#874: Impossible to Display

A sequel to Getting More Tale #795:  A Case for Security

GETTING MORE TALE #874: Impossible to Display

Shoplifting accounts for over a third of inventory shrinkage in retail.*  At the Record Store we had numerous strategies to combat this, as discussed in prior chapters.  An alert staff can stop a staggering amount of theft, but the last line of defence for us was a magnetic security tag system.  Trying to lift a de-tagged item would set off alarms at the store.

Cassettes, one of of our lower-cost items compared with CDs and box sets, were protected with a single magnetic strip hidden on the seam on the shrink wrap.  These had to be de-tagged magnetically with a device — they were single use only and the tag left the store with the product after being disarmed.  Each tag cost five cents, and that added up.  Higher-cost box sets were protected with multiple tags hidden on the edges of the packaging.  CDs, which also carried significant cost but were the majority of our store, were protected by a double-edged sword.  They were housed in an unbreakable and re-usable plastic longbox, with the magnetic tag stuck to an inner edge.  These tags never had to be disarmed.  You just removed the security case with a special key and set it aside for re-use on fresh inventory.

Cassettes were checked weekly to re-secure loose tags.  We kept a close eye on everything and everyone.  Combined with good practices, the security gate at the front of the store prevented a lot of theft.  Still, there were certain items that were unfortunately hard to both a) protect properly and b) display properly at the same time.  Unusual packaging made some albums difficult to stock on the shelves with the rest of the catalogue.

December 6, 1994:  Pearl Jam – Vitalogy compact disc

Although we weren’t equipped to display records, we had no problems when Vitalogy was released on vinyl November 22, 1994.  We sold the five copies we stocked on the first day.  It was the CD release two weeks later that caused us grief because we ordered those en masse.

The CD release of Vitalogy came ensconced in a miniature cardboard book-shaped package.  It had the same dimensions as a normal CD case, just flipped upright on its short side.  You could put them in a CD security box no problem, but T-Rev discovered a weakness in its design.  Because it was thinner and more flexible than a standcard CD case, you could with a little effort force it out of the security box without unlocking it.  This meant we couldn’t safely stock it out on the shelves.

Instead, the boss man set up a small box under close watchful eye at the front counter.  He placed the Vitalogy CDs in it, with every fifth copy turned 45 degrees so he could easily count how many were in there at any given time.  If he knew that he had 20 copies in the box, but suddenly only counted 19, then he would see if anyone in the store was carrying one around to purchase it.  Eventually we just put it back in the security cases, assuming nobody would be as inventive as T-Rev in trying to get one out.

May 29, 1995:  Pink Floyd – p·u·l·s·e compact disc with flashing light diode.

The original CD release of Pink Floyd’s p·u·l·s·e had a unique gimmick.  The oversized cardboard shell contained the 2 CD album in a book-style case, plus a flashing light gimmick powered by two AA batteries in a hidden compartment.  When the CD was reissued without the light and space-consuming batteries, it could fit in a standard size CD security box.  However the full-on, limited edition original was too large to be stored in our shelving.  Once again we had to put them at the front counter, this time stacked in a pile.

What I remember most about the “pile of p·u·l·s·e” is that flashing light.  However many copies were in that heap at the front counter, the lights flashed incessantly.  You could not turn them off.  Once you purchased the CD, you could remove the batteries from the inside.  Safe in their shrinkwrap on our countertop, they just flashed and flashed away.  Never in synch.  No two copies were ever in synch.  I guess it might have depended on how much juice was still in those batteries.  Copies of p·u·l·s·e flashed for years without a battery change.

June 20, 1995:  Michael Jackson – HIStory double cassette in cardboard sleeve

Although cassettes were being slowly phased out, we still had to carry certain big releases on the format.  In 1995, Michael Jackson still sold impressive numbers.  Enough that we carried one cassette copy, which once again, was packaged in such a way that we couldn’t display it on our cassette shelves.  Unlike other doubles, which sometimes came in a “fat” double cassette case (like Phantom of the Opera) or two normal cases packed together (like The Song Remains the Same), Michael Jackson’s HIStory came with the two tapes face up, side by side, in a cardboard box.  It was dimensioned like no tape shelving system known to man.

