Until recently I'd worked at a specialty candy store located in our city's mall. Overall the atmosphere was enjoyable and the coworkers were amazing! There was just one problem: The Customers.
Our customer base could be divided into a few particular groups. During summer season we had the vacationers. This group was always enjoyable to have around since we carried items from their countries of origin. Seeing their reactions to these candies was always a blast and usually set a wonderful mood.
During the off season we had two significant groups come in. The first, Stay at Home parent(s). Now these men and women usually had their youngest children with them. They're typically sweet natured but how well they handled their children would determine the ultimate outcome of their visit.
But as true to our roots we had specific ways of dealing with tantruming children so long as the mothers (or fathers in a few rare cases), were okay with it: Samples. A child would typically calm down significantly once given a gummy bear or other small treat while the parent shopped.
And then there was the final group: Unattended preteens and early teenagers. This group provided a large bulk of our visitors. They always travelled in groups of three or more. They were usually rambunctious, asking questions and then asking another in rapid fire succession without allowing time for the first to be answered. Many also preferred to think themselves as all knowing to what our jobs entail and seemed to believe that they were free to simply take free samples.
There were just a few problems with this train of thought. Most candy was stored in bulk bins. As such contamination could easily occur if not properly maintained. To obtain samples there were just a few rules. It had to be small, the customer needed to ask an associate for it and under no circumstances could the customer stick their bare hand into the bulk bin to simply take the sample.
Much of our shifts included watching customers like a hawk and immediately stopping them when we'd see their hands go into the bin. A few of our associates even developed the habit of informing a customer that now, because they'd contaminated the products, a good portion would have to be thrown away. This was emphasized by scooping out the top layer of candy and placed into a bag for the culprit to see.
While myself personally never adopted this method, it most certainly worked wonders on even the most shameless. For my story, we begin with a group of approximately five preteens between the ages of eleven and twelve. They were excited as much young kids usually are but eventually I began to notice the tell tale signs of giggling, high pitched complaints to one another and the quick, shifty movements of their arms. It was clear they'd taken a few items of candy.
The first approach is to remind them to ask for samples in the sweetest tone possible. They responded as normally then moved to where they believed that I could not see. Only issue for them was that I'd developed a habit of walking behind or near customers unnoticed to keep an eye on things such as this. Not once but three times they'd been caught taking candy. On the third attempt it was not a small sample but one much larger than the palm of a hand.
The "lead girl" as I'd dubbed her, tucked the oversized gummy into both her hands and held them in front of her. I hadn't yet been given permission from my manager to have people escorted off the premesis so I did the next best thing.
Using my best "mom voice" I'd called out to the girl and informed her once more to allow us to get the samples for her. They started to make their way to the older candy section when I dropped the icing of the cake onto them. I told the lead girl that the specific candy in her hands was not something that we could sample.
Knowing that they'd been caught, this ended up spooking the girls as they made a mad dash out of the store with me following behind them at a leisurely pace. To be honest I would have rather had security speak to them and emphasize the importance of not stealing. As it were there wasn't enough product taken to warrant security's involvement plus it was during the high season of summer vacation. We simply couldn't spare the man power.
By the time I'd left, a great deal of changes had taken place and the rules were enforced enough that other customers would report the "rule breakers" and we'd deal with it appropriately.