Editor’s Note: The names of persons, salons, and salon locations have been changed at the request of the victims, and to avoid publishing details about their businesses that might be useful to criminals.
Yvette Durquellia owns Yvette’s Nail Design in a “safe, quiet,” Westchester, N.Y., neighborhood with a moneyed clientele. And on July 24,1996, she faced every business owner’s nightmare: an armed robbery. By the time it was over, the salon’s cash was gone, the six customers and three employees had been robbed and terrorized, her brother was shot, and a high-speed chase resulted in the death of a 70-year-old pedestrian. All in a “nice” neighbourhood.
“The two perpetrators were not from our area; they came from Brooklyn and Queens,” recalls Durquellia. “They went where they thought they wouldn’t be recognized and could go right back to their own neighbourhoods. As salon owners, we underestimate how much of a target we are. We thought we were in a safe area.”
Durquellia had left the salon’s front door open that day because it was hot. But it wouldn’t have made much difference. The salon had all the lures robbers look for: accessibility, no buzzer system at die door, cash on hand, evening hours, and an easy escape route via a nearby highway. The suspects knew all this and more when they herded the nine people on site into the bathroom. They knew exactly where the bathroom was and knew that the cash was kept in a drawer, not a register. Durquellia realized they had probably sent a girlfriend in ahead of time, who posed as a customer. And as awful as it is to think that a client might be scoping you out for a robbery, crime-prevention specialists say it isn’t unusual.
In a “great area” outside Atlanta, Barbara Williams was robbed in broad daylight by the friendly boyfriend of a client, who accosted her when she left Barbara’s Nail Studio. As experts recommend, she hadn’t closed the salon alone, but the nail technician who was with her was so frightened that she ran away against the robber’s orders, endangering both their lives. The brazen robber even returned with his girlfriend a few days later, sans ski mask, but because Williams had recognized him anyway, she was able to prevent his entry by using her buzzer system on the door.
Williams has also had two nighttime breakings, one in which suspects came from “other neighborhoods” and threw cinder blocks through her window to gain access; in a second armed robbery, the robber cased her salon from the front and entered through a back door, which was unlocked because it was used by employees to reach the parking lot When caught with the cash, a can of Mace he’d used on a salon manager, a gun, and a pantyhose cap, he told police that he was originally going to rob a supermarket, but when he passed the salon and “saw all the women inside,” he thought it would be an easier target.
Lest you think these are isolated incidents, a quick look at public records proves otherwise. In a salon on Long Island, N.Y., a salon owner fell to the floor when a man entered with a gun, demanded money, and a customer was forced to open the register. When a Brooklyn, N.Y., salon was robbed by three men, Arlene Beckles, an off-duty policewoman who was getting her hair done, fired her gun, killing one suspect and wounding two others. One man tried to shoot Beckles in the face, but his gun jammed twice. In Colorado, a salon chain prevented a nighttime break-in attempt with non-breakable glass, but suffered one robbery from a cleaning-staff employee.
And it isn’t unusual that the robbers in Durquellia’s robbery, who were recently released from prison, had targeted salons before. When they were caught, it was discovered that since being paroled, they had robbed at least six salons previously. Their spree ended at Yvette’s when Durquellia’s brother, John, walked into the salon with her young daughter in his arms. The suspects shot him, and a police officer who was stopped at a red light heard the shot and called in a pursuit.
John lost a kidney and doesn’t go by the salon much anymore; Durquellia says she doesn’t want to do nails anymore. “I could have lost my brother and my daughter that night,” she adds. “The police suggested a buzzer or camera, but they’re very expensive.”
Small businesses are robbed 10 times more often than individuals; according to the Small Business Administration (SBA), two-thirds of all money obtained by robbery comes from small businesses. Additionally, according to Linda James, a former police officer and president of Loss Prevention Resources Inc. in Kirk-land, Wash., salons in particular are at risk because they rarely have prevention programs in place.
“A lot of salons deal with a great deal of cash and have poor cash-control procedures,” comments James. “Their registers get full and it only takes $100 to encourage a robber. Most robbers see a lot of $1 bills and it looks like a lot of money, even if it’s not. I’ve even called salons and been told, “The manager is out making a bank deposit. She’ll be back soon because it’s not far away.’ What you just told me is that the manager is a female, what time she makes deposits, and that the bank is not far away. Don’t give out this information!
“Salons’ locations are also an encouragement,” continues James. “Robbers can get in and out fast because many salons have good access to a freeway, and escape routes are encouragements. If you’re deep in a mall, you’re much safer, but if you’re near a mall entrance, you aren’t Salons are often staffed by young females, which also makes them a target. Employees generally are not well-trained in crime-prevention tactics and fail to get a good description of robbers. So, potential robbers know there’s a high likelihood they’ll get away with it.”
