When she heard the chime signaling someone entering the salon in the early evening of March 15, Cynthia Ramsey automatically glanced in the mirror at her station. Her mouth opened to call out a greeting, but what came out instead was a prayer. Because rather than a client’s familiar face, she saw two men wearing ski masks and holding guns entering EHD Beauty Salon in Uniondale, N.Y.

One of the gunmen immediately approached Ramsey and said they wanted all of the money in the salon. He then led everyone from the front of the salon through other sections of the salon to the kitchen in the back while the other gunman began collecting money from clients who had been in another area of the salon.

“They were mad because they thought there should be more money,” Ramsey remembers.

Through a window in the kitchen area, Ramsey watched the gunmen’s movements while one of her employees — who had her cell phone in her pocket — called 911 and alerted the police to the robbery in progress.

Within 15 minutes, the gunmen left as abruptly as they came. Seconds later, Ramsey and the 16 clients and staff members with her heard the wail of police sirens and looked out the front window just in time to see police officers catch the suspects.

“I’ve been in the industry 21 years and a salon owner for 15 years, five in this location, and this is the first time this had happened to me,” she says. “It was a very frightening situation... but we kept our senses about us.”

While there aren’t any national statistics available on salon robberies, it happens more often than you may think: A quick web search identified numerous salon robberies across the country in the first six months of this year alone.

By its very nature a robbery connotes the taking of something of value by force or the threat of force — and in many of these robberies guns were used. In more than one, a salon employee or client was killed.

“With small businesses, robbery is a crime of opportunity,” explains Sergeant Marie Chiarizia of the Virginia Beach (Va.) Police Department’s robbery division. “The perception is that salons bring in a lot of cash, and that it’s easy money to get.”

An added appeal is that many salons are located in strip malls, adds Sergeant Scott McKee, supervisor of the violent crimes unit at the Eugene (Ore.) Police Department. “They’re located on main thoroughfares with easy in-and-out access,” he notes.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of your salon becoming a robbery victim. Because there’s no way to eliminate the risk, though, make sure you and your staff know how to respond if it does happen in your salon.

Remove the Temptation — Cash

If robbery is a crime of opportunity, your smartest move is to take that opportunity away from would-be robbers. Start by minimizing the amount of cash you keep on hand — and publicize your policy by posting small but prominent signs in the salon window and near the register stating, for example, “We keep less than $35 on the premises.”

“Look at 7-11 stores,” Chiarizia says. “They had such a problem with rob­beries before, but they have made it a well-publicized practice to never keep more than $20 accessible to employees. Now 7-11 stores hardly ever get robbed.”

According to Chiarizia and McKee, the easiest and most effective solution is to install a drop safe that can’t be opened by employees or easily be removed from the business. Chiarizia knows of several salons in Virginia Beach that have invested the few hundred dollars to install a drop safe.

If a drop safe isn’t a viable option, she recommends frequent but unpredictable bank deposits. “Vary the times that you go and carry your cash in different containers — don’t always carry a bank bag to the car,” she advises. Make the trip in twos, or at least have one person go get the car and drive it up to the salon entrance, where another employee can then step out and quickly toss the bank bag in the car.

Next, make your business a less appealing target. McKee emphasizes that robbery suspects want to go unnoticed —they like dark areas, obstructed views and inattentive victims. Respond by making sure the salon exterior and parking areas are well lit and that passers-by can easily see inside the salon by removing curtains, signs, and anything else that blocks visibility.

McKee even goes so far as to recommend taking steps to attract passers-by. “I’ve seen some business owners position benches outside their storefront inviting pedestrians to sit down,” he comments. “I’ve also seen business owners strategically locate vending ma­chines near the front of their business.”

Install door chimes that alert you when the door opens, and immediately greet everyone who enters. “Suspects have told us that when they’re casing a business, they pay specific attention to the conduct of the employees,” McKee reveals.

Security systems and video surveillance also may act as crime deterrents and help reduce losses. According to Joe McConnell of ADT Security Services (Boca Raton, Fla.), video surveillance can also help decrease employee theft and shoplifting and serve as an impartial witness to any “slip and fall” claims.

“Video monitoring can be highly effective,” agrees David Zimmer, a security consultant in Minneapolis, Minn., and webmaster of www.feelsafeagain.com. According to Zimmer, the systems cost just a few hundred dollars. However, he cautions that the monitoring systems work only as well as they’re cared for — you have to make sure the cameras are correctly positioned and that the tapes are switched out as necessary. To this end, he recommends tying the video monitor into a motion detector so that the tape only rolls when there’s activity.

