Ideas to Reduce Shrink at Your Travel Center as Retail Theft Increases

Isaiah Britt, merchandising manager for Donna’s Truck Stop in Marysville, Washington, said shrink of even small items can add up to big losses.  “If you’re stealing $100 from me, that has a bigger impact than if you’re stealing from Walmart,” he said.
Ideas to Reduce Shrink at Your Travel Center as Retail Theft Increases

Article created for the June digital issue of  

Loss is an unfortunate reality for retailers, but retail theft, or shrink, can be devastating to small businesses. A National Retail Security Survey by the National Retail Federation showed that shrink is increasing and has become almost a $100 billion problem.

According to the survey, 88% of retailers said that the pandemic increased overall risk for their company with 37% of shrink caused by external theft and 28.5% from employee or internal theft. The survey listed control failures at 25.7%.

Isaiah Britt, merchandising manager for Donna’s Truck Stop in Marysville, Washington, said shrink of even small items can add up to big losses.  “If you’re stealing $100 from me, that has a bigger impact than if you’re stealing from Walmart,” he said.

Confronting Shoplifters
There are times when trying to stop shoplifters has been stressful, but Britt says he sometimes tries to make a game of it. “I’ll take a less aggressive approach and have a cordial type of interaction. They’re not expecting it and it will catch them off guard,” he said, adding that sometimes they'll just give the item back.

The hard part is when people opt to just leave with the product. “I know they have it, but people will deny, deny, deny,” Britt said. “We can’t hold them there, and the cops aren’t going to do anything. As a result, because shoplifters know there aren’t consequences, shoplifting has increased significantly in the last couple of years.”

Even still, Britt has implemented several measures to help reduce theft. “I feel like we could have been in a lot worse situation if we haven’t been as proactive as we are,” he said.

Donna’s Truck Stop has added front tags on hooks that have to be unlocked. After Britt saw someone grab and remove the whole hook, he added zip ties to secure them. “All the hooks have holes in the back, so I put zip ties in the back,” he said, adding that the downside is that he has to cut the zip ties when making adjustments to the displays.

Effective Ways to Reduce Shrink
Darren Schulte, NATSO’s vice president of membership, has shared several tips with truckstop and travel stop operators to help them reduce theft. He outlined 12 actionable steps operators can take to immediately improve their shrink management program in a NATSO webinar. These include walking the store, keeping associates busy and keeping storage areas locked. “I’m always shocked at how easy it is to walk into back rooms and offices,” he said.

Schulte also recommends operators review security footage, conduct random cash audits, conduct counts and take inventory. “Don’t have people do counts and then not address the issue if there is something short. It sends the message that it is okay or they won’t get caught,” Schulte said, adding that it is also important to check in vendors and spot-check invoices.

Unfortunately, the greatest losses come from employees and vendors. Schulte advised operators to pay attention to their employees and address even the smallest theft, such as an employee who takes a drink or snack without paying.

“You may see someone eating popcorn and you don’t think it is a big deal, but it is. It shows he has no respect for you and your organization,” he said.

Watch for Void or No-Sale Rings
Employers should also watch for void or no-sale rings on the cash register. “When you see that, there is a good chance that money is coming out and not going in,” Schulte said. Retailers can also invest in systems that send real-time information on no-sales so managers can visit the sales floor to see what is happening.

Inventory audits and cash audits can also help prevent losses, Schulte said. He recommends operators and managers show up unannounced, pull the till, count it and make sure it balances.

If an inventory or cash audit reveals a problem, Schulte said operators and managers should address the situation directly with employees through interviews. “Sit down with each employee and ask them questions. Are you aware of our shrink? Have you seen anything? Allow them to share with you what they’ve seen. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn and how much better your operations will run,” he said. “This is your store and your money. You have to figure out what happened.”

To prevent vendor loss, Schulte suggests managers be present when vendors check in, only allow one vendor at a time on the sales floor and review invoices carefully, especially those that have high returns.

Managers should also look at the inventory as it comes in. “Open up the boxes and look in each one. The smartest thing that a vendor will do is take one item out of each case, make their own case and glue up the box and during the check-in process just count cases/boxes. Your vendors stock most of your coolers as an example, so you’re never going to know,” if one of them is doing something like this he said.

In addition, retailers should not allow vendors to count the product themselves during the check-in process and never allow products to be counted in multiples, and vendors should flatten their boxes before they leave.

Implementing checks and balances can help reduce the risk of theft. “Reducing shrink is super important for increasing profitability. It is money plain and simple,” Schulte said.

A Multi-Pronged Approach
The National Retail Federation has said it will take a “whole community” approach to resolve retail theft, especially in situations where organized crime is involved. “Retailers must continue working with law enforcement and communities to provide data, report incidents and work locally and nationally to support investigations,” the association said on its website. “Law enforcement must partner across communities, along with the retail industry, to focus on disrupting those coordinating and leading these organized enterprises.”

// This article was created for Stop Watch magazine, the magazine of the NATSO Foundation. The NATSO Foundation is the research, education and public outreach subsidiary of NATSO, Inc. The NATSO Foundation provides programs and products aimed at strengthening travel plazas’ ability to meet the needs of the traveling public through improved operational performance and business planning. Visit for more information. (Donate to the NATSO Foundation here.)

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