Money Matters

Rising From the Ashes of a Salon Fire

Before your business gets “burned” by a tragic fire, salon owners advise double-checking your insurance coverage and maintaining secure records off-site.

Burn, baby, burn,” might have been the disco anthem of the ’70s, but if this happens to your salon, it can be devastating. While salon owners who have seen their businesses destroyed by tire share tales of woe, many also describe how they were able to “rise from the ashes” to rebuild their businesses.

Many salon owners believe their salons will never he devastated by fire, but it does happen, and there are no guarantees it won’t happen to you. The best course of action is to be prepared. And, if you have the misfortune to be a victim of fire, learn from others who were able to make some good come out of the bad.

The best advice comes from those who have been “burned”: First, make sure you have adequate insurance coverage. Second, keep good client records, and keep them, as well as any other valuable information, in back-up files off the premises. Last, but not least, pull your staff together as a team.


The Fire Starters


There are many different causes of fires. And while nail salons use flammable substances on a daily basis, these aren’t the only fire sources. For instance, Lynne Gallo of Salon Escada in Marlton, N.J., had a malfunctioning heating/air conditioning unit. “Apparently it turned itself on and never turned off,” she explains. “The fire was smoldering in the rafters for 12 to 16 hours before we realized there was a problem. My sister went in the back room to turn off the stereo and she looked up and saw a ceiling tile rip off and flames shoot out. When she opened the door to get out, it caused a backdraft and the entire building was engulfed within 20 seconds.

“Since the telephone wires were in the attic, they were burned so she had to go next door to call the fire department. We watched all of the flammable cans of acetone and hairspray explode like fireworks. It looked like the Fourth of July. That night we started looking for a new facility and were back in business a few days later. We completely rebuilt the salon. We had to follow the 1995 building codes and bring everything up to meet the Americans With Disabilities Act requirements. That cost us $3,000 for the architect. Because of the new codes, we lost 400 of our 2,200 square feet — but it was a good thing to do because we have a lot of clients with walkers,” says Gallo.

Noel de Caprio of the newly renamed Noëlle Spa for Beauty and Wellness in Stamford, Conn., experienced a fire in her original day spa that spread from a neighboring business. “We were located in a strip mail, next door to a restaurant. Someone in the restaurant threw a cigarette in the bathroom trash can which caused the fire. This happened at 2 a.m. on a Sunday. We immediately set out to get back in business. There was a 1,500-squarcfoot store available at the end of our strip mall and we were up and running in 12 hours. Our clients came in the next day and told us how happy they were that ‘our oasis is still here.’ That’s when the tears started,” de Caprio admits. She rebuilt at a different location that was 15,000 square feet and opened the doors eight months later.

In some cases it isn’t easy to pinpoint the exact cause of the blaze. Karen Tribendis of Nails by Karen in W. Brookfield, Mass., had her business destroyed only five days after opening. “I was told the fire started from spontaneous combustion from some sheets that I had used as drop cloths when painting the salon — even though I had used latex paint. The investigators couldn’t find a heat source. The exact cause is still a mystery,” Tribendis explains.

“Apparently the fire was smoldering all night. Luckily, my first appointment of the day cancelled because of a blizzard. I was told that if I had opened the door, there would have been a backdraft and a big explosion,” she adds.

Sadly, Tribendis wasn’t covered by insurance due to a mix-up. “I had sent in a check to my carrier for the insurance that would’ve taken effect the day of the fire. The representative was very apologetic, but I wound up with about an $8,000 loss.”


Taking Care of Business


After the fire is often when business owners find out if their insurance is adequate. Many times, an owner will purchase a policy and simply renew it each year without ever increasing the coverage. “I had been in business for 16 years,” explains Gallo. “Every year, my insurance agent would come out and I’d renew my policy. I never increased it even though my business had doubled. I also never increased my business interruption policy, so the amount we received was a pittance. We wound up about $20,000 in the hole.”

What ultimately saved Gallo’s salon was computerization. The next day, the fire chief recovered her computer’s hard drive. “Everything else had melted. We took the hard drive to a computer store and they were able to pull off all our client files. We didn’t lose any data. I wouldn’t have tried to rebuild the business if I had lost that information,” she admits.


Make the Best of a Bad Situation


Both Gallo and de Caprio believe there is good that can come from this type of devastating experience. “We actually got a lot of news coverage, which was pretty good publicity,” says Gallo.

De Caprio’s salon also received much publicity. “We looked at ways to market this disaster. We created signs and T-shirts that said, ‘Noëlle’s Is Hotter Than Ever’ and we all wore fire helmets on the day we opened our new shop. This was seen by our local news station, and because of that, we got put on the “Today” show.

“I believe everything happens for a reason,” de Caprio continues. “In our new salon, I am doing things that I’ve always wanted to do, such as opening an advanced training center and offering wellness programs. If something like this happens to you, you just have to keep your chin up and keep going.”


An Ounce of Prevention …


Carl Earn. Lt. Inspector for the West Hartford Fire Marshal’s office in West Hartford, Conn, and Bob Latherow, Fire Department Battalion Chief for Rahway, N.J. offer the following advice to reduce the chances that a fire will destroy your salon:

  • Store any volatile substances in metal cabinets.
  • Be careful of cigarette smoking around volatile substances — or better yet, don’t allow smoking in your salon.
  • Make sue all of your electrical system meets the National Electric Code.
  • Use common sense. Know the hazards of every product in your salon. “Some of the worst accidents I have seen come from complacency. People say, ‘But I’ve been doing it this way for years,” says Earn.
  • Use electrical circuit protection, i.e., Ground Fault Circuit interrupting outlets.
  • Make sure extension cords are rated for the load they are drawing.
  • Don’t permanently use extension cords. If you need an outlet somewhere else, have a licensed electrician install one.
  • Don’t put space heaters close to combustibles.
  • Have a fire protection system installed that uses smoke and heat detectors, sprinklers, etc.
  • Have metal safety cans for rags used with volatile substances and remove them at the end of the day.
  • Have a extinguisher tagged and visible. Both management and staff should know where safety items are kept and how to operate them. “I recently had a kitchen fire and my wife didn’t know how to remove the extinguisher from its bracket so she had to rip it off the wall,” admits Latherow.

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