Too cumbersome to take up valuable front counter space, HIStory was deigned be displayed without fanfare on a shelf behind the desk.  To buy a copy of HIStory on cassette from us, there were only two paths to a sale:

  1. The customer would have to notice it behind the counter when purchasing other items, and ask for it.
  2. The customer would have to ask if we carried it, and not everyone asks.

My solution was clever.  I had just acquired a computer program that enabled me to create perfectly formatted cassette J-cards for my tape collection.  I used it to print a sleeve that said “MICHAEL JACKSON – HISTORY – 2 CASSETTE SET – ASK AT COUNTER”.  I put that in an empty tape case, and filed it with the rest of the Michael Jackson cassettes.  It took forever but it must have sold eventually!  I don’t know if I was responsible because it didn’t happen on my shift.

We had a cramped little space and we made the best of it.  Given that we were constantly battling for every square inch, any time an artist came out with something that was impossible to display, it created a unique little headache for us!


* The other 2/3rds are largely staff theft and errors.

#839.5: More Thieves

I was going to jokingly title this as REVIEW: Rock And Roll Children by Michael LeFevre. I assume it’s a great book, but I wouldn’t know. Somebody stole it from the Royal Mail and replaced it with a cheap notebook.  $77 bucks gone.

Thanks, asshole.


#839: Stop Thief!

GETTING MORE TALE #839: Stop Thief!

I’ve only been a victim of theft a couple times, but both times it felt like such a violation.  My car was broken into about 20 years ago, and my old Discman was swiped, along with my CD of Kettle of Fish by Fish.  I always hoped the thieves learned to like some good music because of me, but in reality they probably ejected the disc from a moving vehicle.

I’ve worried about mail theft over the years, but never failed to get a refund if a parcel didn’t show up.  It’s trickier now in the days of Amazon.  They have their own delivery drivers, and when they drop a box on your porch, they take a picture of it and call it “delivered”.  There is nothing to protect you if someone grabs it after the driver is gone.  Amazon won’t refund it.  You’d think paying for Amazon Prime delivery would offer you some protection, but it does not.  You’re actually better off having something sent in the mail.

I ordered a parcel from Amazon recently, and it was stolen right from my door.  Our condo has a controlled front entrance, but anybody can get in if they wait for someone to open the door for them.  My theory is that this is what happened.  Perhaps the Amazon driver was delivering a package, was buzzed in, and let someone else in with them.  Typically an Amazon driver will be delivering to multiple residents in one trip, and only one has to buzz them in.

Nobody was home at that time, so the driver left the parcel at my door, and took a picture of it.  That’s all they have to do.  I’ve never had a parcel stolen from my door, until this week.

When Amazon showed my parcel as “delivered”, with that nice little photo attached, I knew someone had snatched it while we were out.  Jen began making phone calls to get security footage reviewed, and then suddenly she received a call from the police!

Whoever stole my parcel ditched it, unopened, in a park nearby.  Someone else found it and called the police, who returned it to us!

I am comforted by the fact that the bad person who stole my parcel was balanced out by a good person who also could have stolen it, but didn’t.  They did the right thing and because of them, I have my Captain America action figures.

Captain America figures?  Is that what all this fuss is about?

I ordered Cap & Peggy Carter, Captain Marvel, and Ghost & Luis.  I’d been looking forward to them all weekend.  But that turned to pure anger when I thought they had been stolen right from my door.  The violation made me furious but when the police returned it, I was so grateful. Thank you Waterloo Regional Police Service.

There are lots of other people who live in this building, and any one of them could have lost a delivery too.  Highly unlikely that it was just me.  I understand they caught the thief so I hope all my neighbours can sleep better tonight.  I feel better now.


Related stories:



#795: A Case for Security

A sequel to #424: How to Stop a Thief


GETTING MORE TALE #795: A Case for Security

Back when people used to actually steal physical CDs instead of just stealing a download, extravagant measures were taken to secure our precious inventory.

