Salon owner Lynnette Diaz-Madden was jolted into realizing just how vulnerable her salon was to being robbed. Here’s what her brush with this all-too-real threat taught her.
Recently I had the unfortunate experience of almost being robbed. I was naive to the events that took place, which woke me up to the fact that I was not prepared for my salon to be hit by thieves. A well-dressed woman came in asking for information regarding my services. She arrived about 15 minutes before client changeover. Extremely outgoing, she made herself very comfortable in my salon, walking into areas that most regular clients would not go into, touching things that new clients would ask about first.
I was giving a pedicure in a private room and she came into the doorway of the treatment room asking questions about a new facial procedure. This made me very uncomfortable and I asked her to wait in the other room until I was done and could talk to her. She proceeded to turn on the coffee maker as if she were a regular client. While I was finishing up my pedicure, I could hear her cell phone constantly ringing.
After I polished my pedi client, I walked out into the front room to tell her about the service she was inquiring about. Then my front door opened and a man wearing a black hoodie stepped inside, his left hand in his pocket, and asked, “Got a phone?” Quite taken aback by how he asked, I told him no. He hesitated a moment, backed up, and left.
What happened next should have alerted me that something was amiss, but it did not. The woman who came in for information knocked over my coat rack, somehow having it smash into the door. Patience running thin, I gave her my business card and asked her to call me and we could talk more. Instead of leaving, she walked down toward the other end of the salon. I stopped her by asking if there was anything else I could do for her. It was only then that she left.
Many will say that these occurrences should have sent up red flags. My client never picked up on this situation until we discussed it the next day. Why were we so unaware? Could it be because I live in an area that is considered safe? Were we too trusting? I may not be able to answer those questions, but no longer will I be unaware of my surroundings.
The day after this incident, I was alerted by a friend that there were two salon robberies in the news. The thieves in these cases worked in pairs or threes and targeted busy nail salons in the Philadelphia area. Watching the report, it was evident that one of the bandits was the one who had come into my salon.
The two robberies I saw on the news showed three men with hoodies, all brandishing guns. Two were left-handed. The hooded intruder who came into my salon had his left hand in his pocket. What was in it? Had I handed him a phone, would he have pulled a gun out? His accomplice was a well-dressed woman who seemed very interested in my services. No one would have put the two of them together.
As I look back on this incident, I should have picked up on all the peculiar activities of the woman. Potential new clients would never walk into a business and just turn on the coffee maker. I have had many walk-ins while I was in the treatment room, but no one has ever come back and interrupted a service; they usually sit in the reception area and wait until I finish with the client who is being serviced at that time. When she knocked over the coat rack and made it fly into the front door, I should have asked her to leave.
Salons Are Easy Targets
Google the phrase “salon robberies” and you will find they are on the rise. Salons are easy targets because they are mostly patronized by women. The mindset is that women will not fight, making them easy targets. Many robbers think that salons are easy cash thefts, but they are not just interested in the salon register — they are looking for money, jewelry, and cell phones from clients.
Cell phone thefts are on the rise. According to consumerreports.com, about 3.1 million Americans were victims of smartphone theft in 2013. Many smartphone owners have most of their personal life stored in their phones. From phone numbers, e-mail accounts, banking and credit card information, including user names and passwords, it is no wonder thieves are targeting cell phones when they come in to rob a business. Identity theft is big business.
I spoke with a client of mine who is a police officer and asked him about safety in my salon. He told me that if an attempt is made to rob the salon, you should hand over whatever the criminal asks for. “It is not worth your life — give them what they want. Everyone thinks they need to protect their property. This is not the route to take,” he warns.
Many techs I spoke to told me they have gone the route of carrying a concealed weapon. My client warned that unless you have the weapon on your person and can fully deploy, you should not even try to go for a weapon. The end result is that if the intruder has a weapon, he will panic and shoot. “You must be fully trained to use firearms. If you cannot get to the weapon and you try to make a move, it will escalate the situation and more harm will come to you than the thief,” he says.
