Tackling crime is a tough job for any retailer, especially when your store is in a challenging area. Aidan Fortune meets a manager who has reaped the rewards of standing her ground.

It’s no surprise that Costcutter Layton in Blackpool was a magnet for shoplifters. A methadone clinic nearby meant that drug users were often in the area, looking for something they could steal and sell on. That, combined with crowds hanging around outside, made for a difficult working and shopping environment.

What is surprising, though, is the transformation manager Fred Close has made to crime levels since she took over the running of the business.

Fred recalls how the shoplifters weren’t fussy about what they took. “They’d nick anything they could get their hands on,” she remembers. “They’d look for the usual stuff such as baby food, coffee, alcohol, meat and cheeses, but in all honesty they’d grab whatever they could get away with.”

She was brought in as manager to run the business while store owner Mike Moore ran the neighbouring pharmacy, and she realised she had a challenge on her hands right from beginning.

“The shoplifting rate was astronomical,” she says. “On my very first day someone stole a whole tray of bacon and nobody stopped him. I got the bacon back and swore that I wouldn’t stand for it anymore.”

Her first decision was to improve the store’s CCTV, not only to catch perpetrators on camera, but also to send a message to would-be criminals. “Our system has 29 cameras and is extremely high resolution,” she says. “The police are very impressed by it as it provides a huge amount of detail about a suspect and gives them a better chance of catching them.”

Fred isn’t afraid to stand her ground with those caught stealing, but after several violent incidents it was decided that CCTV alone wasn’t enough. “I had a few punches thrown at me by shoplifters we had caught, and when the store owner Mike came in and saw blood on my face he insisted on getting a security guard,” she says.

Zero Tolerance Award for Crime Prevention

Winner: Costcutter Layton, Blackpool

The judges were impressed by Fred’s dedication to cutting crime. She has slashed incidences of shoplifting and anti-social behaviour, and through working with local schools and the police has helped the entire community.
In an area that is often plagued by crime, Fred has managed to create a safe working environment, where customers can shop without fear of intimidation.

Although not all managers welcome security guards, Fred says that it has had huge benefits. “Our team feels safe and staff turnover has reduced by 80% since the guard started,” she explains. “At first, customers were wary and thought they were being watched, but when the security guard stopped a customer being pickpocketed, word spread and shoppers are happy he’s here.”

She also introduced a fingerprint identification system to help prevent underage sales. “Underage drinking used to be a big problem around here, so we introduced a fingerprint system to create a register of customers who were eligible to buy alcohol,” says Fred. “We also have POS around the store warning that we will ask for identification if a customer looks under 25, and that we keep a log of refusals.”

This high level of diligence paid off when Fred felt she had been unfairly targeted in a Trading Standards test purchasing sting. “I had refused several people already that day and had updated the log,” she explains. “However when they caught me out, the test purchaser looked older than 25. We sought legal advice and described all the steps we take, and the case was thrown out of court.”

Despite this experience, Fred works with Trading Standards to ensure that staff act responsibly. “We make sure staff know to check ID and log it in the book if they refuse someone,” she says.

Although they take a hard line on crime, Fred and her team aren’t above exercising some common sense, especially when it comes to younger customers. “One time we noticed a usually well-behaved schoolgirl attempting to shoplift,” she explains. “We discovered that she had been bullied into stealing, so we took the decision to talk to her school. The school spoke to the children involved, which was enough to stop the problem without having to get the police involved.”

However, Fred has a different punishment for younger shoplifters stealing of their own free will. “We get them to work a few hours in the shop to teach them a lesson,” she says. “We get the parents’ consent and make them do some of the more horrible jobs, such as picking up cigarette butts from outside or cleaning out the milk fridge. We never have a repeat offender and the parents think it’s a great idea.”

Fred says such initiatives have also helped to build a good relationship with the police. “When I first arrived, nobody called the police, but that soon changed as I wanted them to know that I meant business,” says Fred. “I don’t call them for every crime, but give them the details and CCTV footage when they come in. If a shoplifter is being threatening or is refusing to give us their details then we’ll call the police. That way, they know it’s serious and give it their full attention. It helps that we only have one or two attempted thefts a week now - before it used to be three or four a day.”

Fred’s no-nonsense style of crime prevention makes her a deserving winner of our Zero Tolerance Award for Crime Prevention.•