I was ready for a new challenge and in joining Senelco I was linking up two prior occupations – retail security and rental.
The Senelco product featured a pair of white boxes placed either side of a retail store’s exit that would set off an alarm if someone tried to remove merchandise with security tags still attached. The tags were sold but the kit was rented à la Xerox.
The boxes put out two signals a fairly widely transmitted electrostatic signal that enlivened the tags, which consisted internally of a small chip and aerial. These were provided in a variety of forms, attached by simple plastic ties to powerful alligator clips that needed a device to remove them. The second transmission was a microwave signal that formed a domed shaped field right at the door. If the tags, enervated by the general electrostatic emission, entered the microwave zone then the alarm sounded.
It was not foolproof, its dome when measured carefully was not a coherent shape it was more akin to a Swiss cheese with holes in the field. Its dimensions would bulge and shrink in changing weather conditions. Shop-lifters learned that if you tucked the item’s tag deep into your armpit, usually a garment, then it was not always detected. If you had a shopping bag lined with metal foil this could beat the system too, but if you were caught with one of these, then you had come ‘equipped to commit crime’ and any legal action would be much tougher on you. Several girls on Oxford Street were able to bite off the tough clips that took mere human beings quite a big lever device.
But this overlooks one major point. Theft from rag-trade shops was not just about members of the public through the front door, stuff was also stolen by staff through the back door. By putting a Senelco device at the front door, the rear door theft became constrained too. They could no longer pass it off as thieving customers. We routinely installed our kit and reduced ‘shrinkage’ from 6.0% to 0.5% – it was seldom entirely eliminated because administration systems contributed to apparent theft too.
Black & White
Our rental arrangement meant that we would make more money long-term, but our problem was that once the shrinkage had been virtually eliminated then the retailer soon forgot the problems that they had before our system was installed – and saw only our cost each month. I devised a monthly mailer I called ‘Black & White’ (probably not acceptable today!). On the ‘Black’ side I would reproduce press accounts of retail shrinkage, on the ‘White’ side would be significant and amusing stories submitted by our clients.
My favourite story from this publication was from Burtons on Regent Street. An under-manager saw someone trying to steal an item, the alarm sounded, and the customer dropped the item and ran off. Most retail staff would have seen that as a result, job done. But this young man took chase, the thief crossed Regent Street and the Burton-ite kept pace on the opposite side of the road until he could cross too. Once on the same side he found there was a guy keeping pace with him. In plain-clothes he pulled out his police warrant card, saying ‘Special Branch’ and asked what was happening. The two followed the thief as he turned left down New Burlington Street. They yelled ‘Stop, thief!’, the guy turned to see who was chasing him and ran full tilt in to a concrete lamp-post. They picked up the dazed guy and carried him into Savile Row police station.
Another was from a rag-trade shop in Piccadilly Manchester. Staff thought a guy had been in a changing booth rather too long, on checking they found him climbing out of a window. They gave chase and caught him a few hundred yards away. The guy wearing the stolen jacket said, ‘He wanted to see what it looked like in the daylight!’ There was no shortage of these accounts for us to try to encourage retailers to keep their Senelco system installed.
Perhaps the worst personal story was the day, I was with an engineer tagging items in a Sony showroom in the West End. It was not a sales point just a demo store, none of the items were expected to leave the premises. So we were opening them and inserting tags in their innards. We were sharing a small socket and screwdriver set – it was stolen from right between us! In the same outlet, the Sony store staff tagged the charity ‘Blind Box’ and caught a number of people trying to steal it every week.
Senelco tried to extend the system to cover album LPs and books but it remained mostly of interest to rag-trade stores. The senior management attention focused more on expansion into Australia and South Africa, in which I was not involved. I didn’t see this as being of long-term interest for me.