A two-time victim of a break-in, Norma Sproles of The Signature Salon in Hendersonville, N.C., was not at her salon at the time the burglaries occurred. Sproles carries a concealed weapon and was licensed before her first break-in. “I travel a lot and feel safer,” she says. Both break-ins happened while the salon was closed and both times the burglars vandalized her establishment. Of course, not all jurisdictions permit people to carry a concealed weapon; your local laws will vary.
Michelle Cordes of Tiger Lily Salon in Tacoma, Wash., had an incident where her cash register was stolen while she and a client were in an area of her salon that didn’t allow them to see the front of the building. Once she realized they stole her register, she took off after the robbers. Said Cordes, “Was it stupid to chase after them? You bet. But I had payroll to do and a lot of checks and cash in that register, so I didn’t really think about my safety at that moment.”
Some salons have code words so that all employees know that something is amiss and feelers go up. Aimee Kuzuf of True Image Salon in Bridgeton, Mo., uses “coffee pot” as her code. She and a coworker had a stranger in a floor-length trench coat walk in asking for money. Trusting their instincts, her coworker walked out with a coffee pot and asked him to leave. She was going to use the coffee as her weapon. That is how they chose their code word.
Joanne Geiger of SKN Makeup & Beauty located in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada, was the victim of a robbery in a previous job. “I calmly gave him what he wanted, all the while making a mental checklist of distinguishing features,” she says. She feels that those exact steps are what kept her safe and led to the arrest of the suspect.
If It Happens
What should you do if you are robbed? According to my police officer client, the first two things to do are dial 911 and lock your doors. “The first mistake people make is calling their spouse, parent, or boss. If you do this, you are giving the perpetrator more time to get away,” he says.
Should your wallet, checkbook, and cell phone get taken, you need to call and inform the banks that your cards were stolen. The police should note this information if these items were taken. The authorities will put all the statistics into the NCIC, National Crime Information Center, and within three hours if your cards are used, the user will be tracked and stopped.
Do not wait until it is too late to start protecting yourself and taking measures to prevent a robbery in your business.
> Invest in a video security system. It can be a simple one using a cell phone as your recording device or you can invest in more expensive ones with multiple units. If you cannot afford a real camera system, invest in dummy cameras that look real. Placed high, no one will know they are not the real deal.
> Place signage on the doors stating that audio/video cameras are in use. This will deter many would-be thieves. It is not a guarantee, but will intimidate some to pass on your business.
> Although somewhat expensive, it may pay to have a full security system professionally installed in your business.
> Height recognition charts should be placed on the sides of business doors. Use a tape from 4’ to 6’5” and make sure it is quite visible. As the robbers leave, note how tall they are.
> Place entry buzzers on your door locks. Many will auto-unlock with a remote opener or through your cell phone. Some upper-end units are also equipped with a camera so that any person who rings to come in will be recorded.
> Reach out to your local police and ask for random checks. Many police departments will be more than happy to stop by to check on businesses in their districts. (You may even get a new client with this suggestion!) Some law enforcement districts also will come to your business and go over factors that could be making you an easy target. Take time to call and ask if they will do that for you.
> Be sure to get a sticker for your doors and windows that states, “I support my local police.” Then be sure to follow through.
> Pay attention to detail. Look for scars, tattoos, or anything that can identify the thief. Are they left- or right-handed? What color eyes?
> Learn how to use the emergency dialer on your cell phone. Time is of the essence if you are robbed.
> Have a plan and implement a practice run at least once a month with all employees so everyone knows the drill.
Being robbed is a traumatic experience. It is a personal violation and it affects people differently. One of my clients was the manager of a bank and was robbed at gunpoint several times. She wound up retiring long before she planned and had to go to therapy to help her through the post-traumatic stress caused by the robberies. She told me that she was trained to help her employees through the aftermath of the robberies, but no one was there to help her. Should you find you are having trouble dealing with the emotions of the personal attack, please seek help. There should be no embarrassment of being violated.
People say hindsight is 20/20. It may seem cliché, but it is very true. My naiveté was probably the only thing that saved my client and me that day. I no longer allow anyone to come into my salon unless they have business being here. I feel it is my duty to protect my clients and myself from harm.
Lynnette Diaz-Madden is the owner of Salon 29 in East Greenville, Pa. (www.salon29.net).