At suburban Salon Monten near Minnesota’s Twin Cities, it happened in the dead of night. At Christina’s Hair Design in Jackson, Mississippi, it happened at 6:15 p.m. on the last day of 2003, when the salon was busy helping clients glam up for New Year’s Eve parties. At Scott J. Aveda Lifestyle Salon & Spa on the East Coast, it may have been an inside job.

In all cases of salon burglary and robbery, it’s unnerving.

“You really feel violated,” says Fulton McField, owner of Christina’s Han Design, which landed on the Jackson police blotter when a robber helped himself to the salon’s cash. “After a hard day, people come to the salon to wind down. You think this type of thing doesn’t happen here.”

The notion of the salon as a sanctuary, cut off from the turmoil of everyday” life, may be comforting but has become outdated. Criminals view a salon as just another storefront operation with equipment and a cash till. They can walk in during business hours with a weapon or break in after hours.

I’ve investigated crimes in not-so-good areas and in areas where you wouldn’t expect something to happen,” says Virginia Rubalcava, a detective with the Robbery Homicide Division Rape Special Section of the Los Angeles Police Department, who investigated a string of burglaries about six years ago that involved salons and other businesses. “No matter where you live, it’s a false sense of security to think nothing can happen in your neighborhood. Crime occurs 24 hours a day, not only at night.”

It was during the night, though, that Cindy Monten awoke to a call from the police telling her Salon Monten’s alarm system had been activated.

But when she arrived at the salon, Monten found nothing missing. The only telltale sign was a damaged lock on the back door, where it looked as if a burglar had used a crowbar to gain entry.

“The keypad to disarm our security system is by the front door,” says Monten. “But we have motion sensors throughout the salon. It probably took 60 seconds before the sensor picked up the person walking through the salon from the back.” Monten fixed the lock and felt protected by the security system that had prevented the theft. But a more recent incident at a different location has left her feeling more vulnerable.

“Our office is located near an exterior door,” says Monten. “Our front desk staffer left the office door propped open for just a minute to step out. When she came back, she saw someone in there going through things. He must have seen the office door ajar and thought we might keep the money in there. He took off when the employee saw him.”

Again, Monten was lucky. “He could have picked up the laptop and run,” she says. “After that incident, I decided to look into surveillance cameras.”


 Like Monten, Scott Buchanan was awakened in the middle of the night by a call from the police. His alarm system protecting the doors and windows had been disturbed. When Buchanan checked out the situation, he found the safe open with a few thousand dollars missing. But the safe was not damaged—from all appearances it seemed that the thief knew the combination.

“We never caught the person,” says Buchanan, who soon will open his third Scott J. Aveda Lifestyle Salon & Spa location in New York City.

In response, Buchanan replaced the safe and hired security guards to stand by the front door between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. “The guards give the people at the front desk peace of mind, and people outside see we have protection,” Buchanan says. “And now I have drop-safes. There’s a hole on top where anyone can deposit the cash and spin a knob to insert it into the safe. Only one manager knows the combination. It used to be that everyone who made a deposit had the combination.”

Most disturbing to Buchanan are the instances of employees stealing from each other. “It really bothers me when a staffer reaches into a locker that’s been left open and takes $10 from a purse. I think it’s happened only twice in 14 years. When it does, I send a letter out to payroll stating how disappointed I am that we would ‘borrow’ from each other.”

A new surveillance camera in the staff locker room has virtually eliminated internal theft. “We have 185 employees,” Buchanan explains, “with 80 in one store. Some are transient and haven’t been with our family for very long. I don’t know them well and feel more secure with the camera watching the staffs coats and belongings.”

The stepped-up security also has reduced retail product theft.

“Our security guards have caught quite a few clients trying to slip out with a bottle of shampoo,” Buchanan comments. “The guard discretely” asks the person to leave and not return. Usually we do not prosecute these people, but if they try to book an appointment a pop-up message on the booking system alerts the front desk that we do not permit them in the salon.”

