When you’re a risk manager in charge of 1500 stores with a team of just four regional managers, you need to know where the risks lie, and where they’re heading.

Chance Bowlin apparently does. Working as Head of Loss Prevention for Petco, from an office in San Antonio, Texas, he successfully oversaw the evacuation of all the company’s stores in the path of Hurricane Harvey last month.

On 30th August he told Retail Risk News the company had reopened all but 15 stores in the area, and “knock on wood, we didn’t lose any animals”, despite damage to some of the buildings.

Store evacuations and closures come up quite often for Petco, since the company has to move animals in the event of possible storms, wildfires, or power cuts.

“We are moving product around constantly,” Chance said. “You cannot allow pets to perish in stores.”

Predictive analytics, the subject of a panel discussion at the Retail Risk – New York conference on 14th September, may not have helped him to predict the hurricane’s impact but guides his approach to risks in general.

(Tickets for the conference are complimentary for retailers and end users – to register go to http://eriskevents.com/new-york-booking/ )

Chance will be on the panel with Skip Myers of Micro Center, and Steve Welk of Barnes and Noble, discussing the data paths they find most valuable and how the data can move from being an ‘LP’ to a ‘Business’ tool.

“I report to the VP of operations so I get a lot of insight into how the stores operate,” he said. “With us Predictive Analytics is driving the LP and risk side as well as process improvements to increase sales and better serve customers.”

Petco uses mostly generic retail analytics of store traffic, PoS data, store performance and crime rates in stores. Most of the firm’s product is highly ‘fencible’ and animals are quite frequently stolen.

“We work harder to protect animals than other product,” said Chance. “Often they’ll fall into the wrong hands. We’ve had people stealing salt water fish in plastic bags and breaking into our turtle habitat to resell the turtles to a travelling reptile salesman.

“We have people trying to walk out with ferrets and snakes – you can’t tag the animals or RFID them.”

Predictive analytics are increasingly useful to LP managers for several reasons, Chance said.

“For a long time we could trust to our instincts but these days you need data to drive your decisions. And with LP departments getting smaller we need more of a rifle than a shotgun approach.

“Petco uses a variety of business intelligence and exception based reporting tools, and our field staff apply them. Nice positions for loss prevention analysts at head office have gone, so field staff are taking more responsibility for investigations.”

Chance heads up two teams, one covering loss prevention at brick and mortar stores and the other covering e-commerce fraud.

“I switch them back and forth,” he said. “I have a team of four covering online fraud and two  of them were LP field staff with other organisations before. It’s all starting to come together with ‘buy online pick up in store’, same day delivery and all these ways retailers have of trying to sell product. It’s no longer just an online world or a brick-and-mortar world, it’s omni-channel.”