We had a magnetic tag security system.  At the entrance stood an electronic gate that would go into alarm mode any time one of those magnetic tags was near.  Every item we had in-store was tagged.  The system was not cheap.  I believe the tags cost 5 cents each (in 1994 dollars).  They were the cheapest ones available and they quickly added up.  The tags were not re-usable.  Once they were de-magnetized they were done.  Also, because they were sticky tags, if you ripped one off you wouldn’t be able to re-apply it very well as the sticky side got less sticky.  You could put it back on with tape, but no matter what you did, over time the tags would always start to peel off on their own.  We did a “tape check” every week to make sure every cassette still had a security tag firmly attached.

There was a different method for securing CDs.  To cut down on the use of the magnetic tags, we used plastic CD long boxes.  The magnetic tags were fitted inside, didn’t peel off, and could be re-used time and time again.  You couldn’t get the CD out of the long boxes without a key, or you’d destroy what was inside.  The key was kept behind the counter.

Like anything at the Record Store, this security measure had its pros and cons.  Storing those long boxes when not in use was a constant struggle.  We always seemed to be bursting at the seams with them.  We had cabinets underneath the CD shelving that were usually packed full.

The biggest “pro” was reducing the cost of the magnetic tags.  Since you could use the same case over and over again with the magnetic strip intact, you didn’t have to keep buying new ones.  The long boxes were also an added deterrent.  If you wanted to steal a CD you had to hide the long box under your jacket.

This didn’t stop people from trying.  One day, somebody from the mall came into the Record Store and told me that they found half a dozen broken long boxes in the trash outside.

“I think someone has been stealing from you,” she said.

I was immediately worried that someone managed to rip us off on my shift.  Fortunately that wasn’t the case, though Zellers were not as lucky.  Upon seeing the broken long boxes, I could tell they didn’t belong to us.  They came from Zellers, who used a similar system.  Someone managed to beat it.  How?

If nobody was looking, you could lift the CDs right over the magnetic gate.  That was the easiest way, and at Zellers, chances are nobody was looking.  Another method (supposedly anyway) involved lining the inside of your jacket with aluminum foil.  Apparently this would allow you to shoplift anything with a magnetic tag.  The urban legend, which may have been true, is that a local gang of CD thieves used this method.

The gang were known locally as “Pizza Guys”.  The cops were always two steps behind them.  The main detective on the case gave us pretty clear instructions.  We were to buy everything the “Pizza Guys” brought in, record it, and get their ID.  We were to flag any “shady” purchases but otherwise they told us it was business as usual.  I don’t know if the detective ever caught the “Pizza Guys”, but years later their leader Aristotles (real name!) went to jail for selling ecstasy, meth and heroin.  Quite a large step from stealing CDs!  According to the news, he got just six years in jail.

I don’t think the “Pizza Guys” were shoplifting CDs normally.  I think they were getting them from someone on the inside.  We’ll never really know.  We used to joke that one day we’d be in an HMV store minding our own business, when Aristotles would pop his head out of the stock room.  “We’re out of Big Shiny Tunes again!”

Even though the “Pizza Guys” usually brought in what you would call good titles (usually new releases), we all hated dealing with them.  As time went on without getting caught, they got more and more cocky and difficult to deal with.  It was good to know the cops were on our side, but I’m not a detective.  My job was not to fight crime in the city of Kitchener.  My job was to sell music, and these guys didn’t make it a pleasant experience for us.


#571: GUEST SHOT – Record Store Tales – A Different Perspective

Please welcome old friend and new contributor, Aaron.   I have known Aaron since before I was first hired at the Record Store, and he made a cameo appearance in Record Store Tales Part 176:  Trevor the Security Guard.  Aaron is going to be launching his own site really soon and we have planned a few crossovers.  He decided to kick it off with this hilarious memory that I had forgotten all about.  Please enjoy!

GETTING MORE TALE #571:  Record Store Tales – A Different Perspective
Guest shot by Aaron Lebold

I have been enjoying Mike’s Record Store Tales for quite a while now, I have found them particularly enjoyable because I was friends with him when he got this job. The store was initially located in a mediocre mall, and was about the size of a nice walk-in closet. The store has since branched out into a very successful franchise.  I personally feel Mike’s expertise in music played a role in the success of the store, but I like reading them because I remember a lot of the stories, and I may even be mentioned in a couple.

 One of my fondest memories of Mike working at the store, was after it had expanded and added a second location.  Back in those days CDs were worth money, so in turn people had a tendency to steal them, and bring them to Mike’s store to sell.