Another situation that makes salons a target is their evening hours. Most owners say today’s businesswoman demands late hours, but if this is a fact of doing business, extra caution is a must. So, too, is stepped-up daytime vigilance. Business owners understandably ding to the comforting notion that robberies occur mostly at night, but both of Williams’ armed robberies took place in the afternoon, as did the Brooklyn shooting. The “nice-neighborhood” concept does not hold water either.
Today’s brazen criminals do not care what time it is or who sees them. They will come from areas within a 50-mile radius to neighborhoods that appear to be wealthier than theirs. Many have a driver wait a short distance away, so license plates cannot be observed by glancing out the door.
Salons with back doors open, cash handled in plain sight, bank drops made at scheduled times, stylists allowed to keep tips in obvious jars, purses left hanging on the backs of chairs, windows cluttered up with posters, and clients blindly trusted are crimes waiting to happen.
“Robbers are often on drugs and frightened,” stresses James. “You’ll be lucky to get a professional who plans to get in and out without harming anyone.” These details are not intended to frighten; they’re a wake-up call to preventive action.
While many salons cannot afford costly alarm systems, James says there are many important preventive measures you can take. If there’s a choice, she says, don’t pick a location with a phone booth outside. Potential robbers can pretend to make a phone call while they watch your cash register and observe your business. Because most registers are near doors, she recommends using shelving or placing registers behind countertops, so it’s not easy to observe cash details from the street. However, she says, salons that use window posters are obscuring the view inside from passersby, who might observe a robbery taking place.
“Put up a screen at least 4-feet high so someone outside can’t see the money in the register, but keep windows dear so outsiders can see what’s going on,” she recommends. ‘You want a fish-bowl effect.”
Buzzer systems that permit you to observe customers before letting them in can help. Williams relied on her $500 system to keep a suspect from re-entering her salon, but she admits she uses it primarily at night James says that door buzzers are helpful, but buzzer alarms that are located under a desk are a disaster and should never be used until a robbery is over and the suspects have left. You don’t want to anger or frighten a robber, or worse yet, end up in a hostage situation. Other ways to make yourself a less-inviting target include:
- If you have a choice for back-door locations, position them on roads, not alleys. Keep the area well-lit, do not keep a dumpster near the back door someone can hide behind, and always, always keep back doors locked.
- Keep minimal cash on hand. Make frequent and irregularly timed bank drops. Send two people to make the drop, do not carry money in obvious cash bags, and do not let customers see you removing cash for a drop. Williams bought cheap old purses for dropping cash, and she takes money in a book from the front of the salon to the back, where it is counted out-of-sight before it goes to the bank.
Upon closing your salon, always lock the door before counting money. One owner said she walked in at night while her manager was counting cash at the front desk.
- Advertise the fact that you practice cash control. Keep a sign on the door or at the register that states you keep no more than $50 on hand and that employees do not have the combination to time-locked safes. Signs tell robbers you have no cash and that you’ve had training. After her robberies, Williams invested in a drop safe for use by the register. The money is regularly (and quietly) transferred to a back safe, which is sunk into a concrete floor. The safe cost $500, including the concrete work.
- If someone is loitering outside, call the police. In Colorado, a salon owner uses the intercom code, “Pick up line four,” to alert the manager that there is a suspicious person present and the police should be called.
- If your local police have a community crime-prevention program, ask them for help. Williams had police come to her salon after the robbery and walk through from front to back, giving her tips. The first thing they told her is that if a robber gets money once, he’s likely to return. They recommended she install a buzzer in the front door, place safes in back, and replace her back-door lock, which was a push-and-lock style knob, with an automatic lock They also suggested a video camera in front with a locked video case. She took all their advice, investing a total of $3,700 in safety measures.
- Train your staff. James suggests you take time to role-play robberies. Plan for them to go smoothly, like a fast sales transaction, she recommends.
“Always greet clients at the door and make eye contact,” adds James. “Eye contact at this stage can prevent a robbery because robbers don’t like being noticed. Use intimidating behaviour to show you have training and take initiative toward prevention, so you look like a hard target.”
However, intimidating behaviour is not to be practiced if a robbery is in progress. Says James, “We have new information that’s important. In the old days, you were advised to look at the robber to get a good description. Today’s robbers will kill you if you make eye contact or appear to challenge them. They have no respect for life. Before a robbery, eye contact can deter someone, but once one begins, be submissive. Let robbers know they’re in control.”
In the Event
In Colorado, unbreakable glass, metal gates, and no cash at night helps deter robberies. One owner there says if you arrive to see the salon has been broken into, leave immediately, go to a pay phone to call the police, and only reenter with them. Make certain the robber has left and touch nothing until fingerprints are taken. “No one should ever enter the salon alone or be in it alone at night,” he adds.
