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Management Practices

Tale of Three Fires (Part 1)

Alison Alhamed | July 10, 2011 | 2:41 PM
Three owners share their incendiary tales, offering their hard-learned Dos and Don’ts.

An electrical fire, an errant spark, arson—fire may devastate a salon’s structure in minutes, but it doesn’t have to devastate the business. With an action plan and a strong management team, a business will carry on, despite the challenges.

Part 1: Amore Salon Spa
Part 2: Eva Scrivo Salon
Part 3: Daired’s Salon and Spa Pangea

Caught On Camera
Tracy and Devon Anderson had just put the finishing touches on the salon of their dreams, Amore Salon Spa (amore-salon.net) in Kalispell, Montana. They were pleased they had come in under budget and ahead of schedule, and were planning their opening party. 

At 7 a.m. on March 18, 2008, Tracy Anderson arrived to open the salon. “I was right outside the front door—I bent down to pick up the newspaper, and I saw smoke swirling inside,” she says. “I opened the door, and I heard all this water pouring underneath me on the bottom level—it sounded like Niagara Falls.”

Tale of Three Fires (Part 1)
The staff at Amore Salon Spa survey the damage caused by arson.

She called her husband, all the while praying it was just a plumbing problem. It wasn’t long before the fire trucks came screaming through the parking lot. “Clients and staffers started pulling in for their appointments,” Anderson says. “I told them, ‘I think a candle was left burning overnight. We’ll be back in business soon, just give us a couple of hours.”

Soon, an officer and the fire chief began walking toward Anderson, with a look of concern on their faces. “Is anyone mad at you? Do you have an ex-husband? Have you recently fired anyone?” they asked.

“What? No. No one is mad at me,” she said.

“The fire was caused from gasoline,” the chief said. “We’re going to treat this as arson.” Arson. The word made her stomach sink. How could anyone do this to her beautiful new salon she had spent so much time working on, so much money?
Actually, it happens more often than expected. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, in 2007 alone, an estimated 32,500 structure fires were intentionally set—resulting in $733 million in property loss and 295 deaths.

Luckily, no one at Amore was hurt. The fire was started on the lower level. The heat from the flames was so severe it charred the walls, exposing everything inside. The explosion from the initial blast completely burned up the ceiling of the lower level, exposing all the plumbing, causing the piping to completely explode. “Thankfully, the burst pipes acted as a sprinkler system that put out the severity of the fire, which also saved the surveillance video footage that was in the office,” says Anderson.

Take it from Me:

Do: Be nice to others, including your competition. In Amore’s case, a competing salon, Edge Salon, offered to let Amore stylists come in and use their space, while they got back on their feet. “I was so touched by their kindness,” says Anderson.
Don’t: If you’re the first one at the scene, and you see smoke inside, do not attempt to open the door. A fire will only burn as long as there is oxygen to feed the flames, if a door is suddenly opened, the amount of oxygen rushing in can cause a massive explosion.
Do: Give back. The Andersons will never forget how devastating the fire was to their lives. As a result, they partnered with the American Red Cross to form Amore Fire Front, a charity that gives back to the community. To raise money, they organize fundraisers, donate wages, and give away gift cards.
Don’t: If arson or a structure damage occurs, don’t expect an arrest to be made right away. More than one year later, Amore has yet to see an arrest made of the person who set the fire at their salon, despite having surveillance footage.
Do: Closely examine your exclusions and limitations in your policy. It could be that some of your most valuable assets are not included: shears, product, color, tools.
Taking Action

While the Andersons were with the police chief and officers, staff members were putting together a plan of action, trying to figure out how they could get back into the still-leased salon space that housed the Anderson’s old salon. Since everything at Amore was considered a crime scene, they weren’t allowed to take any chairs or supplies. “They brought in chairs from the local beauty school, the team all went home and grabbed supplies from their houses, it was incredible,” Anderson says. “We were back in business at our old salon the same night.”

Insurance
The fire wasn’t a total loss. To avoid totaling the entire building, two tons of dry ice was brought into the salon to take the char off the timbers. “More than $300,000 in structure damage was recovered by the insurance company—the building was covered extremely well,” Anderson says.
 
The stylists’ scissors were still good, but all electronic appliances were destroyed. “They never complained, never once grumbled. They picked themselves up, and got through it.”
 
The insurance company said it would be six months before Amore would be allowed to operate out of the salon.
 
“I said, ‘No,’” Anderson says. “We were able to get permission for a partial opening. Within three and a half weeks, we were back.”

In order to do hair color, colorists were going outside and down the fire escape to the laundry room to mix the color, and then would go back to the top level to apply it.

Back in Business
“We are so busy now,” Anderson says. “Everybody here has been blessed in these hard economic times.” Her once staff of seven has now grown to 18.

The new design has more surveillance, motion detectors, an alarm system  and a fire system. “We won’t ever let anyone leave the building alone, my husband is always here opening and closing,” Anderson says. “We also all took a self-defense class with scenario training—it really helped raise awareness.”
 
The experience has humbled the salon staffers and the community. “I feel like we’re all stronger people for it,” she says. The Andersons’ arson case is still active, and no arrest has been made.


Part 1: Amore Salon Spa
Part 2: Eva Scrivo Salon
Part 3: Daired’s Salon and Spa Pangea



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