reconcile the counts. Do not get into any discussions by email, text or phone. I don’t know how well you know the shelter, but I would ask around to see if anything like this ever happened before. In 15 years of doing events like this, the shelters never questioned what we raised.

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Janice A.Bakersfield, CA

If this is how the organization operates, I would think twice about doing another fundraiser for them.

James W.West Palm Beach, FL

Dyanna and Susan should go over the figures once more with fresh eyes and make sure there isn’t something they overlooked. Assuming that everything again checks out, reply to Rosa: “Rosa, What a great event! We met our goals and successfully collected a $10 door fee from 200 people, totaling $2,000. Dyanna.” That is all I would say. The goal is to deescalate the situation and wrap this up ASAP. There are many worthy nonprofits. Depending on how Rosa answers and how Dyanna and Susan feel about her asking for additional funds (assuming they didn’t make a mistake), they may want to assist a different nonprofit the following year. I would move on.

Kimberly B.Salem, MA

First, take a day to cool off, so there is no emotional content to the response. Then, send the email acknowledging Rosa’s concerns, but also being direct in that her numbers were 200, and not 250. Follow that with a sentence reviewing how happy she was to sponsor the event and raise the money for such a great cause, and looks forward to doing it again. Finally, the email should end by requesting a meeting, so Dyanna can present her data to Rosa. This would help to ensure friendly terms continue. Too many emails back and forth can lead to misunderstandings. At the end of the meeting, they may agree to disagree at the final number and develop joint plans on how to best work jointly in the future to ensure this disagreement does not happen again.

Christine D.Dedham, MA

The only true count on the day comes from when the visitors were checked in initially. You had that “count”. Any “volunteers” sent by the shelter would have been too busy “volunteering” to carefully count each person only once. They also did not know how many “volunteers” (who should not be counted) you had on site to work this event, too.

Perhaps they also counted the vendors. It is a sad tribute to our times that people look to find fault with things and then think they can “email” something that sends a knife through your heart. I feel your pain in having to deal with this person.

Even recounting to this person all of the above will not totally make her happy.

Good luck to you from someone who thought she had seen it all after 40 plus years in my own pet related business. I love my business but occasionally something happens that just makes me sad. Your experience is one of those times.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you’re invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and you’ll get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.

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Real Deal

A Pet Supply Warehouse Notices Items Going Missing from an End Cap. Is a Regular Customer to Blame?

This is the case of the end-cap shoplifters.

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CASEY OPENED HER PET retail warehouse called Casey’s Pet Supply about five years ago. After working with a distributor in the pet industry for a few years, she got the bug to open her own retail store. She wanted to offer only pet products, and at a lower price than other stores. The store is not fancy, but it is busy seven days a week in its greater New York City location.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at . nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com

A staff of one full-time and six part-time employees help with workload, and the longer hours they are open. It was early on a Tuesday morning that a shipment came in before they opened, and Casey and her full-time employee Cameron were digging into it.

Her end caps changed to keep up with new trending product categories and tied in with each season. Casey was stocking an end cap, and this particular one has always been a pain point, as items tend to walk out the door.

“Cameron, can you get me the inventory list for this end cap?” she asked.

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Cameron walked over. “Here ya go. Are we missing items again?”

“I hope not, but it looks sparse today, and I feel like we just did this end cap. I guess we’ll find out soon,” Casey said with a sigh.

“Do you still think it is the Johnstons swiping our stuff?” Cameron asked.

“I have a hunch, but just can’t prove it. And since they are always here buying a lot of dog food and treats, I don’t know … but they seem to always be here at this end cap,” Casey said.

“Yeah, and they were in again the other day when you weren’t here,” Cameron said.

Even though Casey had cameras in the store, they had only a few, and not every square inch was covered. Casey tried to put inexpensive items on that end cap.

The Johnstons started coming into the store about a year ago with their adorable dog, Muffin. Muffin tends to distract employees because he is always a little uncontrollable, and one of his parents usually walks away to go shopping. They spend a decent amount a week on toys, treats and raw food, but they always pass by or stop at that specific end cap. Casey also noticed that they seem to come in when it is busier than normal, almost as if they time it perfectly.

As Casey did the inventory, and it was off by about $20 worth of products.

“Cameron, can you double-check my inventory here?” she asked.

Ten minutes later, Cameron confirmed it. “I found we are missing about $20 worth of products.”

“Every week, just in this spot!” Casey said. “That is really adding up fast. I think we need to have a team meeting with everyone again. We need to catch them in the act somehow. I mean, why spend $50 bucks a week, to steal these small items?

What goes through someone’s head?”