Finally, McConnell urges salons to have a policy mandating that at least two employees be present during operating hours. Also develop opening and closing procedures. For example, he recommends having a policy that business doors should be locked promptly at closing time or as soon as the last sched­uled customer enters the salon. Always lock the door and post the closed sign before tackling closing out the day’s receipts and cleaning.

While robberies are opportunistic crimes, they’re typically well planned. “Businesses are usually cased beforehand,” McKee emphasizes. “We know of robberies where the person went in before to ask how late the business is open or for directions.” The suspect uses this time to evaluate the target.

“Do As You’re Told and No One Will Get Hurt”

There’s a lot of truth to that hack­neyed threat According to Chiarizia, the average robbery lasts about two minutes — which may not seem like very long until you’re going through it.

Keep your communications with the suspect short and simple. “Let the suspect know you intend to cooperate, and don’t make any sudden moves,” Chiarizia urges. “Remember, it’s just as stressful for them as it is for you.”

Let the suspect know if there are other people in the business who can’t be seen. The last thing you want is for a client to walk out of the bathroom and cause the robbery suspect to panic. By the same token, McKee and Chiarizia advise against offering any more than what’s demanded.

“The idea is to listen carefully and do as you’re told, but at the same time to pay close attention to their demeanour and behaviour,” McKee says. Use the time to form a description of the suspects, starting at the top of their heads and working systematically down.

“We recommend height gauges on your door like you see in convenience stores,” Chiarizia says. “And look at frame size—small, medium, or large— rather than trying to guess at a weight.”

Next, observe hair color, skin color, and any facial hair, scars or other identifying marks. Is the person right-or left-handed? (Typically, the hand holding the weapon is the dominant hand, Chiarizia says.)

“Listen to speech patterns and how they walk,” she continues. “Ask yourself if this person reminds you of someone you know. If so, it’ll help you remember.” Less important are details about clothing because suspects usually change their clothes as quickly as possible.

While Ramsey’s employee successfully alerted police to the robbery using her cell phone, Chiarizia cautions against trying it. “If you get caught, it creates the potential for a hostage situation,” she observes. “They want to get in and out as quickly as possible, and if you slow them down or put obstacles in their way, they’re going to react adversely.”

Once the suspects leave the salon, immediately lock the door to prevent them from returning. “Something may frighten them out in the parking lot, and they’ll revert back to the area,” Chiarizia explains. Isolate areas and items the suspect may have touched, and ask any clients present to remain until the police arrive.

If you can do it safely, watch the suspect to see if you can get a description of the car he or she is driving or see what direction he or she heads in.

A salon robbery is one of those situations you plan for in the hopes that it never happens. Certainly, the policies and procedures recommended by police officers and security experts will diminish the appeal of your business as a target Just don’t let preparedness turn into paranoia. As Ramsey says, “Being robbed hasn’t changed anything. We had a panic button installed and we’re mindful of who comes in and out, but if it happens you just have to remain calm and not panic. I’m not living in fear.”

Protect Against Inside Jobs

Employee theft and consumer shoplifting are daily challenges for salons, whether or not you’re aware of it The situations vary, from those as “innocent” as an employee taking home half-empty bottles of nail polish to another’s outright theft by neglecting to enter a cash transaction into the register or computer and pocketing the payment for herself v

Then there are the clients who will slip everything from a nail file to a liter bottle of shampoo into their purses.

In his work with salons across the country; consultant Peter G has seen it all. He tells of a salon employee last year who took months to eaten because the individual was deleting cash transactions from the computer system, then removing the cash from the register It was only after the owner became suspicious and checked the computer logs that the employee was caught.

“Losses from employee and customer theft can cause a significant loss of business profits,’ agrees ADT’s Mc-Connell “If a salon is losing just $ 10 a day to theft, that adds up to $300 in a month, and $3,600 in a year”

To minimize employee and customer thefts, assume you have a problem with theft of inventory or cash loss and then review, step-by-step, how cash payments and inventory are handled.

“From there, make logical deductions of where you could have the highest potential for loss and implement policies to correct them,” he advises. He also recommends the following:

• Install a closed-circuit TV or video surveillance system and publicize it
• Reconcile inventory levels often
• Keep retail displays in highly visible areas,
• Establish a strict policy that all payments be processed at the register.
• Reconcile service tickets with the register daily.

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