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A Teenage Girl Steals Silver From a Store, But the Owner Recognizes Her. What Should He Do Next?

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OVER NEARLY A century in business, Wheeler’s had become an institution in their small-town community and a fixture in the growing downtown shopping district. Like his mother and his grandfather before him, Ross McGovern enjoyed his role as “the jeweler” in his hometown and was committed to both the traditions that sustained them and the innovations that would enable future growth for the business.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected]

Ross and his sister Nicole worked hard to maintain merchandise that was moderately priced yet fashionable enough to keep town residents shopping locally. In addition to a strong bridal business, they’d built a significant fashion presence that included a variety of national brands across a broad range of price points, and had introduced some trendy fashion items directed at young women in the community. Most Wheeler’s customers had been doing business with the store for at least two generations.

In the past year, Ross had overseen the completion of two major projects for Wheeler’s. First, after several years in development, the new Wheeler’s website had launched the previous February. The new site offered a full range of “bells and whistles,” and, thanks to the advice of his 16-year-old daughter, was fully e-commerce enabled. While they hadn’t yet sold much from the site, both Ross and Nicole were pleased with the increase in foot traffic. More significantly, Ross had spearheaded a long-overdue renovation of the store interior that was finally finished in June. Designed by a local architect, the new store included an updated layout and showcase design, a state-of-the-art, visible-to-the-public-shop for his three jewelers, and a good amount of “experience space” for lower-end product that customers could touch and try on without help from a salesperson.

One particularly busy Saturday morning, Ross was working with a couple at the engagement ring counter, Nicole was in her office meeting with a diamond vendor, and their two salespeople were tied up with repair customers when three teenage girls came in. Ross acknowledged them, and they asked where they could find the silver and gemstone necklaces they’d found on the Wheeler website. Ross directed them to the tabletop display across the store from where he was working. They clustered around the table, trying on several necklaces and bracelets.

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Trying to keep an eye on things while not distracting his diamond customer, Ross looked up and thought he saw one of the girls slip a piece of jewelry into her purse.

Ross was just at the point of closing his sale and the other two salespeople were still tied up at the service counter when the girls abruptly turned to leave. Rather than derail his diamond sale and make a scene over the $100 item that might have been stolen, Ross decided to deal with it later. He was sure he recognized one of the young girls (not the thief) as the daughter of a regular customer and golf buddy, and thought that if there really was a problem, a simple call to her father would easily remedy the situation.

After the store closed for the day, Ross and Nicole sat down to review the security video. As he suspected, one of the girls did, in fact, drop a silver and amethyst necklace into her purse, along with the matching bracelet. Ross was sure that he’d met one of the other girls at the club with her father. Nicole also recognized all three as classmates of Ross’s daughter and her son at the local high school, though she didn’t know their names. They went home with a plan that had Ross contacting his golf buddy in the morning.

Once he got home, however, Ross began to have second thoughts about the plan. He wondered how he might react if a store owner called him with the same kind of information about his own daughter and her friends, particularly if she denied any knowledge of the situation. He considered showing the video to his daughter and nephew, asking them to identify the actual thief, but then considered the consequences associated with putting them in such an awkward position. Talking to school administrators to get an ID was a possibility, but involving them would most certainly get the girl at least suspended from school and get him labeled as some sort of villain among parents. Of course, he could go directly to the police, but if he was going to be honest, he’d need to identify the girl he knew, running an even greater risk of creating a difficult situation with her family.

He found himself torn between the desire to do the “right thing” — deal with the theft directly to recover the merchandise and avoid the label of an “easy mark” — and his concern over the possibility of putting his kids in a difficult position and offending a social acquaintance and longtime customer of the store along with countless other parents in the community. He finally fell asleep that evening wondering if he should just let the incident go, thinking that there was no way this situation ended well for his business.

The Big Questions

  • Should Ross approach the father of the girl he recognized and tell him that his daughter has been hanging out with a thief?
  • Once he knows who she is, is it appropriate for him to contact her directly?
  • Should he involve the school or the police?
Ila  S.
Block Island, RI

I had similar situation. I contacted the girl privately and let her know exactly what was on camera. In an effort to HELP HER, I told her to bring back what she took and it would stay between us — no police, no parents, etc. I treated her seriously, but kindly. We met the following day.

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She did return the item and we had a good talk at the ice cream shop next door (my treat).

This was a turning point for this kid; we are on good terms years later.

Steve L.
Irmo, SC

Contact her father and ask for him and his daughter to visit your store after hours to discuss a matter. Show them the video and let dad take over. We actually had this happen on a $5,500 piece about 15 years ago with a teenage young lady whose family shopped with us. We knew the family well, and they became even better customers after this. The young lady matured into a wonderful woman, and we later sold her fiancé her engagement ring.

Ralph H.
Connersville, IN

If there is no question that the camera images will identify the thief, the store owner should call the girl he knows and perhaps the father. Ask them to stop by, as there is something they should see. Let the tape speak for itself. They would know that their friend stole the items without the owner making the accusations. Just say, “I need some help here. If the items are returned within 24 hours, I’ll consider the case closed; if not, I really have no choice. Any help would be appreciated.” Everyone gets a “way out,” even the thief. Maybe you keep a kid from a life of crime? Oh, and put the darned jewelry back in locked showcases (don’t ask how I know this).

