June 2012 e-letter

Kerry Knudsen

Kerry Knudsen

The issue of employee theft struck close a few months back. A bicycle shop owner I know – let’s call him Ron – had been enjoying success and decided to expand to a nearby town with a second location. The launch was successful, but tough, as there was an established competitor. So it goes.

Focused on the competition, Ron started spending all his time at the new location and hired personnel to staff the home office. There were some indications that inventory was not matching invoices, and things that were supposed to be done were not, but Ron chalked it up to the cost of doing business; you can’t be everywhere all the time.

One day, Ron called the home office to ask for a part, but the employee he asked for was not there. In addition, there was something wrong in the voice of the worker that had answered, so Ron asked where the other employee was.

“Well,” he stammered, “they went to Ottawa.”

“They,” Ron asked?

Actually, it was all the staff for all shifts, leaving only one new-hire to run the shop. “Road Trip.”
Ron closed up quickly and headed for his office. As the story unfolded, bikes and parts had been sold on “special” to friends for cents on the dollar. Time was unaccounted for and inventory and cash was missing. Worse, Ron started finding unanswered customer complaints, which, when he followed up, were the tip of a public relations catastophe. His local reputation was trashed.
Ron had to close his second location to try to save the flagship, but even that finally failed. The shop is dark and a huge paper Closed sign blocks the view through the display window.

A short three blocks away, the owner of a tanning salon also opened a second location and left trusted employees in charge. The girls could not work alone at night for “safety reasons,” and they claimed to need double-staffing for customers. However, they were seen covering for each other, one watching the shop while the other chatted up other businesses’ employees in the area or had her hair or nails done at a nearby beauty shop.

So much for safety.

This owner saw the bleeding in time, sold out the second location and started back as he started out – serving his customers himself.

I hate to sound like some old guy saying “what is the world coming to,” but what is the world coming to? Is this kind of business-threatening theft so common it can destroy two businesses within a five-minute-walk of each other simultaneously in one small town?

I got a call from American Express a while back. They asked whether I had purchased gasoline in England the day before. I had not, they cancelled my card, issued a new one and assured me I would not be assessed. With credit card fraud, bank fraud and internet fraud, nobody gets assessed.

But somebody was assessed, wouldn’t you say? Gas, money and goods don’t vanish.
My wife has a convertible. Did you know the insurance rules say the car has to be locked in order to make a claim for theft? They do. However, if you have a convertible, the top can be down, but if you get robbed you better have the doors locked.

I have always wondered about the “lock-your-doors” policy. When I was a kid, nobody locked their doors. Obviously, stuff happened, since today everybody locks their doors. But along with locking our doors came the idea we had to, or if something happened, it was our fault. I can’t get my head around that. According to contemporary wisdom, if some mutant comes along and breaks into my car home or car, unless I have locked the door, it is my fault.

Forgive me for being slow, but I really think it is his fault. The crime is not in the door; it’s in the mutant.

With my friend the bike-store owner, the police said they really could not do anything. I don’t know why. This must be something new, since the police used to be able to do something. They used to call it “arrest the mutants.” Now, it appears, it’s the problem of the employer, the home owner or the credit card company.

I was about to ask what the police are doing, anyway, but I actually know. Macleans a while back said the government hired a bunch of extra cops for the G20 riots in Toronto, but could not let them go after the riots were over. Those cops, Macleans says, have nothing much to do, so they are setting up speed traps.

I think that is accurate. I drove into one last month that was occupying the time of five officers and cruisers. I got a ticket for 10 over, $40 and no points. This was a bonus, since I was going 31 over and paying attention to my son-in-law. If he were not talking, I would have seen the cops. Anyway, until that moment I had a sterling driving record, so they said I was not doing what I was doing, and charged me for the privilege. I am supposed to be grateful.

I am not grateful. I speed all the time. It’s a survival thing. I live outside Toronto, and if you try going 100 kph on the 410, you will get killed. The speed limit is 100, but the minimum for survival is 120. The average is north of that. If somebody wants to know the average speed on the main highways, all they have to do is review the 407 ETR (electronic toll route) computers. Pick up a car’s plate when it gets on, record it when it gets off and divide the kilometers by the time. It would be a piece of cake, and it would be north of 120.

To my thinking (and everybody else’s), the speed limit on the 400-series highways is too slow. However, rather than raise the limit and enforce it, the government just lets people speed. The same is true on the back roads and residential streets. No matter what the limit, people speed. Then, when it’s a holiday weekend, when business is slow or when the stars converge, a speed trap is set up, several thousand dollars of tickets are issued and the speed trap disappears, maybe never to be seen again in that spot.

I don’t consider that enforcement; I consider that extortion. It is certainly not a function of safety. If it were, they would enforce it regularly instead of intermittently, with sometimes years between actions.

I am not concerned about the $40 or the ticket. I earned it. It is nobody’s fault but my own. But if I am expected to accept responsibility for speeding, why should I also be expected to accept responsibility for people that rip off American Express, shop owners and robbers?

Let’s look again at the bike-shop thieves. Their identities are known, and much of what they took is documented. It was not theirs, they took it and they have no consequences. Sometimes the cops say with small crimes the cost of prosecution is too high or the cost of maintaining their sorry butts in jail is too high. But what about the shop owner? What about his home, his kids and the livelihoods of such honest employees as he might have acquired along the way?

It would be my guess that he might have been able to pull the business out of the fire, if only he had not had all the other costs – the governmental costs of compliance with regulations – that small businesses carry.

Back before the attacks on New York, in what is now known as 911, I recall seeing Mayor Rudy Giuliani on television. He was being congratulated for cleaning up New York and making it safe again. Some were criticizing him for forcing the “homeless” off their panhandling stands, but he said something on the order of “there are no minor crimes. If you don’t enforce the law, the law loses the people’s respect, and once the law loses respect, anything goes.” One has to wonder, if American Express or the police sanction theft and pass the costs along to us, directly or indirectly, aren’t they part of the problem? Where is our safety?

One has to wonder if the police would arrest the thieves, if American Express would pursue fraud, if the police would charge thieves and if employers were free to fire employees for malfeasance, whether the costs of doing business would go up, down or stay the same. Of course, one does not have to wonder much.

Quebec loses out

Citing “several key industry suppliers and industry associations,” Vance Publications, owner of Canada’s two trade shows, has announced the suspension of this year’s SIBO wood industry show, scheduled for October 18 and 19 in Laval, Que. Vance also recognizes that past surveys have indicated a desire on the parts of the industry to have a national edition of an industry trade show in Quebec. The next national show in Canada is slated by Vance to take place back at Mississauga’s International Centre, after a one-show hiatus, from October 24 – 26, 2013.

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