A woman had gone into the other location, and given Mike’s co-worker a specific list of CDs to look out for, as they had been stolen from her home.  Mike’s co-worker called him at his location to transfer the information, so they could contact the police should someone come in to sell that specific collection of discs.

Mike decided it would be funny if he had me call the other location to try to get a quote for some CDs.  He read me the exact list of CDs that had been reported missing, and instructed me specifically to finalize the phone call with the line “and they’re not stolen either…”

I followed through with Mike’s request, and though I didn’t get much of a reaction from his co-worker, he told me that they called him back and asked him “How much did you pay that kid to do that?”  It was pretty funny at the time, and I will always remember my line.  “And they’re not stolen either…”

Aaron Lebold BMR

#476: Won’t Get Fooled Again

GETTING MORE TALE #476: Won’t Get Fooled Again
(the long-awaited sequel to Record Store Tales Part 225:  Bait & Switch)

“I knew immediately there was a problem. In his hands was a used copy of Puff Daddy’s brand new smash hit album, No Way Out. It had one of our Bargain Bin stickers on it, priced at $5.99. However the album was a fairly new release, and any used copies we had were always priced at $11.99. I’d never put one of them in my Bargain Bin, ever at this point. You just didn’t throw a new release into a sale bin. As Puffy said, ‘It’s all about the Benjamins.'”  — from Record Store Tales Part 225: Bait & Switch

We had a deceptively simple inventory system at the Record Store.  Each used CD case was empty.  Every one of them was tagged with the price, and a number that would tell me the location of the actual compact disc behind the counter.  This system benefited both our point of sale computer, which updated our inventory live in real time, and it was also a security bonus.  With compact discs safely stored behind the counter, thieves knew they would get nothing by stealing a case.  We made it obvious, by posting large ALL CASES ARE EMPTY signs.  The bastards had to get creative when ripping us off.

In the Record Store Tale above, a scam artist got away with it.  I wasn’t going to let him, but the owner didn’t stand up to the guy, called it a misunderstanding and let the guy have a discount.  The scammer switched price tags, without realizing that the number code on the tags lead to a specific disc.   When boss gave the guy a discount, it made me feel about two feet tall.   I never let that happen again.

My new strategy was quite simple and it worked every time.  When the first guy ripped us off, my big mistake was explaining to him that somebody switched price tags.  That got him on the defensive and he had already prepared his argument regarding bait and switch laws.  I got smart after that, by playing dumb.

The most memorable occasion involved a douchebag in his mid-20’s, and a rap title.  I cannot remember today what the rap title was, but the CD itself was very brightly coloured and easy to spot.  Buddy came up to the counter with a CD case, and the price tag looked tampered with.  They never quite looked the same once peeled off and re-applied, and years behind the counter taught me that.  Sure enough, the number on the price tag led to me the wrong compact disc.  I checked out the locations of the discs in the computer and confirmed the guy had switched a tag.  He wanted an $11.99 CD for $7.99, but it wasn’t going to happen on my watch.  I pretended to look for the disc, but I had actually already grabbed it and put it aside.  The price tag that he swapped it with, the $7.99 CD, was alphabetically right next to the other one.  It was obvious he just grabbed two nearby and switched prices.  I was taking time figuring this out though, so I had to tell him why.

“I’m sorry man but I’m having a really hard time finding this CD,” I explained.  “Each price tag has a number on it that tells me where the disc should be, but it’s not in this spot.  I’ll keep looking.”

As earlier explained, the compact disc I was supposedly looking for was a bright one, easy to spot.  What I didn’t count on was this dude has already seen it behind the counter in its location. But what he didn’t count on was that I had since yanked it and hidden it out of sight!  From the right vantage point, you could have spotted it, but it was gone now.

“Are you sure?” the scammer asked.  “I think it’s right over there,” and he pointed me in the general direction.  I put on a good act of looking, flipping through every disc but his.  “I’m sure I saw it right there.”

“Can you show me?” I asked, knowing it wasn’t there.  I don’t know if he figured out my game or not.  He probably had.  But there was nothing he could do about it.  “Is this it?”  I pulled out a disc with random artwork on it.  “No, but I saw it right there, in that spot that is empty now.”  Yeah, he caught me.