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She went on, “I don’t think it is just them, I can’t imagine they are the only ones swiping items here. Maybe we should just put signage here?” Casey sighed. “We can’t tell them to leave their dog at home can we? Ugh, I don’t know what to do!

Considering the amount of inventory we have here, I guess our losses could be worse, but this end cap and the shoplifting is infuriating!”

Cameron walked over. “OK breathe,” she said. “Let’s try to figure this out.”

The Big Questions

  • What should Casey do to try to end this shoplifting?
  • How should retailers handle approaching a customer they suspect of shoplifting?
  • And if that person is a regular customer?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Marjorie K.Greenfield, IN

Move one of the cameras to point at that end cap. Remove the small product and keep a couple very large items on that end cap all of the time so they cannot walk out with the product easily.

Kathryn M.
Richmond, MO

Remove products and make that end cap a place to put pet pictures. Deterring is the best option because it is most likely the easiest area to steal from in the store and will always be a problem.

Marvin S.
Grand Junction, CO

Put a camera on the end cap and then when the customers in question come in, look at the tape and see if they did take anything, or see if it was someone else.

Frank F.
Farmingdale, NJ

Have additional cameras targeting the suspected area. Only approach the suspect if you see solid evidence from the camera. Make a copy of the video. Dismiss the ex-customers from ever darkening your doorway again or you will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.

Ramie G.
Evanston, IL

Consider having an area where customers can leave their shopping bags and backpacks while they shop, send a staffer with the pet owner who is doing the shopping to be an extra set of hands. You can make the security look like customer service! But always remember you don’t know who is doing it, so keep your accusations to yourself until you have definitive proof. Then you can decide if there is action to take.

Debbie B.
Colorado Springs, CO

Cameras are an excellent suggestion, with an employee staying close by if they suspect a particular couple. We had a shoplifter and ended up putting up signs — “Smile, you’re on camera” — that actually seemed to cut down theft in the store.

Donald D.
Hamilton, MT

Place a camera to watch and record that end cap. Then you would have evidence of who did it, when they did it and how they did it. That would give you evidence of the crime, and the video would be admissible in court. If it is an employee, then you could fire him, and deduct your losses or take him to court and have him ordered to give you the amount of stolen property as well as your court fees. If it is a customer, then you have to weigh in your mind if it is worth losing the income and a future customer. You could also tell the customer that you have video proof of them stealing and that if it happens again you will press charges against them.

Jim C.
Three Locations in Michigan

Add a camera and stop guessing before taking any action. As it stands in this situation, to approach a customer or employee with unsubstantiated accusations is likely much more costly due to lost sales and goodwill, negative social media/reviews and/or the loss of a valuable employee than the losses incurred in this case, which are relatively small.

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Cecelia M.
Park Rapids, MN

I’ve found if I moved things around, especially one area of the store that didn’t have security cameras, this would usually take care of the problem. We love our customers, too, and don’t want to assume the problem is with just one customer.

Dawn T.
Vero Beach, FL

Casey should invest in a camera specifically on this end cap so there is proof of the person(s) shoplifting. It is a thin line retailers walk when they feel it is a regular customer shoplifting, so make the extra effort to make them feel important by helping them when they come into the store to shop, thanking them for their loyalty as well as introducing them to other customers, and having an employee stay with them as they continue to shop. If they pace by the end cap, become irritated or even try to insist on shopping by themselves, it is a red flag they may be guilty.

Eric M.
Columbus, NC

A camera pointed directly at the end cap. No notification of a new camera, nothing out of the normal. Just put the camera and wait. Then, forward to the police. We caught a regular customer stealing a $17 bottle of sardine anchovy oil. He denied it, threw a fit and left. I forwarded to the police. He ended up paying over $225 in fees and court costs.

Greg G.
Cody, WY

Move a camera to cover the area. You know it’s getting hit, so cover it. Put security camera sticker on end caps. I did, and it does catch suspicious people’s attention.

Angela P.
Stratford, CT

Luckily, I have not discovered a shoplifting problem at my store. However, I have the same frustration with the camera system that cannot see every angle of the business. It’s frustrating to have set up an expensive system that somehow misses a particular spot that you are trying to see. To me, it sounds like Casey is doing everything right … putting lower-priced items there, being cautious of a suspicious customer and letting her staff know to keep an eye out when this customer comes in. My suggestion is to redo the end cap. Maybe that is where the 50-ound bags of dog food should be located, or freebies should be placed there that might prompt a sale. And, as owners, we are always weighing the pros and cons of keeping/firing customers. I wouldn’t risk losing one without being absolutely certain that shoplifting had taken place.

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