If a robbery occurs while you are in the salon, never resist verbally or physically; just hand over the money. “Use body language to show you’re cooperating,” adds James. “Avoid using the word ‘no;’ instead say, ‘I’m unable to do that, but I can do this.’ Always tell the robber if there is someone else in the salon. When someone walks out from the back or the bathroom unexpectedly, that’s when shootings happen.”
Robbers usually want to get in and out fast, but if the salon’s occupants are moved to the back James suggests telling the robber that customers will walk in and it cannot be helped. Ask if you can lock the door. Remember that doing this is always a judgment call; if you are able to tell the robber that you are cooperating it may be a good idea, but if you’re told not to say a word, don’t.
If your employees have role-played in advance and offer no resistance, things are more likely to go smoothly. Once a robber leaves, wait until he is out of sight, lock the door, and call the police. Don’t use alarms until you are certain the robber is gone, and do not disturb the crime area. Avoid touching anything the robber touched; use a doth to hold the phone if the one he touched is all that’s available. Attempt to calm and comfort your staff and customers, get everyone to stay until they speak to the police, and use “waiting time” to jot down details. But when you repeat details to police, there’s one big one you should always leave out.
Explains James, “Cops will ask you what was taken. Police reports are available to the press, and if it is published in the papers that you had $1,200 in your register, you’re likely to get more robberies. Never give out money details immediately. Tell the police you have to do an audit, which is the truth. When you call them the next day with the results, the information goes on a supplemental report.”
Enroll in community and neighborhood crime-prevention programs today; walk through your salon and examine your systems with prevention in mind. If there is anything you can do to look like a hard target, do it Prepare for the worst; some salons even teach all staff members basic first aid. And always be cautious about with whom you share cash-system information. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that many salons that have been robbed were victimized with the help of an employee or a client. Keep “bait” money in the form of bills with recorded serial numbers and dates in your register. Place them at die bottom of each section.
Place colored tape markers at the main entrance to help employees gauge the height of a robber as he leaves. Use different colors to represent 5', 5'6", 5'8", and 6'.
Protect yourself in advance, but in the event of a crime, remember: It's only money. That’s what robbers want and if you give it to them, they’ll be as glad to leave as you are to see them go.
In the Event of a Robbery
- Remain calm. Staging mock robberies may help you remember what to do and help you stay cool-headed. Try to treat a robbery as much like a smooth sales transaction as possible.
- Obey the robber’s commands. Do not argue, fight, or use weapons.
- Always allow the robber to be in control, especially if you’re facing a weapon
- Avoid surprises. Inform the robber if there are people in back room or on another floor.
- If you can do so very subtly, observe the robber’s sex, race, height, weight, hair color, clothing and distinctive characteristics, such as facial hair, glasses, and tattoos. Watch what the robber touches. However; do not state and if you are instructed not to look at someone’s face, cast your eyes down.
After the Event:
- Call 911 without delay. Operators are well-trained in most cases take the time to answer their questions about what happened and where, and whether anyone was hurt. Provide a description of the suspect, any weapons used, and any vehicles.
- Lock the front door and wait for the police to arrive. Ask witnesses to stay until they do.
- If there is a delay, make notes, but do not discuss observations with others present.
- Protect the crime scene. Keep customers and staff away from the register and anything the robber touched.
- During prevention training, assign employees post-robbery tasks. One person can lock the door and watch the entrance. Assign a second person to safeguard the crime area. A third employee should calm customers.
- Corporate with police.
- Do not tell the media how much money was taken, and don’t include this in an initial police report.
Low-Tech Robbery Prevention
- Make certain you have sufficient lighting in the interior; exterior; and parking lot of your business.
- Avoid hanging signs of posters on the front door or in windows so passersby can see in.
- At all times, leave an interior light on that is visible from the street.
- One of the strongest deterrents to robbery is advertising (and practicing) a cash-control policy. Keep as little cash as possible on the premises. Post a sign that says “$50 maximum cash in register” near your check-out area. Do not accept large bills for small purchases.
- Keep back and side doors locked at all times Install alarms on all these doors, do not allow employees to enter or leave from them, except in emergencies.
- Vary your banking route and make different persons responsible for making deposits. Deposit money as often as possible at different times of the day and carry it in unobvious containers.
- Have employees greet customers as they enter. Employees will like this, but robbers don’t like to be noticed.
- Have two people open and close your salon.
- Walkthrough mock robberies and your follow-up procedures periodically, especially with new employees.
- Develop systems to prevent shoplifting and discourage employee dishonesty: These include using numbered tickets and codes for opening registers, developing trackable systems for voids, locating displays away from doorways, and having various staff members take inventory frequently.
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