“I’m really sorry but it’s not there.  I’ll keep looking.  Why don’t you give me your name and phone number?  I’ll call when I find it.  I’m sure it’ll turn up.”

“Naw, man.”

Small triumph, but, still a triumph.


#424: How to Stop a Thief

#424: How to Stop a Thief

Surely, one of the biggest costs of running a retail business is loss due to theft.  If you open your doors to the public, somebody’s going to try and steal from you.  That is just the unfortunate reality of the world we inhabit.  Thieves have existed for as long as civilization, I’ll wager.

We had several defenses in place to protect ourselves from theft.  Although I do not have any numbers, I believe we were about effective as you could reasonably expect.

First and foremost, theft can be stopped by an aware staff.  When I first started at the Record Store in ’94, the boss said that not only is customer service #1, but it can help reduce theft.  If I were to walk up to every customer browsing on the floor to ask if they needed help, then any potential thieves would be aware that I had been watching and paying attention.  The boss taught us that diligent customer service can stop most theft before it happens.

On top of that, another thing I would do is purposely work right next to a suspicious person.  If I saw a customer acting all shady like they were trying to hide what they were doing with their hands, I would walk right next to them and start straightening CDs where they stood.  That probably helped, too.

SECURITY CASEThe second thing we did, at least in the early days, was apply magnetic tags to every item in stock.  For our CDs, that was easily done.  Remember those big, plastic security cases that had to be unlocked at the counter?  Some stores still use them.  You couldn’t break them open without wrecking the contents, and you couldn’t open them without the key, which was behind the counter.  Each security case had magnetic tags in it.  Put a CD in one of those things, and it’s not going anywhere without setting off the alarms.

For tapes, we didn’t have those security cases so we applied the magnetic tags directly to the cassette.  We’d try to hide them on the side opposite from the spine.  This was effective, but less so.  A thief could peel off those magnetic tags and often did.  It was never a good day when we found a bunch of those tags stuck under a shelf somewhere, like an old piece of gum.

Every Wednesday, we’d do a “tape check”.  Either T-Rev or I would go through every single tape in house, and make sure the magnetic tag was on there securely.  If it was peeling, we’d tape it on.  If it was ripped off (sometimes just from age and shelf wear), we’d replace it.  We were encouraged to replace as few of those as possible.  The stickers were something like 5 cents each, and that adds up very quickly when you have a few thousand tapes in stock.

With the magnetic tags and the tape check every Wednesday, we had it partly covered.  You’d also have to watch for kids trying to bypass the security gate.  You might see a kid walking out with his backpack lifted over his head (and gate).   I had also heard that a notorious local gang of thieves had lined their coats with tinfoil.  Tinfoil can stop the magnetic tags from setting off the alarms.  People used tinfoil to make “booster bags” – a device you can hide a tagged item in, in order to steal it without triggering the alarm.  Although I never witnessed it myself, the rumour was that these guys used something similar, and lined their coats with the stuff.  That’s how they managed to steal such huge quantities.  The gangs didn’t steal from us, but they targeted the big chain stores like HMV.  They were known all over town.  Every once in a while, I’ll still see one of their names in the newspaper.  The leader was recently busted in a meth sting, after having racked up 40 convictions over the years.


Been Caught Stealing indeed!

When we changed the store’s format to 99% used CDs, we did away with the magnetic tags.  Instead we displayed empty cases only, while the precious CDs themselves were behind the counter.  This did result in some confusion, but much less costly theft prevention.

I’d still have customers walk up to me and say, “Hey buddy, I think somebody ripped you off.  This CD case is empty.”  Apparently, that customer didn’t notice the 7000 CDs behind me.

To try and help the customer understand what was going on, we put little signs on the CD shelves.  “All cases are empty.”  Even this caused confusion!  A few people would walk up to me and ask, “It says all cases are empty, so does that mean I have to buy the CD separately?”  Others would ask, “So you only sell the cases, not the CDs?”

Yeah, that’s it….

Unfortunately we could never completely stop theft.  Sometimes we would look up a CD in inventory.  The disc would be listed in stock, and the CD itself still behind me…but the case nowhere to be found anywhere in store.   We would check our sections regularly, but many cases never showed up.  I guess some thieves just ended up with empty ones.