Buchanan says he’s had to fire occasional employees for dipping into the money drawer, but he’s never caught one red-handed stealing products. Still, he says, “I’ve seen products in a bag and I knew they were on the way out the door.” To combat the problem, Buchanan calls a staff meeting where he explains that taking products is directly stealing from him—a message he regularly reiterates to minimize shrinkage.

Many salon owners are less worried about their staff taking products or money than taking clients—a salon’s true pot of gold.

“We have various levels of security”, so the hairdressers and desk people can’t get anywhere I don’t want them to be,” say’s Buchanan. “Only my general manager can get into everything I can.”

“Stylists can’t even put in their own color formulas, because that would give them access to the client records,” say s Buchanan. “Staffers don’t mind the policy, they’d rather be making money than inputting formulas.”

Monten implemented similar policies after a manager left with 12 staffers and information from the database. Although she has cut the number of people who can get into the database, the person she had problems with was a manager, so there’s only so much she feels she can control. While Monten decided not to prosecute that case, all her managers know that next time she won’t be as forgiving.

“I will drag them through the courts for 20 years if I have to,” Monten says. “I tell my employees, ‘You came here with nothing but a cosmetology license. If you leave, you’re leaving with a cosmetology license plus a great education. But you’re not leaving with my database.’”

Salons that experience a violation to their security’ are never quite the same. In the case of the L.A. series of burglaries, according to Detective Rubalcava, some owners had employees leave, while others sold to new owners or closed up shop altogether. But, despite his terrifying New Year’s Eve incident, McField won’t let the bad guys win.

“You don’t close your business after this happens,” he says. “You take the necessary security measures to prevent it from happening again, and then you go on.”

 know your STAFF

 The experts advise having basic information on everyone you hire. Each employee file should contain the employee’s full name, address, phone number, date of birth, social security number, emergency contact and photo Ask for documents that verify the person’s legal name and birth date, and keep the file updated with any changes and disciplinary actions. The person you hired yesterday may be the person you have to bring charges against tomorrow.

At safety training sessions, emphasize to the staff they should cooperate fully with a criminal. “We tell the staff that nothing in the store is worth more than their life,” says Stanley Goldstein who as owner of Gold Protective Systems in New York City, is frequently called upon to conduct staff training sessions “You can replace everything but you.”

Also do some role-playing to empower staff When a visitor’s behavior gives cause for concern, the employee should stand up, look the person in the eye and ask how she can help him In addition, practice observing and describing appearance. An accurate, detailed description of the perpetrator—and his car and license plate when possible—will be valuable to detectives investigating a criminal case.

In Goldstein’s workshops, instruction focuses on activating and disarming the system and using passwords. Staffers learn how to respond when everything is normal and how to inconspicuously alert police when a crime is taking place. “The most common time robbery occurs in New York City is when the manager opens in the morning,” says Goldstein. “Someone comes up behind you and forces you into the door.” In that case, the trained staffer knows to use the “ambush” code to disarm the alarm. Although the alarm will appear to be disarmed, it will automatically send a signal to the central station to send police. If the central station receives an ambush code or the panic button signal, they respond without calling the salon.

There’s also a special procedure in place when the alarm goes off but the burglar is on the premises. If the alarm was set off accidentally, the central station calls and the employee gives a password that confirms the police should not be notified. But if the burglar is there, the employee gives a different password that seems to do the same but actually indicates that the police should be sent right away.

“When people give us the completely wrong password, we thank them the same way we would thank someone for the correct password, but we immediately dispatch the police,” says Goldstein. “We don’t know if there’s a hostage or what’s going on there, so we don’t want to upset the perpetrator.”

 a system that SAVES

 Web surfers at’s NailTech message board are familiar with a police detective who used to post messages from time to time. The tips below combine those that he offered online with information provided by Stanley Goldstein of Gold Protective Systems in New York City and Detective Virginia Rubalcava of the Los Angeles Police Department.

