Prep work, LP involvement make retail events safer

By Eric White, eric.white@wrensolutions.com

Each year, retailers successfully host special events that draw crowds, generate excitement, and drive revenue. In many ways, retailers are the masters of events, putting on thousands each year with no incidents occurring.  Unfortunately, the events most noted in the media are those that go wrong and it only takes one event to do irreparable damage to the brand, trigger litigation, and bring the wrath of the media and unhappy customers.

Preparing for special events can be tricky, especially for the LP professional who, in many cases, must accept a given set of circumstances for the event and then manage that event to ensure no security or safety breaches occur.

Consider some of the complex variables that LP managers must manage through.  In the age of social media, crowds, such as a flash mob, can form faster than ever. Taking place without the knowledge of the retailer, a celebrity or group of fanatics can set up an impromptu meeting at a location, creating a wildcard event. LP professionals receive no advance notice, can’t predict the nature of the event or crowd size, and have little time to organize resources.

In other cases, other departments may make last-minute decisions or even fail to communicate, leaving LP managers unaware of critical insights that could create risks at the event. On top of all that, there are the traditional variables such as unpredictable weather, or other emergencies that could occur. All of these factors make it extremely challenging to anticipate and secure special events.

So how can LP professionals successfully plan for events? The answer lies in getting involved early. One of the best decisions an LP manager will ever make is to build relationships around the entire retail organization. This is because, unfortunately, when planning retail special events, retailers’ first thought is not necessarily: “let’s get the LP group involved.” However, much critical information and many important decisions are made early in the process. There are three key things LP can do during the early stages of the planning process to increase their chances of successfully protecting a special event.

Gain insight
A retail event is the product of different objectives for many different groups.  To store managers, revenue is the critical driver.  To the merchandising and marketing teams, it’s about generating traffic. To the customer, it’s the hope of obtaining great deals or seeing a particular celebrity. To local law enforcement, it’s about what could be one of many events that need attention on a particular day.

It’s helpful to remember all the different goals and perspectives to preserve the integrity of the event and not allow any single group to dictate the terms of the entire event. Understanding these drivers also helps LP understand why some events may seem to be “designed for problems.” Marketing wants to create buzz and attract as many people as possible, sometimes by creating highly-prized, limited offers. They are not thinking of the event from LP’s perspective about the challenges of managing a crowd or the possible fights that could result from there being 10 people for every one available hot item.  By understanding all objectives, the team can compromise and problem-solve to maintain the integrity of each group’s primary objectives.

Anticipate risks
Critical decisions, such as discount amounts, item availability, location, and type of event are made early in the process. This is when LP needs to be involved. Awareness of what the event will look like, who is expected to attend, and when it will occur gives LP the information needed to start anticipating potential risks and formulating plans for resources, strategies and methods for mitigating that risk.

A few examples demonstrate the factors that will come into play. At a big-box retailer, the release of a popular new video game will draw a vastly different crowd than a book-signing with a self-help expert. The crowd demographics will dictate the staff needed to work the crowd and built a rapport with them.  The time and date of the event must also be considered.  Will lines begin forming overnight or in early morning hours? Is it summer or winter? The LP team must anticipate all possible scenarios and contingencies. If it’s storming, will the waiting crowd be allowed inside?  Will it be a good idea to keep cold water (for summer) or warm beverages (in winter) on hand to offer weary crowds during their wait? If a celebrity appearance is involved, how will they enter and exit the store? Will executive protection be provided or will they provide their own? The simplest information about an event can help LP professionals anticipate what types of decisions will need to be considered.

Plan strategically
At this point in the process, LP can offer suggestions, such as more effective ways to minimize hostile competitive situations to avoid conflicts. Why not pass out wristbands to the first 100 people in line instead of opening the doors and having them run through the store, battling it out for product? Or how about having the celebrity sign 100 books in advance in case she should have to leave early and does not sign as many autographs as promised?  Instead of pulling VIPs from the line of cold, tired customers outside to let them in, why not assign a separate entrance? These kinds of decisions can go a long way toward mitigating risk and setting up a successful event where customers have a sense of fairness and are not put in the position to clash with other customers.

The earliest possible planning phase is the best time for LP to share their concerns and perspectives with the team, as they learn about others’ objectives. LP professionals are creative and can work to improve the safety of just about any circumstance, as long as they have some lead time and the opportunity to be involved.

Eric White serves as director of retail strategy for Wren, providers of physical security solutions used by some of the world’s most innovative and respected retailers including Walmart, The Home Depot and Target. White has 20 years of experience in loss prevention, asset protection and physical security. White can be reached at eric.white@wrensolutions.com. To learn more about Wren’s solutions, visit wrensolutions.com.

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