[Hpn] Stores getting creative in retrieving carts;Boston Globe;9/12/01

Morgan W. Brown norsehorse@hotmail.com
Fri, 14 Sep 2001 14:04:48 -0400


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Wednesday, September 12, 2001
Boston Globe <http://www.boston.com/globe>
[Massachusetts]
Food section
Stores getting creative in retrieving carts
<http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/255/food/Stores_getting_creative_in_retrieving_carts+.shtml>

By Andrea Berman, Globe Correspondent, 9/12/2001

Behold the shopping cart. The wheels twist and the carriage rattles as you 
push it on your rounds. Curse it, abuse it, and then forget about it - at 
least until you shop again.

For a store owner, that's not part of the deal. Jim Crosby, owner of five 
supermarkets on the North Shore, keeps one eye on the parking lot to make 
sure customers go home with the goods they've bought and not with the means 
of transportation.

''People don't get up in the morning with the thought that they're going out 
to steal a shopping cart,'' says Bud Sweetser, president of Carriage Trade 
Service Co. in Woburn, whose trucks return stray carts to the stores they 
came from. ''They get up thinking that they're going food shopping but have 
no other way to get those groceries home.''

Crosby agrees that few cart thieves have bad intentions. ''What am I 
supposed to do when I see a homeless person walking down the street with all 
of his worldly possessions in one of my shopping carts? Am I supposed to 
take his home away from him?'' he asks. With markets in 
Manchester-by-the-Sea, Salem, Georgetown, Concord, and Marblehead, Crosby 
admits that in his locations, the issue of disappearing carts is not a big 
concern. Those that do leave the parking lots are returned by a service 
after they've been abandoned. Each one that disappears from his stores costs 
$100, though some shopping carts can cost as much as $150.

City supermarkets are hit the hardest. ''A good part of the problem has to 
do with the bottle bill,'' says Crosby. ''It's generated a whole new group 
of people who go around collecting bottles.

''In Salem, we might lose 50 carriages every year out of our inventory of 
100.'' Since he started using a retrieval service, Crosby says, ''we've 
significantly reduced it.''

Shopping cart ''recovery,'' as those in the industry call it, is big 
business. Sweetser, whose company services some of the larger chains, 
including Stop & Shop stores in Boston, Fall River, Brockton, and New 
Bedford, has been in the business of supplying and servicing carriages and 
store fixtures for more than 40 years. The recovery part of his business is 
new, and Sweetser began it because Stop & Shop management asked him to.

''They were losing too many carts, especially in Quincy and Boston,'' says 
Sweetser. ''We sent out three trucks equipped with strobe lights and marked 
with big orange letters that say `cart recovery.' We're out early in the 
morning. We can put 50 carts on a truck at once. Everything is computerized 
so we can keep track of where each carriage is being picked up.'' The trucks 
cruise urban apartment complexes, elder housing, and housing projects.

''We go into Bromley-Heath [housing project in Boston], and usually finish 
there by 7:30. Then we go back again in the afternoon.''

Often, Sweetser's employees will see someone pushing a cart blocks away from 
the store. Technically, it's theft, but are they willing to get involved in 
recovering a carriage that hasn't yet been abandoned? ''We avoid 
confrontation. We'll get the cart when they finally leave it. It's our 
policy.''

A computerized carriage recovery system may seem wonderfully 
state-of-the-art, but for some store owners, it still isn't enough. 
Retailers in urban areas have tried everything from digging trenches around 
parking lots and burying electro-magnetic fields, to installing boxes that 
require a 25 cent deposit, refunded when the cart is returned. Those methods 
do little, if anything, to discourage shoppers from `borrowing' carriages.

Enter Kart Saver, Inc.'s ''cart retention'' device, which consists of a 
transmitter at the store entrance that activates a unit attached to a 
castor. Once the cart reaches a pre-determined distance outside the store, 
an alarm sounds, the castor locks, and if the customer tries to push the 
carriage, it will only turn in a circle.

A screaming horn and a circling carriage is a good theft deterrent, but the 
units cost about $90 to $100 apiece.

Harold Slawsby, owner of the Save-A-Lot food store at Washington Park Mall 
in Roxbury, saw his carriages disappearing at the rate of 10 per week and 
turned to Kart Saver for help. ''I was in California and saw this system,'' 
he says. ''It just about doubles the cost of the carriage, but it's working 
well. Many of our carriages were ending up at elderly housing, so we went to 
the complexes and gave them the two wheeled carts. That way, they could 
still get their groceries home.''

Village Market's Jim McGinnis, who oversees stores in Roslindale and 
Scituate, has ''been buying reconditioned carriages instead of new ones,'' 
he says. ''Those are $50 or $60, as opposed to $125.''

Many small stores ask their own employees to fetch carriages. Foodie's Urban 
Market in the South End follows this time-tested system of retrieval. Store 
owner Vic Leon says, ''I've lost plenty of carriages, but nowhere near what 
some stores are losing.''

The disappearing shopping cart is a $100 million annual nationwide problem, 
according to ''Progressive Grocer'' magazine.

That adds $7 to your yearly grocery bill. What once was the store owner's 
headache has become yours, too. You'll find the aspirin in Aisle 5.


This story ran on page E3 of the Boston Globe on 9/12/2001.

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Morgan <norsehorse@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA



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