 When it comes to keeping your salon safe, prevention is the best measure. But first you should know what you are safeguarding against “Burglary” refers to breaking into a closed store or home when no one is there and stealing money or items, while “robbery” victimizes innocent people on the premises and can involve a weapon. In both cases, the criminals try to determine; Can I get in? Can I rob the place Can I get away with it? The fewer “yes” messages your salon conveys, the better. The cornerstone of your security system is your alarm, which can be wireless or hardwired through the walls. The system should feature:

 Central station monitoring. When the alarm is activated, a call should go out either to your alarm company, which then tries to reach you and calls the police if you cannot verify that everything’s okay, or directly to your local police department.

  • Radio or cellular back-up. It’s common for thieves to cut the telephone wires and worth the additional fee to have severed wires send a “line trouble” signal to your monitoring station or police department. Another idea Encase your outside phone wires in a galvanized steel pipe attached to your wall.
  • A loud siren. The noise alone can scare off a perpetrator.
  • Inside sensors. You need at least one motion sensor near each outside door and by the lobby area Glass-break sensors work well in some salons, but be aware that something as harmless as a thunderstorm can set them off. You may also want to attach door- and window-sensors, they must be maintained to make sure they haven’t fallen off or broken.
  • Panic buttons. Most alarm systems come with at least one silent panic switch. Place it under the front desk or near the cash register. During an armed robbery the receptionist can comply with the robber’s instructions to retrieve cash from the drawer while inconspicuously hitting the silent alarm to notify the police. Install other panic buttons wherever you think you might need them. “During a robbery, the people often are herded into the bathroom or dressing room,” Goldstein says “We’ve learned from experience to place a panic button in there.”


 Alarm stickers. Ideally, the alarm deters the thief from ever entering your salon. In clear view, place stickers warning that the business is protected by an alarm system.

  • Surveillance cameras. Thieves often visit the business before burglarizing it. For this reason, don’t hide the cameras. If a burglar comes in and spots the surveillance cameras, he may decide it’s too risky to rob.

Today’s digital cameras are practically maintenance-free, according to Rubalcava “The digital systems retain images within the memory for a set number of days and then erase them.”

  • Doors and locks. A solid steel, framed door is difficult to pry open and will deter some people. If you prefer a glass door, your deadbolts should be keyed on both sides so the burglar cannot simply break the glass, reach through the hole and unbolt the lock.
  • Windows. Minimize the clutter and signage at your outside windows to give local police patrols an unobstructed view into the salon. Around your office and backroom, install glass-blocked windows. Although these windows can be smashed, it takes a lot of time and effort.
  • Lighting. Inside, keep a night light on that throws a shadow. Outside, keep the areas by the doors well-lit.
  • Safes. A thief with a dolly can get a safe out of the salon quickly. A wall safe is preferred, but you’ll feel even better if you make a daily run to the bank to deposit the cash instead of keeping it in the safe at night.
  • Cash register. Leave your register unlocked with $50 in mixed bills and coins in the cash drawer. The thief will get at the small amount of money without destroying your computer cash register. Include a $2 bill that stays in the drawer at all times and is never given as change. Keep a record of that bill’s serial number in your files. If the police catch someone with that $2 bill, you have proof that it came from your salon.
  • Front desk. Consider safety when you choose a design. A high counter, for example, can hide the thief from a patrol’s view. Place the desk so it doesn’t block the view into the salon through the window or door.
  • Work stations. Drawers that can be locked deter thieves and are particularly important if you’re a booth rental salon.
  • Ruler. Mount a one-foot ruler to the door frame five feet from the floor. Someone can glance at the person entering or leaving to estimate his height, and a surveillance camera will capture the same measurement.
  • Cell phones. A spare, charged and current cell phone kept at the salon can come in handy in some instances of robbery when you can manage to call for help. Or, if the thief steals your phones or cuts your phone lines, at least you have communication afterwards.
  • Emergency contact. Regularly update the list you give your local police department with your salon’s key holders and their phone numbers. There should always be someone available who can get to the salon quickly, day or night, to open your door.


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