Serves them right, but the last laugh was on us, because we ended up with a lot of case-less CDs that could not be sold.  The parasitic thieves cost us again.

Part 225: Bait & Switch


RECORD STORE TALES Part 225:  Bait & Switch

One Wednesday afternoon in 1997, I was working alone. A gentleman in his mid-20’s walked into my store. He browsed the hip-hop section and I asked him if he needed any help finding anything. He said no, and was pleasant enough. About 10 minutes later, he approached the counter to make a purchase.

I knew immediately there was a problem. In his hands was a used copy of Puff Daddy’s brand new smash hit album, No Way Out. It had one of our Bargain Bin stickers on it, priced at $5.99. However the album was a fairly new release, and any used copies we had were always priced at $11.99. I’d never put one of them in my Bargain Bin, ever at this point. You just didn’t throw a new release into a sale bin. As Puffy said, “It’s all about the Benjamins.”

I couldn’t rule out staff error, so I double checked. Each price tag had a stock number on it. That stock number told me the location of the actual CD; the discs were all kept safely behind the counter.

Sure enough, I referred to the stock number which led me to a completely different CD, one that was common for our Bargain Bin. It wasn’t staff error. This meant that somebody switched the Puff Daddy price tag with another CD, from our Bargain Bin.

I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.

“OK, I have a problem here,” I began, as gently as I could. After all, I had no way of knowing for sure that this guy switched the tags himself. It was probable that he would, very few people would switch a price tag and leave it. I could even see where the tag was peeled off and re-applied. “This CD isn’t actually $5.99. It’s supposed to say $11.99. It looks to me like someone switched the price tags. I’m not saying it was you…I’m sorry about this…but I can’t sell you this disc for $5.99. $5.99 is less than we actually paid for it.”

He shrugged. “That’s not my problem. You have to honor the price tag.”

“This price tag,” I countered, “links back to a CD by Hole. I can sell you that CD for $5.99, but not Puff Daddy. This is a brand new release, we never put new releases out in our Bargain Bin.”

Then he got fancy. “Are you familiar with the Bait & Switch law?”

I was. From Wikipedia:

First, customers are “baited” by merchants’ advertising products or services at a low price, but when customers visit the store, they discover that the advertised goods are not available, or the customers are pressured by sales people to consider similar, but higher priced items (“switching”).

“This isn’t a Bait & Switch,” I argued. “Somebody else switched the price tag. Like I said, this tag right here links back to Hole, not Puffy. I can sell you Hole for $5.99, for Puffy, you’d pay $11.99. Again, I’m not saying you switched it. But somebody did. I’m sorry about that but I can’t lose money on this CD because somebody switched a price tag on me.”

“Legally, you are obligated to let me have that CD for $5.99. You’re in violation of Bait & Switch laws. Do you want me to get the cops involved?”

I knew he wouldn’t do that. “You can do that if you want, but what’s to stop me from going over to Walmart, taking a price tag from a $2 bag of chips, and putting it on a CD myself? Would Walmart have to sell me that CD for $2?”

Cool as a cucumber, he just shrugged.

It was at that moment that my boss walked in.

“What seems to be the problem here?” he asked.

I explained the whole situation, how somebody switched the price tag, and how he wanted Puffy for $5.99. I explained how I was 100% certain of the situation, and how the stock code on the price tag led me to a $5.99 Hole CD.

One issue that I had with my boss was that he didn’t always stick up for store managers in situations like this. I could never predict if he would stick up for us or cave.  So what did he do? He apologized profusely and he rang in the CD for $7.99 or something like that. The customer was happy as could be, so polite.

He strolled out knowing he’d won. I wonder who he scammed next?

I walked over to the Puff Daddy section to see if I could find evidence of the missing but correct price tag. Sure enough, what did I find? A Hole CD, with a poorly applied $11.99 price tag on it, in the hip-hop section not far from Puffy. And what did that $11.99 tag’s stock code lead me to? The spot that the Puffy disc occupied.

An $8 scam was hardly going to break the bank, but I felt about two feet tall, because I knew I was right. I never let anybody else scam me in that way again.  But that’s another story…