A Conversation With…

Keith Wanke – A Monthly Interview with LP Industry Leaders

The retail industry has always strived and found new ways to protect products and reduce inventory shrinkage, all thanks to the loss prevention professionals who work hard and dedicate their strengths and professional skills to combat crime.

Keith Wanke, a loss prevention professional with over 30 years of experience, is one of those professionals who has drastically improved the LP industry thanks to his contributions to EAS source tagging and his loyalty to the business.

Originally, Keith planned on becoming a journalist, but, while interviewing the dean of the Western Illinois University for an article about their new Law Enforcement Administration School, his plans changed when the dean turned the tables and quizzed Keith on his future goals.

Keith explained, “The Dean asked me what I was interested in, and I said, ‘I’m going to be an author. I’m going to write books.’ He said, ‘No you’re not. You’re going to end up designing brochures for some company. Have you ever thought about going into law enforcement?’”

That one conversation changed Keith Wanke’s future goals and landed him in loss prevention.

A self-professed workaholic, Keith began his loss prevention career at the Illinois Law Enforcement Commission in Chicago as a crime analyst and field researcher, and then followed that with a position in the private sector with Montgomery Ward.

After leaving Montgomery Wards, he spent eight years at Wick’s learning from various brands, stores and Wick’s 64 different retail companies and businesses ranging from department stores to banks.

Keith credits his time at Wickes Companies for his training and foundation in the loss prevention industry.

“I learned so much while I was at Wickes’ Companies; it was phenomenal. The eight years I spent there was like being 20 years at another company because of the many different brands I worked with,” Keith says. “ We had franchise companies, so it gave me the experience of working with franchise owners along with company owned businesses, so it was a really interesting experience.”

With Keith’s extensive career it might be tough to hone in on a certain project or business venue to be most proud of, but Keith is exceptionally proud of his contributions to EAS source tagging which he began in 1987 as a founding member of the International Source Tagging Council.

At that time, Keith was working at the Musicland Group, an entertainment company that ran Musicland, Suncoast Motion Picture Company, On Cue, Sam Goody and the Media Play Superstore Chains. The pre-recorded home entertainment industry was the highest shrink sector of the time and was in need of a serious overhaul.

The products were small and easy to conceal, causing huge shrink numbers, while retailer tried long, bulky, protective packaging that wasted more space than it actually protected.

“There was a big push recognizing that something had to be done to protect that product and not just putting it in another tinker box,” Keith says. “I began working with various retailers to get the manufacturers of CD’s and DVD’s to recognize this and protect those products the best way, which is source tagging the products inside the actual packaging.”

This push for a new form of protection led Keith through a 12-year odyssey that paid off in the end when EAS source tagging proved to be effective and became the number one way of protecting pre-recorded material.

Keith, now at Dunham’s Sports, is still working harder than ever. He joined Dunham Sports in 2002 as vice president of loss prevention audit and firearms compliance. Having been in the pre-recorded entertainment industry for 19 years, Keith’s biggest transition was moving over to a sporting goods retail concept not knowing or expecting the issues he would be encountering.

“At Dunham’s I was surprised to see the products thieves were stealing. Things like a baseball bat, and high-end golf clubs. I never realized these would be the coveted items to be stolen,” Keith says.

Keith said that combating and reducing the shrink in these categories was how he got introduced to Universal Surveillance Systems. He discovered that USS had some of the most advanced specialty EAS tags of any EAS tag company. In addition they were very esthetically pleasing when placed on the various products, which both the merchants and vendors appreciated. The use of these specialty tags on items like high-end baseball bats and golf clubs helped to significantly reduce the theft of those products and reduce shrinkage.

The next big challenge Keith had to deal with was to learn and become familiar with firearms as well as the complex federal rules and regulations. In addition, each state has their own set of rules and regulations regarding firearms all of which must be followed by a Federal Firearms License. On a national level, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, oversee firearms compliance and regulations. Being an FFL is serious business and the ATF has a zero tolerance policy for any occurrences of noncompliance. Keith is very proud that Dunham’s Sports has maintained one of the highest overall compliance records based on the results of audits conducted by the ATF.

Keith said that Dunham’s is the best company he’s ever worked for and what makes it special, is the outstanding people that work there.

“I also feel blessed to have a team of extremely talented Loss Prevention professionals all working together to reduce shrinkage and increase the company’s gross margins and profits,“ Keith says. “One of the things I appreciate most is the incredible support the Loss Prevention Department gets from the companies top executives, especially the CEO, President and my boss who is Executive VP COO.”

Despite the challenges that come with loss prevention, Keith’s number one hobby is his work. “Although I work out doing cardio and weight training five to six times a week, what I like about doing cardio is that I’m able to be doing work at the same time,” Keith says. “With all the technology out today, you can have your iPad or iPhone and be communicating with your staff or going through emails. I find that relaxing.”

In order to keep up with LP trends and occurrences, Keith reads LP related material but only for news. “I read more for knowledge than enjoyment. Having been on the entertainment side, I’m more of a movie person. I love movies. I have a huge collection of movies. They just sit there like books, but I’ve got hundreds and hundreds of DVD’S,” Keith says. “I don’t really watch TV, but what I do enjoy is Netflix.” As a horror movie fan, Keith enjoys all of the horror classics and likes streaming them on Netflix.

Aside from being a movie collector, Keith relaxes by going out with his family on his boat to the lake and always looks forward to home cooked holiday meals.
“Home cooked holiday meals prepared by my wife Linda are always very special and heartwarming. My favorite is turkey with all the trimmings; I always look forward to that, but, of course, once a year,” Keith says. “In May 2013, Linda and I will be celebrating our 40th Wedding Anniversary. It takes a very special woman to put up with the life of a Loss Prevention professional!”

Throughout his career, Keith has had great mentors helping him and guiding him through the industry. “Peter Barrington was a tremendous mentor throughout my entire career and Dave Imrie, who hired me at Montgomery Wards, is a tremendous individual, fantastic professional and great friend,” Keith says. “I believe in being at the right place at the right time, but I also believe that in order to succeed you need to put in the work and build relationships. Building lasting relationships is what it’s all about.”