While it's impossible to completely protect your business from staff theft, there are a number of precautions that you can take to reduce the chances of it happening.Check references
Mike Schuck, assistant director for retail crime policy at the British Retail Consortium, advises managers to actually go and see previous employers to get the low-down on new members of staff.
"You want to know if a person left in the middle of the week, or if they left without giving notice. If somebody claims they were made redundant it's always worth checking that out too to see if they're telling the truth."
The next step is to explain to all members of staff the security controls operating in your business. Make sure everybody knows what will happen to them if they're caught stealing, then at the very least they can evaluate the risks involved before they pilfer.
You should also ensure the lines of authority and responsibility are clearly defined - staff need to know who they're responsible to and for. That way you stand a much better chance of a member of your team confiding in you if somebody is stealing.
It may be a tedious task but you have to put in place systems that will alert you to possible staff theft problems. For example, you should be able to average out cash flow and sales over a week and over a month. This allows you to build up a picture of how much you should be taking on a Monday in September, say.
Once you've got that information you can then spot any anomalies, you can see if takings or stock levels are abnormally down. It's also worth doing a few sums to work out the average sale per checkout person, which makes it easier to work out if a particular person is not ringing goods through the till.
Not only does this allow you to spot any changes but it also sends a message to your staff that you're keeping a close eye on your business. "It's not a question of spying on people - if you've got procedures and practices and you exercise them you're saying to your staff 'I'm aware of what's going on in my business'. Staff won't think they're being accused of being dishonest, they'll just see it as part of the normal process of supervision," explains Schuck.
Till discipline is vital. One of the easiest ways for staff to pocket cash is to simply not ring items through the till. A sneaky tip here is to price goods at 99p, that way pretty much everything will have to go through the till because the customer will want their penny change.
It's also a good idea not to hold too much cash in tills as it can be a temptation. You only really need to carry enough cash to give change from a £50 note, all the surplus notes should be removed regularly.
You should also set up a system whereby a note has to be made every time the till is opened without a sale going through. If one person makes more 'no sales' than your other staff members, either there's a training issue (they don't know how to use the till) or there's something more sinister going on that you need to investigate fully.
Glenn Bolton is the retail audit manager for the brewery company Fullers and he advises his bar and pub managers to carry out regular spot cash checks on tills to make sure there are no discrepancies.
The theft of stock is another temptation in pubs and Bolton is savvy to some of the tricks members of staff play: "Bottles of mineral water are often sold with meals and we have known staff to fill these bottles up with vodka and to put them on the tables of friends. Their mates then leave with the bottle. We don't stop them because we think they're just taking the mineral water home with them."
In an attempt to keep track of spirits Fullers tells its managers to keep the stores locked and to run an 'empty bottle for a full one' exchange policy.
Stock control is a thorny issue in many small businesses. Unless you have some kind of computerised system all you can really do is carry out regular stock takes and check your sales carefully against orders from suppliers.