When I was about 18 – give or take a year, I worked at a store in Florida that was part of a now-defunct chain of lumber-hardware stores that competed with Home Depot. Those of you who know me have figured out the place.
On one particular day I was shuffling around the showroom, looking to see if there were any customers I could help. As I walked by the aisle where the bathroom faucets were displayed, I noticed a man probably in his 50s looking intently at them. I asked him if he needed any help; he said, “No thanks.”
A few minutes later I entered the main aisle in the center of the store. Looking up, I noticed this same man heading toward the front door of the store – not an exit, mind you. He pushed the turnstile backwards and matriculated his way through it, and as he exited the store it was obvious that something was protruding from the back of his shirt – and it had the exact size and shape of a bathroom faucet. Imagine that!
Without any regard for my own safety (yeah, right), I walked up to the man and said, not so diplomatically, “So, you gonna pay for that bathroom faucet you got in your shirt, or what?”
The man hesitated, threw open the door and took off like a bolt of lightning. I gave chase. He somehow bobbed and weaved his way through four lanes of busy traffic with me chasing close behind.
We ended up in the parking lot of a carpet store across the street, at which time I caught up with him, extricated the faucet from his shirt and went back into the store, expecting a hero’s welcome from my store manager and coworkers. As you’ll later find out, I miscalculated their reaction just a bit.
Now, many years later, I understand why. I could have been hurt. I could have hurt the guy; he was no “spring chicken.” Either of us could have been hit by a car. He could have sued the pants off of us. In fact, in today’s sue-happy society, if the same thing happened today it’d be a near certainty.
I was stupid, but when you’re 18 and you don’t really understand life yet, you think you are invincible. I honestly thought I was doing the store (and my manager, who was my friend) a favor. Looking back, I have no idea why I behaved that way, because I was (and still am) a very non-confrontational person by nature.
Suffice it to say the store’s managerial staff straightened me out on how to handle a shoplifter in the future.
So why did I tell you that story? Because I could have ended up like a Wal-Mart employee in Kingsport, TN. He was bitten on the arm trying to persuade a 44-year-old woman to re-think shoplifting from his store.
While the woman was ultimately caught and arrested, the contents in her purse amounted to $32.
The moral of this story is, if you work in retail and someone’s shoplifting, use some common sense! Don’t do what I did, and don’t do what this unfortunate dude at Wal-Mart did. Don’t try to be a hero. First of all, no one appreciates it – and second of all, it just isn’t worth the risk.
No, that isn’t the REAL moral of the story. The truth is, there isn’t a real moral. Reading about the guy at Wal-Mart made me think of the shoplifting “caper” of my own, and I thought I’d share.