There are a lot of ways to make money in the automotive parts business. There are also a lot of ways to lose money in the parts business. That's the nice thing about the free enterprise system: Your ultimate success or failure is a direct result of the decisions you make given the circumstances confronting you.
The exception to this is the people who take the concept too far and whose idea of free enterprise is to get what you have for free. Whether you want to call it inventory shrinkage or just plain theft, the end result is the same.
Back in 1983 when I started working at the store I'm at now, I knew almost all of my customers by name — even the walk-ins — and they knew me. In that kind of atmosphere it's hard to imagine that someone would blatantly steal from you. Times change and the town has grown, but there are only two instances in the last three years (that I know of) where outright shoplifting has occurred. I also know that in the time I worked at our main location, it was enough of a problem that security cameras were installed. I guess this is the price you pay for putting your inventory on display. Along with attracting impulse buyers, you attract those whose impulses run counter to your interests.
There are lots of other ways for thieves to get at you besides walking in and filling their pockets. Misuse of someone else's charge account, non-payment on an open account and writing bad checks all are probably more common than shoplifting. In the latter two cases, you at least know with whom you're dealing, and if you've taken the proper precautions you can come out OK.
Unauthorized use of an account is where I've seen the worst abuses take place. We have 40 locations throughout New Hampshire and Vermont, and an open account in one location is good in all 40. We also have a lot of construction, tree workers and loggers with accounts, and the nature of their businesses means they could be working a long way from the store where they're known. Unless the customer has a main office that originates all of its purchase orders, your inventory is dependent on the honesty of the customer standing across the counter from you.
I fell prey to this myself a few years ago. The "customer" knew just what information was needed to access the account and went on quite a shopping spree at more than one of our stores. His own greed got him in the end, but it easily could have turned out differently. We were also lucky that the true account holder didn't place blame on us, but instead realized tighter controls on their part were needed. Under other circumstances, this type of thing can cause hard feelings all around and result in lost business as well as lost inventory.
It can be hard to accept that, despite all your efforts, you've been targeted successfully. It's a sad commentary on human nature that so much time, money and effort must be taken to prevent theft. All you can really do is chalk it up to the cost of doing business and factor the circumstances into your future decision making. The problem is that even with the most proactive planning, there are enough "free enterprise" practitioners out there to make it seem like everything you do is reactive instead.
Mike Gordon, a 20-year counter sales veteran, works the counter at Sanel Auto Parts, Concord, N.H.