Every retailer grapples with losses from shoplifting. According to Troy Price, host of the Flea Market Money Maker Show podcast, theft is a fact of life for a vendor. “It’s going to happen,” he says on a recent episode. “It’s a fact. There are ways to mitigate it, though.”
For one thing, make sure that there are human eyes on your merchandise as much as possible, says Price. “Cut your booth in half with a long table and stand behind it,” he says, “so you can see everything that is going on with your items that are displayed.”
Melanie L. Marten, who frequently writes on flea market topics, also advises a careful watch. Her list of telltale shoplifting clues include:
- shoplifters working in pairs — one person to distract, another to steal.
- shoppers who set bags on your table, adding your items to their bags when you aren’t looking.
- the brazen thieves who just grab and run.
One possible solution? “Make it difficult or time consuming for them to steal from you,” says Troy Price. For example, tape boxes securely shut. That way, customers can’t open the packages, remove the product, and then replace the packaging.
Some vendors are savvy in their product arrangement, according to Steven Brown. They place the merchandise that’s worth less, including the stuff they can hardly give away, at the edges. “When you lay out your tables, keep your expensive items located in a central area of the tables. Have the less valuable items on the outlying tables further away from you,” he says.
Brown also recommends limiting the amount of expensive items, like jewelry, that you let other people handle at one time. “When handing your expensive items to potential buyers, only give out TWO items at any ONE time to any TWO customers to examine,” writes Brown. “And always make eye contact with and acknowledge anyone waiting, and say ‘Be with you in a minute.’ Meanwhile, keep your main attention focused on the folks handling your expensive goods.”
Another option includes security products you can buy that make it hard to steal from you. While you are open, that can include display cases and cabinets. “The nice thing about a case is that people can look without the clerk’s assistance,” says Joel Leach, president of cabinet maker Spin Display. “They can see everything very closely, but they can’t touch it. They can’t reach in and grab something.”
Cashbox security is also an area of concern. According to Eric Weinstein, owner of Specialty Store Services, a lockbox or a portable cash drop box is a good solution. “With a cash drop box,” he says, “you just drop cash in the slot on the top and it’s secure.”
While you are closed or on a break, a security feature to consider might include a lockable tarp.
But what should you do when you actually catch a thief? First, use your voice. “Alert your fellow vendors,” says Steve Brown. “For example, call out to them, ‘HEY SAM! I’VE GOT A THIEF OVER HERE!’ This really turns the tables on the thief! We all dislike thieves … and thieves really hate any attention. Upon hearing you call out this warning to your neighboring vendors, the thieves will instantly disappear!”
Finally, look for the silver lining. “Document your losses. Your loss through theft might be something you are able to claim as a business expense,” says Troy Price.