How to Prevent Theft at Your Wine and Liquor Store

Don't let profits walk out the door.
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Adopting a plan to protect your inventory and employees is crucial for liquor store owners. (Photo: d13/Shutterstock)

Between shoplifting and employee theft, liquor and wine store profits can literally walk out the door.

“The value of your inventory is extremely high,” said John Cocklin, former chief investigator with the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control and now an expert in police practices and alcohol regulation with Robson Forensic in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “You have a lot to protect.”

Owners don’t have to be left holding the bag. Security experts share ways to foil thieves and improve loss prevention efforts.

Implement background checks

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Background checks for all employees should be a mandatory policy for liquor store owners, says Chris McGoey, president of McGoey Security Consulting. (Photo: Chris McGoey)

Chris McGoey, president of McGoey Security Consulting in Los Angeles, recommends a store policy of background checks for all new employees. This step will help ensure you’re hiring responsible staffers who can be trusted not to steal, as well as help keep a watchful eye.

“Employees know your system, procedures and how your inventory is monitored,” said McGoey. “They can pick out a weak operation pretty fast, and those with weak operations will have higher losses. It happens every time. You also don’t want to just hire some lug who stands around, texts with friends and never moves out from behind the cash register. You want someone interested in customer service.”

Don’t allow staff to carry purses or bags into the store’s main area. And keep storage sections locked, Cocklin advised.

Look for shoplifters tells

Shoplifters often display common behavior that staff can be on the lookout for, said Jeff Zisner, president and CEO of AEGIS Security and Investigations in Culver City, California.

For example, be on alert for small groups in which one person is overly chatty with a clerk while another goes for the product. Also be suspicious of people who glance at the clerk but then look away when they connect, spend excessive amounts of time browsing or pick up items and then head in the opposite direction of the clerk.

Walk the aisles

Staff should routinely walk the aisles. This serves two important purposes, said McGoey. First, they can assist the vast majority of customers who just need a little guidance, and second, they can deter a possible theft if they witness something amiss.

“Look them right in the eye and ask if you can help them,” he said. “Once you do that a couple times, they’re going to get the message. ‘They’re paying too much attention to me. I have to find another place.’”

Make it tough to steal

The store’s setup also can make theft more challenging, said Cocklin. He suggested putting “airplane” bottles and pints (prime impulse shoplifting items) behind the counter, grouping all high-end liquor and wine in easily observable, well-lit areas and creating a relatively narrow entrance and exit.

“You don’t want a 20-foot-wide entrance like at Target,” he noted. “You want to funnel people through to identify intoxicated and underage customers, which has the secondary effect of making them know they will be screened entering and exiting. Their getaway becomes problematic.”

Have an eye in the sky

For any blind spots, use mirrors and video cameras, along with signage announcing “you are being watched,” said McGoey. Also place cameras by the cashier stations, loading docks and front entrance/exit, along with a video monitor so people can see themselves — would-be thieves may get cold feet.

Cameras go hand in hand with a point of sale system that helps to track inventory and sales, added Cocklin. “If you’re supposed to have five bottles of Grey Goose on the shelf and you only have four, what happened? You can look at the tape and find out.”

In the event of an armed robbery

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Always be on the lookout for possible signs of theft, including watching customers who spend an excessive amount of time browsing or talking with a clerk, says Jeff Zisner, president and CEO of AEGIS Security and Investigations. (Photo: Jeff Zisner)

The threat of an armed robbery is an unfortunate reality of the business. The right way to react to such a robbery is a tricky matter, though, said Zisner. If a staff member owns a firearm and has permission from an owner or manager to keep it at work, he or she must be trained and proficient with it.

“Understand that you are now willing to take on the responsibility and liability of discharging the weapon,” said Zisner. “If there is a robbery, is it worth it for you to try to fight back or better to just give them the money? That’s a decision you need to make as an individual.”

Cocklin generally leans toward not antagonizing. “Give them want they want,” he said. “Cooperate, because the chances of a violent outcome will be diminished. That’s probably the smartest thing to do.”

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