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WORKING WEEKEND: Tom Warren's no shrinking violet

12 Apr, 2002 By: Bruce Apar

Those of you born before 1960 may well remember Charley Weaver, the rustic raconteur who made a career of appearing on Jack Paar's "Tonight Show," Mike Douglas and other talkfests. He'd weave (get it?) homespun anecdotes and dispense bits of wit and wisdom from his bucolic perch on Mount Idy. In truth, Charley's name was Cliff Arquette – young ‘uns might relate to him as the pappy of nubile thespian siblings Rosanna and Patricia.

The video rental industry's own, inimitable Tom Warren reminds me of good ol' Charley. Like an ace fisherman, he reels you in with his keen instinct and disarming style. Speaking as a native New Yorker, it's no secret my landsmen's regional accent – epitomized by Brooklynese and Long Islandese (my origin) – comes off as decidedly less engaging than the genteel charm of a Carolinan drawl. But Tom's appeal is much more than speech-deep.

A prime example of why Tom – owner since 1983 of the 12-outlet Video Hut chain in North Carolina -- is in his second consecutive term as chair of the Video Software Dealers Association was his deft and incisive handling of a retail panel at a conference in New York about packaged media loss prevention. (Keep it up, Tom, and you'll handily put journalists who moderate panels – present company included – out of business.That means I'll have to take my good friend Steve Scavelli of Flash Distributors up on his longstanding offer to put me to work running a video rental store.)

The conference on loss prevention of DVDs, games and other entertainment media -- which chief moderator Scott Bartlett of Sony Disc Manufacturing assured, in a below-the-belt quip, was a different sort of shrinkage than that experienced by hapless George Costanza on "Seinfeld" – was sponsored by packaging suppliers Clear-Vu and AGI PolyMatrix.

"Shrinkage is an issue for rentailers as well," advised Tom, as he presided, in his inimitable fashion, over a panel encompassing Best Buy, Borders, Electronics Boutique, HMV, Toys "R" Us and Wal-Mart.

He noted that the novel "integral locking" package design promoted as "the next standard" at the industry gathering was for rental as well as sellthrough use.

"For every DVD stolen," Tom explained, "I have to sell 15 to 16 to pay for it with the margins I have.

"That will kill you in a week when something like Training Day comes out," Tom continued, clearly implying the rough-and-tumble movie about a rogue cop is a prime target for rogue customers.

Noting that product shrinkage is a very complex and costly occupational hazard for even vigilant retailers to arrest, Tom surmised "The only way I can think of stopping the professionals is to weigh a person coming into the store and on the way out.

"Our focus is the convenient (or casual) shoplifter. The high school kid or person with a drug or mental problem. The amateurs are easiest to catch."

The application of an EAS tag (electronic article surveillance) on the package and not the disc is not exactly daunting to shoplifters who want to get the content inside the package out the door, said Tom. "One surefire way to catch amateurs is to target the content itself.

Any shrinkage control measure that ends up costing more to implement than "the shrinkage cost per SKU," it isn't worth it, he offered.

Warren also addressed the issue of who pays for more robust loss prevention. "The supplier can't do it for free, and the retailer can't absorb it, so the person who pays the tab for shrinkage is the consumer. It's up to us to do what we can. It's matter of principle."

Warren suggested that also newsworthy about the conference was, "Something you didn't hear mentioned once all day – VHS."

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