Salon owner Bobbie Cooper-Hulbert had it good. Her small, one-woman salon in a 17,000-sq.-ft. Powell, Wy., beauty school was bustling, and she’d just added a $5,000 pedicure room. Having owned five salons in the past 25 years, Cooper-Hulbert was thankful for the freedom her current salon afforded her. The building was owned by a good friend and “I never had a formal lease agreement, I didn’t even pay rent for the first couple of months,” says Cooper-Hulbert.
A seasoned professional, Cooper-Hulbert took personal precautions to guard against fire. “I studied the MSDS for my products and installed a fire alarm,” she says. When a local salon burned down, she reminded herself to get insurance coverage – something she’d always had at her previous salons. But before she’d gotten around to it her entire building went up in flames.
“A furnace pipe in the attic caused a spark and the attic caught fire,” says Cooper-Hulbert. The fire smoldered undetected for hours before finally engulfing the entire building after the beauty school closed for the night. “The building was a total loss. There was $600,000 worth of damage and I had no coverage. I lost $35,000,” she says.
Since the loss of her salon, Cooper-Hulbert has focused her attention on her work as an educator. And despite having lost all of her nail supplies, she’s been able to continue to do nails with the help of colleagues and supply houses that donated supplies and loaned her equipment.
For now Cooper-Hulbert has given up the idea of owning another salon. “I just don’t have the time or energy to think about starting over,” she says.
While always devastating, the damage caused by a salon fire doesn’t have to be permanent. Salon owners who are proactive in their efforts to protect their businesses and have adequate insurance coverage still feel the overwhelming sting of a salon fire, but they also have the tools to fight back.
At press time, Renee Borowy is embroiled in an all-out fight to get her salon back up and running after it was lost to a five-alarm fire this past summer. Borowy, the owner of the full-service salon, The Salon at VIP, in Riverview, Mich., hopes to stage a grand re-opening just four to six months after the embers cooled.
“The salon had been open a year and a half when it burned down,” says Borowy. Everything in the building was new. Borowy had gutted the building and installed new plumbing, sprinklers, electrical, heating and cooling, and exhaust systems, and each new system had passed a thorough inspection. Just prior to the fire Borowy made one last addition — a video surveillance system.
While it did not prevent the fire, the security system saved Borowy and her insurance company time and money because it caught the entire fire on film. “The video allowed the investigators to determine the cause of the fire and rule out arson as a cause,” she says. The culprit: a faulty, overheated battery pack for a hand-held vacuum.
“If there was any question of arson we’d have to wait until the insurance company investigated the fire.” The fire so far has cost her insurance company more than half a million dollars, and as the rebuilding process continues that number is sure to grow.
Just 24 hours after the fire consumed her business, Borowy had set up a temporary location and managed to keep the majority of her employees. “We were able to relocate temporarily and keep our nail, facial, pedicure, and hair services,” she says. A comprehensive insurance plan has played a major role in facilitating the salon’s recovery.
“I recommend that all salon owners invest in business interruption insurance. Some salon owners may not know that it doesn’t necessarily come standard as part of your business insurance policy,” says Borowy. “It is an extra premium, but it has taken care of our business expenses, rent at our temporary location, and it pays for the salary payroll.”
Building insurance and contents insurance have also been major factors in getting the salon back up and running. “Make sure that you check your policy and have adequate contents insurance. I don’t think you can ever have enough. I learned after the fire that I certainly didn’t,” Borowy says.
Call in the Professionals
The last thing Coral Pleas, co-owner of Yellow Strawberry Global Salon in Sarasota, Fla. expected after she lost the entire second floor of her full-service salon to fire was help from a complete stranger.
“This man walked in right after the fire and said he was a mediator and could deal with our insurance company for us,” says Pleas. “At first I got angry and called him an ambulance chaser. But it turns out that there are people who actually deal with insurance companies for a living. And this guy was a life-saver; he saved us a good deal of money.
“There was $200,000 worth of fire damage. It was overwhelming but we never had to deal with the insurance thanks to our mediator,” says Pleas. “He went over our insurance policy with a fine-tooth comb and found coverage that I didn’t even know we had. We were still under-insured but he saved us about $47,000 for damage that we didn’t initially know we had coverage for.”
After a fire salon owners are particularly vulnerable with so many new responsibilities and concerns. Enlisting the help of professionals helps to relieve some of the stress of the situation and provide you with an invaluable source of information. Reputable mediators generally charge a percentage of what the insurance company awards, but their help and expertise, as Pleas learned, often outweigh the fee. That said, be careful whom you trust.
