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8:48 am - Tue 2/11/03
Borders Booty Music
Mon 2/10/03 9:15 am

Borders Booty Music

(I imagine that title might bear some explanation; For a time, some of the lights in our store sign were burnt out, so instead of "Borders Books And Music", at night our sign read "Borders Boo d Music". I thought that was pretty funny, joking that I'd just found the perfect title for my upcoming autobiography: "Booty Music; The Jim Hoffmaster Story".)

I was surprised, and felt oddly vindicated, by a recent development at the bookstore; Last week, it was announced that the LP program at Borders was being discontinued.

"LP" stands for "loss prevention". It was a position I held at one point for a couple months--a position I took completely for the dollar-an-hour pay "bump"---and the first position I ever "stepped down from" because I was uncomfortable having such a stupid, pointless job.

The trouble with the program, in my mind? There was no training, you were not invested with any authority, and beyond a handful of simple tasks, it was not clear exactly what the job entailed. The basic idea, as you'd gather from the title, was to prevent loss (i.e. shoplifting). But beyond being a visible "presence"--hence the Borders polo-shirt "uniforms"--and offering to "help" suspicious characters, which everyone at the store is supposed to do anyway, there was absolutely nothing you could do to stop someone from stealing. Due to legal/liability issues, you can't touch a suspected shoplifter or anything they're carrying, you can't block their way from an exit, you can't use the word "shoplifting" or "stealing" or anything similar, and once they're out the door, you can't follow them (Brad W., one of my friends at the store and a current LP guy, actually did chase down a shoplifter once, recovering hundreds of dollars of stolen cds, and was reprimanded for his effort).

From my understanding of the situation, a particularly brazen thief could, in full view of anyone who works at the bookstore, put $1000 worth of cds in a bag and walk out, and there'd be nothing anyone could do to stop him.

(Our store has a major problem with "shrink", particularly with multimedia stuff; I don't know if it's still the case, but at one point, 10% of all dvds leaving the store were being stolen.)

Anyway, in my mind, the program was poorly thought out, badly executed, and an example of how, at the corporate level, Borders wants to do things on the cheap for small, short term gain.

So what do I think the store needs, if we have such a chronic issue with "shrink" that it's now referred to as "hypershrink"? I think we need to have either uniformed security at the exits, plainclothes store detectives, or both, with the power to detain people and make arrests and all that good stuff. And we need a system so everyone in the store can be made aware of suspected shoplifters, or people who have been banned from the store outright; I recently prevented the theft of a couple dozen graphic novels--yay for me!--and it was only after the fact that I found out the thief in question had stolen from us before and actually been banned from the store (The guy in question actually came back to the store again a night or two later, the cheeky bastard, but had the misfortune to run into Brad W., who had banned him from the store in the first place. But if Brad hadn't been working--and it was on one of my days off--no one would have been the wiser. Obviously, this is a thief who has a pretty good understanding of how things work, or fail to work, at Borders).

Anyway, the repercussions of this decision, on a personal level, is that AJ and Brad, our two LP people, now have uncertain futures; The idea, they've been told, will be to try and keep them on at their current pay rate, as kind of "booksellers plus", with some amorphous extra duties to justify the extra salary (And to be honest, if that actually flies, I'd like that position myself; I'd be happy to check the employee holds, see if the alarms are working, and crap like that, if I was still primarily a bookseller, and it meant another buck an hour). But I don't think that's gonna play, and now they'll both be subject to the whims of Borders cost-cutting (Not only could they potentially lose a dollar an hour, but now that they're back to being booksellers, their hours can be cut like anyone elses; One of the few additional perks of the LP position was that the LP budget was seperate from the regular staffing budget, and was not subject to cuts in hours).

And at the store level, management is not happy either; One of the duties of LP people were "bag checks", to make sure employees aren't taking anything out the door with them they aren't supposed to, so now that there aren't LP people anymore, that's 20 more interruptions a day for the managers. And more than that, it's yet another mixed message from Corporate; "This store had a major problem with 'shrink', and we think it's a really serious problem, and you need to do something about it, but we're going to cut your Loss Prevention program" (I may think it's a stupid program, but I also think, in this case, that something is better than nothing, and at this writing, nothing is in place to fill the void. There's talk of "store detectives" being hired, one per region--that would be one guy for four stores--but in my mind, that's yet another half-assed measure; How much good will having someone at the store 25% of the time do?).

I connect this, in my mind, with the periodic cuts in hours. There's this great wailing about how badly the store's doing (Though recently, with the closing of Bookstar, a nearby Barnes and Noble offshoot, our sales have actually been up over last year), so the answer is to cut back drastically on staffing hours, pretty much assuring the store will look like crap, and the staff will feel overworked and demoralized and somewhat less than "friendly" (But perhaps an even more serious issue is that stock doesn't get out on the floor in anything approaching a timely fashion. It seem pretty simple--If you don't have the people to do it, it doesn't get done).

And on a basic level, I get why staffing gets cut--It's a "fluid" expense, and not "fixed" like the price of buying books or what-have-you--but for a retail establishment that supposedly prides itself on its attractive, well-stocked stores and friendly, knowledgeable staff, it seems to be, ultimately, a self-destructive proposition.

(I think, instead of making this entry any more "epic", that I'll continue on in a new entry...)


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