“Sticky fingers”

26 February 2020, 08:44 am
Town Crier by Justin Tunstall

A food producer friend received a late night call from his farmer landlord.

“Do you have CCTV?” he was asked; a van had just been seen cruising suspiciously around the farm’s courtyards. He duly invested in the kit, but for weeks, caught nothing untoward on it. A while later, he was on a business trip and with a cancelled meeting in the afternoon, tuned into his online CCTV feed. He saw his two employees locking up the front door and driving away from the site, a good three hours before the usual quitting time. He called the landline, without response, then tried one of them on their mobile. “Everything okay?” he asked, “I tried the landline just now…” “Sorry boss, just up in the storeroom.” A blatant lie. He continued his surveillance for the duration of the trip and realised that this was a regular occurrence.

Some business sectors have been hotbeds of employee ‘innovation’ – breakthroughs in the science of stealing time, money and/or goods from their bosses. The Fleet Street that I worked in during the 1980s was one such. But this is not what we expect from staff members whom we may even regard as friends. My chum told his guys that he knew what they’d been up to, and being unwilling to dismiss and recruit anew, sent them a written warning. It seems that these days they tow the line. In general speciality food shops and producers are not faceless corporations, and it hurts when our trust is abused. Retail is moving away from being a cash business and opportunities for trousering cash are reducing, but stock is another matter. Would many of us notice the disappearance of an occasional jar of chutney or a waxed cheese?

During last Christmas’ frenzy another friend elected to deal with incoming deliveries, a task usually delegated to her team. One courier was particularly helpful; she presented him with a jar of own-label pickles as a thank you. “Very kind,” he said, “but I’ve got a shelf full of that one – any chance of another flavour?” Her staff had been routinely dishing out freebies to all and sundry. Perhaps they might have seen her doing similarly, but she was shocked.

The solution to these issues is a clear policy that sets boundaries for team members. I’d suggest a generous discount scheme that encourages staff to try products. The level of that discount depends on your gross profit margin – I was gobsmacked to hear that a similar retailer was offering staff discounts at over twice the level I had allowed. Then I realised that their margin was closer to 60% rather than the 40% at which I traded. I made it clear to all employee that as the business owner, I was the only person entitled to give stock away, with the exception of ‘on date’ cheese which I suggested they gift in small 100g portions to regular customers at the end of their shopping. Team members were also allowed to take any remainders home, as long as it was first cleared with me. We all like to know where we stand, and too much largesse might swell staff egos but shrink profits.

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