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Theft in the shops, pt. 2

by Art Little

Transmission Digest Magazine
This article appeared in the June 2002 issue of Transmission Digest.

Last time we talked about various forms of theft in the shops and how that effects your bottom line. Now let's discuss what you, as a shop owner, can do to protect yourself. Just like a builder needs tools to build a transmission, you will need tools to protect your shop from criminal activity. Let's take a look at some tools that will help you.

You need to let your employees know you will not tolerate theft. A notice posted that reads, " A reward will be paid for any information regarding theft from XYZ Transmissions, our employees or our customers" is a good start. So, post it for all to see and when it happens, pay the reward and do what you have to do. Most employee's will appreciate it because they have thousands of dollars invested in their tools and test equipment.

It is important to keep an inventory. Even if you do not keep an accurate inventory, you need to make the employees think you do. Take a clip board out and start checking inventory and ask a few questions every so often, just to keep them on their toes. Now, with computer technology there is really no reason why you can't keep an inventory. If you have not set an inventory up on a computer you are missing out on one of your most important tools to prevent theft in your shop.

While we are on the subject of the computer, it is also a great tool to prevent theft during the repair. Make a policy that every vehicle, even minor warranty work, must be entered into the computer when it comes in. Most software will track the job all the way through for you once it is entered into the system. You will be able to see sales, parts and labor breakdowns as well as other useful computer generated reports. This will help you assess theft in the shop if every vehicle is entered into the computer when it comes in. You have to consistently follow up on this policy if it is to work for you. If there is a vehicle on the lot that is not entered, you need to know about it and find out why.

A good way to enforce the policy, is to go in and print out a list of every work in progress vehicle that is on the lot for that particular day. Then, put the computer report on a clip board and walk the lot with your manager. Ask him about every car on the lot. A good manager will be able to answer your questions. If there is a vehicle on the lot that has not been entered into the computer, put him on notice that you require that all vehicles be entered into the computer as they come in. Go ask the builder where the parts are for a particular repair on your clip board. This management technique does not take long, but it sends a strong message to every one in the shop that you are not stupid and that you are watching what is coming in and going out. It is just good management to frequently do this on a random basis. If you do not have a computer, you can pull the repair orders and get the same effect.

A parts in / parts out table can help you keep parts from walking off. If you have parts laying all over your shop that need to be returned, it makes it easy for the thief to walk out with them. Set up a table and designate that table as the only place parts can be delivered. Assign one employee only to check in the parts. Draw a line down the middle of the table with paint. On one side paint "Parts In" and on the other side paint "Parts out". This is a good tool because the employee checking in the parts is responsible for all parts coming in and going out. And, it organizes a place that you can walk up to and easily see where the parts you are buying are.

There are always parts delivered that are wrong or, for one reason or another, need to be returned. It gives you a place to put parts that need to be returned. By doing so, it reminds the employee checking in parts to return the parts to the vendor and get your money back where it belongs. If the parts are promptly returned, they are not available for theft.

In my last article I told you the story of being charged different prices for the same parts. It is important that you keep a close eye on what you are spending on parts. Look at all parts purchases and make sure you are not being over charged. Find those parts people out there that know their business and are honest. Then, follow up periodically to keep them honest and let them know you are watching them.

Production reports are a good tool to evaluate theft of time. If you are paying a man for 40-50 hours of work and he is only producing 20 hours of work, you need to know it. I have met some pretty smart people in the transmission business but, I have yet to meet one that can remember exactly how many builds a builder had last month or yesterday or the week before. It is simply not something you can keep in your head. I have seen times when I thought a particular employee was under producing and needed to be fired and when I pulled up his production reports found I was wrong. You need production reports to help you remember.

A safe in the shop is a good tool to keep the criminals, customers and employees honest. When I was a manager I kept petty cash and cash collected in my left front pocket all day until I put it in the safe at closing time. Don't put cash collected in your desk with the repair order and wait until later to file it. Anyone can get into your desk and steal it from you when you are away from your desk. If you are having a big day and your pockets are full, take a moment and lock up the cash in the safe. Always put the money in the safe before you go home at night. Some one may be waiting to rob you in the parking lot or someone might break into the shop that night. A safe can be a good tool if you use it.

Write all checks for the shop and do not let anyone else have that authority. That will force you to keep up with what you are spending your money on and eliminate the white collar crime mentioned in last month's article. If you write all the checks, you take away the temptation of employees buying products for their personal use or spending your money on unauthorized purchases.

Tape recorders on the telephone are a good tool, controversial and sometimes illegal, but still a good tool if you use it right. I would let everyone know that I am taping the phones. So, if you don't want me to hear it, don't use my phones. Keeps the personal phone calls down and it is also a great tool to help managers improve their telephone procedure and service recommendations. You can play the recordings with your managers and talk about what can be done to improve sales. If they are blowing leads, you might not be able to call the police and have him arrested but, you can keep your competitors from stealing the next lead that calls your shop.

The tape recorder, as a tool, can be used in other ways. Send a decoy customer in to have his vehicle repaired at your shop and plant a tape recorder on him if you really want to get serious about it. You may be surprised at what you hear. I used to work for an owner that would tape a recorder under a desk so he could listen in on managers he thought were stealing from him. Hey, each to his own. Some people take theft more seriously than others.

Video cameras are common place in almost all businesses and are finding their way into the transmission shops now. There use as a deterrent to theft can not be overstated. Video serve lance can be set up inside and outside the shop. If someone knows they are being recorded they are less likely to steal from you.

The conventional alarm system is a must but I like the remote surveillance web cams as an add-on tool. This technology allows you to set up cameras through out the shop and view them at remote locations, like on your home computer or your lap top. You can sit at home and watch what is going on at your shop in real time day or night. You can also set it up so you can watch what is going on at home, while you are at work. They are relatively inexpensive now days and fairly easy to install. Super tools.

It is unfortunate that shop owners have to employ these tools and techniques to keep others from stealing from them. However, it is a necessary evil that all business men are faced with. We are fortunate to have the technology available now to make that job a little easier than it was ten years ago. Even though we know we can not completely eliminate theft from our shops, we can get some peace of mind by knowing we are doing everything we can by using the tools we have at our disposal. Until next time, take care of each other out there.

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