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How to Buy Air Time, Whether to Sue or Prosecute Shoplifters and How Much Time to Spend Volunteering

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Our Main Street is scheduled to undergo major roadwork for three months. What can we do to limit the disruption?

Sound the trumpet. This is an issue that requires a united and well-organized front from local businesses to negotiate with city officials and the contractors to ease the impact. Generally, contractors are willing to work with small businesses to negotiate sidewalk access, change routes and signage, and alter schedules or even suspend work to accommodate special events, critical business days or other peak shopping periods — they just need lots of notice.
Your local chamber of commerce or merchants association can try any or all of these tactics: Be sure there is a business-community representative at every planning meeting. Set up a communications system — a Facebook page, a regular email or SMS alert — to update everyone on the project’s progress. Start planning special events or awareness campaigns to let customers know what’s happening and how they can access your business. Brainstorm ways to keep people visiting the downtown district. Ideas could include “A retailer/restaurant of the week” campaign or promotional “roadwork currency” that can be used at any local business. And think about extra outreach. Could you visit clients at their homes, start a pick-up and delivery service, extend business hours, do pop-ups or even sell more online? Urban Tails Pet Supply in Minneapolis, MN, faced with a similar construction challenge, managed to boost its online ordering by double from the year before.

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We can’t afford an ad agency. What should I know about approaching a radio station to buy air time?

The first thing to know is that TV and radio stations love customers who buy direct, says Andy Malis, CEO of ad agency MGH. But the reason should give you pause: “Because they know you don’t what you’re doing,” Malis says. He recommends you call your local station and ask the sales manager for the names of a few freelance media buyers they work with. “Choose one that buys for a variety of other local businesses. They’ll charge a lot less than a full-service agency, but they’ll know how to choose the right stations and programs, and more importantly, they’ll know the best rates.”

I appreciate that giving back is a smart way to run a business, and it feels good personally, but community work can also be a distraction. Are there guidelines for ensuring we get the balance right?

In terms of the personal benefits, different studies done in the U.S. and Australia over the last two decades have concluded that about 100 hours of volunteering a year, or two hours a week, yields the optimum return in terms of happiness, satisfaction and self-esteem. The studies found there were no benefits — for the volunteer, that is— of doing more than that. As for your business, coming up with a similarly strict “cut-off point” is prudent. Salesforce.com, for example, uses what it calls its “1 percent” formula: 1 percent of company profits, 1 percent of company equity and 1 percent of employee hours all go to the communities it serves. The clarity of such a cap not only provides a guideline for this expenditure of energy and other resources, but makes it easier for you to deal with requests from your community for your time or money: “We wish we could help, but for now we are concentrating all our community efforts through …XYZ.” When it comes to helping others, a soft heart and a hard head are often the best combination.

Which should I do — prosecute shoplifters or sue them in court?

Actually you can often do both, and it can be possible to collect damages without even going to court. “In almost all 50 states, laws have been enacted that give retailers the right to demand and collect money damages from adult or juvenile shoplifters as a civil cause of action,” notes Peter Berlin, founder of the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention. “This right does not generally negate retailers’ existing right to pursue criminal prosecution in the courts as well. These ‘civil recovery’ laws, as they are often called, are designed to help retailers offset their high merchandise losses and their added cost for security. They also act as a deterrent for offenders, especially among the parents of juveniles who tend to take their child’s shoplifting behavior more seriously when they have to pay a $100 to $500 ‘civil demand’ from the retailer.” Berlin further suggests that community-spirited retailers might wish to reduce their civil demands if shoplifters are willing to enroll in and complete a rehabilitation program such as Shoplifters Anonymous.

Since launching in 2017, PETS+ has won 16 major international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact PETS+'s editors at editor@petsplusmag.com.

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