If hiring a mediator is not an option, helpful insurance agents, insurance-appointed adjusters, and experienced salon owners are also invaluable sources of support and information. Before there is ever a fire, however, Pleas recommends that when salon owners are deciding on coverage that they not do it on their own. “Get an insurance agent up to your salon and have him see exactly what you have in terms of property and inventory,” says Pleas. Have your agent thoroughly explain your policy so that there is no question as to what is covered.
Tips From Fire Survivors
- Keep client information safe. If you use a computerized system, back it up often and keep the back-up files off the premises. If your records are paper and pen, consider investing in a computerized system. Frequently make copies of client information and keep them off the premises.
- Look for the positive to keep you motivated. “Our fire ended up being a blessing,” says Coral Pleas, owner of Yellow Strawberry Global Salon in Sarasota, Fla. “We’ve taken advantage of the situation and we’re remodeling our first floor as well.”
- Have an insurance agent come to your salon to help you determine your coverage needs, including products, supplies, appliances, and computers. “You have no idea what you have until you lose everything,” says Pleas.
- Maintain good relationships within the industry. Colleagues may be able to donate supplies, take in your clients or employees temporarily, or loan you equipment.
- Be aware of the threat of arson. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, “In commercial properties, arson is the major cause of deaths, injuries, and dollar loss.” Be aware of people who may wish to harm your business, report any suspicious activity, keep boxes, trash, wood, and other combustibles away from your building, and never open doors that are hot to the touch.
- Have an escape plan. Make sure all exits are clearly marked and easily accessible. If you have a large staff, establish a meeting place where everyone may be accounted for.
- Know exactly who and what your insurance policy covers. Encourage employees/booth renters to get separate coverage if necessary.
- Keep precise records of what is in the salon. Current videotapes of your salon are an easy way to maintain an adequate record. Keep receipts for business purchases safely offsite.
- Keep coverage updated. If your business increases in value due to major purchases, move, or remodel make sure coverage reflects it – don’t just renew your policy each year.
What’s That smell?
Many salon fires come like a thief in the night, when no one is around – but many salon fires ignite during business and you must ensure the safety of your staff and clients. Proper action during the first few minutes of a fire is key to minimizing property damage and preventing injuries and the loss of life.
If a fire erupts during business hours, immediately call the fire department, regardless of the size of the fire. In a salon setting a small fire can easily become a blazing inferno. Once a fire has erupted, time is of the essence and having a plan shaves precious seconds off your response time. If you doubt your ability to extinguish a fire, immediately evacuate the premises. Close – but do not lock – the doors as you leave.
Use your judgment. Only attempt to fight a blaze if: 1) you know the type of combustible material that is burning; 2) you know how to use the fire extinguisher and it is properly rated for the type of fire; 3) the fire is still in the beginning stage; 4) the fire will block your exit if you fail to put it out.
When purchasing fire extinguishers be aware that different fire extinguishers are meant to fight specific types of fire. Using the wrong type of extinguisher may be dangerous and cause further damage or injury.
- Type A extinguishers are labeled with a triangle and are meant for use on fire with ordinary combustibles (cloth, wood, rubber).
- Type B extinguishers are labeled with a square and are meant for flammable liquid fires such as oil, paints, lacquers, and solvents.
- Type C extinguishers are labeled with a circle and are meant for use on electrical fires involving wiring, fuse boxes, and other electrical sources.
The Science of Preventing Salon Fires
We asked Doug Schoon, co-chair of the Safety and Standards Committee of the NMC, to give us nail-salon specific tips for preventing a fire. “The most dangerous materials in a nail salon, in terms of fire, are polish removers, solvents, product removers, and nail dehydrating agents,” says Schoon.
- Be particularly aware of the vapors they produce, as these are where ignition occurs. Vapors increase with increased heat, so keep volatile materials tightly sealed and away from heat sources.
- Keep waste in metal trash cans with pop-top lids to contain fires if vapors ignite in the trash can. Empty trash several times a day to prevent vapors from accumulating.
- Limit the quantity of flammable materials in the salon and store large quantities (anything more than two gallons) in flammable cabinets with a self-closing door.
- Invest in a smoke detector and fire extinguisher at the very least. If possible, install a fire alarm that is linked to the fire department so that their response time is minimized – and hopefully so is the damage.
- The most common way to start fires is through the heating of solvents. To safely heat solvent, pour it into a plastic or glass jar and cover with a lid, leaving it just open enough to allow vapors to escape. Run warm water over jar to heat contents. Never place solvents in the microwave or over a hot plate.
- Call your local fire department and have them visit your salon to point out possible fire hazards and make safety suggestions tailored to your salon.
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