There's a new sheriff in town ...
Ahhh, the old shoebox ... There was a time when a strong shoebox and a lot of trust were all you needed to get by in the parking industry. Walk by, collect the cash, and be on your way. No worries, no machines breaking down, no information errors -- perfect! Wasn't it? Well it was if you weren't concerned about efficient operations or control of your revenue.
The parking industry has come a long way. There are now automated facilities, smart cards, debit cards, online parking arrangements and payments -- all kinds of wonderful innovations that have brought the industry into the 21st century. However, one area of our industry has been slow to follow the lead of their operational counterparts -- the auditing department.
I have been in the loss prevention business since 1985, holding various positions from Security Manager to LP Director in traditional retailers such as TJ Maxx, Pharmor and J.Baker. Looking for fresh horizons to explore, while remaining in my chosen profession, I found my parking spot in the fall of 2001. They were looking for an "Audit Manager," and since I had the qualifications, I decided to pursue employment with them. The industry intrigued me, and working in a nontraditional loss prevention environment was one reason I was job-hunting in the first place.
During the interview process, I realized that "Audit Manager" in the parking world was just that -- manage the audits that were being completed and identify any potential losses. There didn't seem to be a lot of thought put into the causes behind the losses or the reasons for some of the preventive measures that were used. For the most part, this reactive approach appeared to be fairly common in the parking industry. It was then I realized that I could bring a value-added service by developing this sector of the business into a proactive Loss Prevention Department. I started two weeks later, and the name was officially changed from " Audit Department" to "Loss Prevention Department."
My first task was to learn the parking industry. Like most people, I thought you just parked your car, got a ticket and that was it. Easy money, easy to run -- did anyone see my shoebox?
Once grasping a basic working knowledge of the industry, I set my sights on the LP department. I thought there should be no reason we couldn't break the mold and base it on a retail model. This would require a mindset change on the part of current audit staff -- as well as some of the home office personnel -- who were not familiar with some of the changes that were to come. Staff, both field and home office, proved receptive and supportive.
I believe that the front-line employees -- cashiers and attendants -- are the main reason for a company's success, as well as its failures, and this is where we started to implement the changes. An early partnership was forged with the Human Resources Department. A loss prevention perspective was given to HR regarding pre-hire screening programs and testing. Hire the right people from the start.
After that, LP participated in the new hire orientation program. About 45 minutes of each employee's operational orientation is dedicated to loss prevention. The LP Department delivers the message directly to the employees regarding the company's culture of honesty, emphasizing the expectations relevant to revenue control. It's always better to prevent the loss from occurring than to catch a problem during an audit. We have had very positive results by increasing awareness on training and prevention. Also included in the orientation is a loss prevention awareness program aimed at controlling revenue and consistent transaction processing.
Another area suited for this proactive approach was the audit completion process. Gone are the days of the "random" audit. Information is now gleaned from the daily transactions, then analyzed in detail by the LP Department. Locations or even shifts within locations are identified and slated for audit. This allows us to identify potential issues at an early stage and to deal with them accordingly.
Even the types of audits we conduct were tweaked and refocused. Paper and clipboard audits have been replaced with Tablet PCs, which enable the auditors to document their field notes on-site and eliminates the redundancy of prepping an audit for publication once back in the office. Now, once the audit is completed, it is immediately forwarded to the appropriate supervisors for action.
Proactive rather than reactive has been the mantra of our managers as well. We have completed extensive training with management staff on many topics, including integral loss prevention areas. We trained them on the root causes of behavior, such as employee satisfaction and morale, rather than just the superficial "signs of problems" training common in many LP programs. Our managers now realize that they have a big impact on whether employees make a decision to create a loss.
Progressive thinking by all and increased cooperation among departments have set my company apart in the area of loss prevention. Trust and the shoebox -- aren't we glad we've progressed!
Charles J. Craige is Manager of Loss Prevention/Audit for Parkway Corp. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Walk by, collect the cash, and be on your way. No worries, no machines breaking down, no information errors -- perfect!