Jim G.
Champaign, IL

Have the police view the camera video. Let them handle the whole thing; they are the law. The school will allow them to identify and push the girls to confess. This type of shoplifting must be dealt with now. If left to go on longer, it becomes a serious problem for retail and society.

Chris J.
South Milwaukee, WI

As a jewelry store owner and a father of four kids who are often in the store, I would contact the police to report the theft, provide them with the video and what information I could, and let them contact the parents. If my children were involved in such activities, I would want to be made aware and take action before the scenarios worsened. We’ve all seen the unattended and undisciplined wiping their noses on our glass cases!

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Kevin P.
Newark, OH

I would contact the school administration. I would show the principal the video, then identify the student. I would then ask the school to announce that a student took jewelry from a local jeweler, and the jeweler has video of the incident. I would offer that if the student returns the jewelry within one week, no charges will be filed, and the student’s name will not be revealed. Otherwise, the authorities will be contacted and they will follow up as they must.

This way, the student(s) can learn from the situation without the harsh consequences of the legal system, the other students all realize they cannot get away with stealing from Wheeler’s, and the customer relationship is preserved.

Pushpa R.
Marrero, LA

In this incident, I would talk to the girls directly and let them know of their behavior. Tell them you have video of this incident as solid proof, and to kindly return the jewelry within three days. If not, turn in this recording to police. In the future, these girls won’t have sticky fingers.

Jim W.
Fergus Falls, MN

Your fault since the merchandise was not secure. It was a temptation to the young girls. Just write it off as mysterious disappearance. You can’t win going after the girl. Forget it.

Janne E.
Cocoa, FL

Take the video to the police and let them track down the thief. They’re the ones with the resources to identify people. That way it’s not “personal”; it’s a store owner recovering stolen merchandise and making sure future potential thieves will think twice.

Stan G.
Charlotte, NC

I would get a positive ID on the perp and send her parents an invoice for the stolen jewelry along with a thumb drive of the video of her “in action.” A nice note saying you’d rather not get the police involved for a petty juvenile crime, marring her record, but need to recuperate the loss incurred at the hands of their daughter.

I have a feeling they send the daughter in there personally to “settle” the transgression. Oh, and make it clear only a payment will suffice. No worn and returned jewelry will be accepted.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

Ross needs to do what is right and that’s find the identity of the thief and call her out. If he does nothing, he’ll beat himself up over this for years. More importantly, he’ll be doing this young girl a disservice. If she doesn’t get called out now and pay the price, then what’s next? He has a chance to possibly right her ship here, and he needs to put his worries aside and do what’s right. I don’t think there is a need to call the police and school, but he needs to call her out directly and make her parents aware of it as well. Our nation is losing its civility and it’s because of kids like this getting let off the hook. Hammer down and make her pay for her actions. She’ll thank you — maybe a ways down the road — but she’ll thank you.

Glyn J.
Victoria, TX

I believe the owners should ask the father and daughter to the store to view the video. Then explain he would like to have the property back and all would be forgotten. The father might be very upset with you, but explain the results that could take place if this was left unattended. Do not mention the future happenings that could take place if the stealing continues unchecked.

Bryce H.
Emeryville, CA

Ross should first try to identify the girl by going through their kids. Once he has that info, he should reach out to the girl directly to ask her to do the right thing and return the items. If she denies or refuses, he can show the video footage, but at that point, he needs to escalate by contacting the school. He should also find some way to secure the “play area,” just in case something like this happens again. This is a good lesson, for Ross and Nicole and their children.

Troy L.
Irvine, CA

Do the right thing, or this behavior will continue. I would show my kids, so they know who they are not allowed to hang out with and can help me identify them. Once I know who it is, I would call the parents or guardian and explain the situation and how they have her on video and that they please have a chat with her and to return the item promptly. If that fails, go to the police, as then the parents need a lesson!

Daniel S.
Cambridge, MA

Police. He should go to the police with the tape, show it to them and let them deal with it. The girl needs to be taught a lesson, and she isn’t going to jail over this. It also keeps him away from all of the personal stuff. He can just say to anyone who asks that he didn’t know/recognize the girls and that he gave it to the police to handle. They weren’t there during school hours, so it isn’t truly a school issue. But it is a police issue. If the girls were over 21, would he be worried about going to their college administrations?

J. Dennis P.
Johnstown, PA

I would contact my insurer, ask their thoughts and explain that my plan was to contact the parents. Full disclosure and transparency are necessary here. There’s a life lesson here for all three girls involved, which in itself would be valuable from here on out.

Stacey H.
Lincolnwood, IL

Ross should show his daughter the security video and ask her to tell him the girl’s name and get her phone number. He can call the perpetrator and tell her that he has video of what she did, and to come back in immediately to return what she stole, or else he will call the dad and show him the footage in front of the police. If she refuses, he should call her dad, ask him to come in to see the video and pay for the theft. (Leave out the police.)

Buddy B.
Wynnewood, PA

This is a dammed-if-you-do and dammed-if-you-don’t situation. I would show video to local police and get their opinion. It’s a shame to soil a teenager’s reputation and shame her, but if you do the crime, you do the time. The police will be a good source of information and may have had this happen before. If you handle it yourself, you risk an outcome that you might not like.

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Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected].

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