Australia's leading thief catcher, Shane Windred, says pizza shop owners are losing up to 7 percent of their gross takings from staff theft.

"The fast food industry in general is one of the last bastions of ready, unaccountable cash. Pizza stores in particular are at an even greater risk because of late trading hours, often without the owner in attendance," warns Shane Windred, head of Loss Prevention Australia's Stop Thief division. Shane leads a new group of professionals who identify and catch staff thieves, vandals and shoplifters. He warns pizza store operators to take preventative action. "Enormous damage can be done by those on your side of the counter," Shane says.

Windred says pizza storeowners tend to focus on easy targets such as new, young staff, "but all staff, especially those who have an understanding of your business need to be included in preventative action, even family members," he says.

Windred's warning is supported by The Australian Institute of Criminology. In its report Preventing Retail Crime, the Institute says that large department stores lose up to 1.25 percent on gross earnings, but up to 7 percent in loss in small stores with one owner and a few employees.

Case Dell Pizza owner Sam Wehbeh has had years of theft from his Frankston store. "It's difficult to keep the one person at the cash register because we sometimes have 20 customers waiting to be served," Sam says. "We think we lose about $300 per week that we know of. We also lose stock, food and drink that staff, usually managers, take home. We sack people, but then there is the issue of their replacement."

Domino's Pizza NSW operations manager Grant Bourke says theft is a critical issue that needs precise management. "Restricting access to cash registers is one strategy that suits our style of business, but it doesn't suit everyone," Grant says. He also says security cameras give protection across a range of issues including drunks and vandalism. "Cameras provide a strong deterrent and assist police with their investigations. Their success increases the camera's deterrent effect."

Loss Prevention's Shane Windred says that preventing staff theft from cash registers and other areas of the business can be the most effective way to improve margin. "Seven percent of gross translates to $7,000 for every $100,000 in annual revenue. Decreasing that figure can be more rewarding than a new marketing campaign," he says.

Shane's team at Loss Prevention develops strategies according to each business and sometimes involve one of the team working in the store. "Whatever else you do, a security camera system installed under the guidance of a theft expert is necessary for ongoing management," he says. "Camera systems need features where staff can't turn them off, and with automatic recording that doesn't require staff involvement. Remote viewing allowing you to see the store from wherever you are is a must. You only need to use remote viewing occasionally for it to have a dramatic and positive effect. In fact," he says, "honest staff appreciate such systems because they also help protect them from armed robbery and demonstrate that they are not thieves."

Shane also says that some thieves involve themselves in sophisticated procedures over long periods of time. "They'll stay their hand immediately after the installation of cameras and you'll notice it immediately in your takings."

Shane says that hidden cameras should be used with caution. "There is little doubt as to the effectiveness of hidden cameras. You can catch your suspect within days," he says. After Justice Wood probed into NSW Police he noted that he could not have placed the same degree of reliance on any other evidence. "Cameras don't lie," says Windred. "But, one is not helped by government regulations, and you can face moral outrage if your strategy is detected. You become the sneak," he warns. "It doesn't matter that you are trying to resolve an extremely difficult and often heartbreaking issue."

Shane says that appropriate action can deter theft indefinitely. Without such action you will most likely enter into an ongoing cycle of hiring and firing and you will be a permanent target. "One can't change nature. It's a fool who swims against the tide." For more information: Ian Brooke 02 9386 1690 (Australia).

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