[Hpn] Stores getting creative in retrieving carts;Boston Globe;9/12/01
Morgan W. Brown
Fri, 14 Sep 2001 14:04:48 -0400
Wednesday, September 12, 2001
Boston Globe <http://www.boston.com/globe>
Stores getting creative in retrieving carts
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
''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
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.
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without charge or profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
this type of information for non-profit research and
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Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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