Think you’re prepared for anything? Think again. We asked 10 owners about their most unpredictable mishaps in the salon and learned catastrophe sometimes strikes where you least expect it.

Read on for these owners’ stories of unusual experiences and creative problem-solving skills.

 “Some owners have staff walkouts. I had a baby-out in 2002, out of 60 service providers on staff, 14 of them were pregnant. They accounted for 25 percent of my revenue, which was close to $1 million. We were very happy for them, yet worried about replacing staff. Many of them decided to stay home following the birth of their child, or they worked greatly reduced hours. Luckily, we have a strong education program run by a full-time education director. The state of Georgia allows apprenticeship programs, so we have one with about 28 apprentices currently. We also have a mid-market salon called Genesis that feeds into our salon. We took the top stylists from that salon and were able to promote them to Salon 124. We actually finished that year 25 percent better than the previous year. Now my education director is pregnant I think I should check the water!” -Brian Perdue, Salon 124, Roswell, GA

 “Talk about luck: I’ve had two water main bursts in two separate locations. The first time it happened we didn’t know what was wrong except that water was dribbling out of the sinks. We were losing about 600 gallons of water per hour. For hours, different agencies came to investigate the problem, without doing anything. Luckily, we had a water cooler with several replacement jugs of water. We were able to take different containers, fill them up with water, heat them in the microwave and then rinse our clients’ hair before the problem was finally fixed.”-Scott Thomas, Scott Thomas Salon and Spa, Sarasota, FL

 “When we expanded into our second location, the cost overrun was double the estimate. The bank was paying my contractors and sub-contractors and totally bypassing me, so initially, I wasn’t aware of how high the costs were.

“Since we were so over budget after the remodel, we had to tighten our belts at our first location. We started to look at all of our costs in all of our departments, and we streamlined our operations. Once we got back on track, we ran a much more efficient business, so there were some positives in the end.”-Frank Shipman, Technicolor Salons and Day Spas, Allentown and Bethlehem, PA

 “Every once in awhile, we’ll have a client who has had color 100 times, and then on the 101st time she’ll blow up like a balloon with an allergic reaction. Our most extreme case of this happened recently with staff member.

“She’s a double-process blonde who has had the same color for the past two years. She had her color done as usual, and walked in the next day with her head swollen to twice its size. The first thing we do if this happens is to give the client Benadryl, and then we get them to hospital. We always have liquid Benadryl or tabs packed away somewhere in salon in case of emergency. It doesn’t matter if you’ve done a patch test on the client or she’s had color 100 times before—an allergic reaction can happen.

“Warning signs to look for include difficulty breathing, heavy wheezing and the eyes and throat closing up As soon as you see these things beginning to happen, get to the hospital or dial 911 immediately.” -Carmine Minardi, Minardi Salon, NYC

 “First one shampoo bowl started backing up, and then another and another. Soon there was water all over the floor and by the toilet and shower. The entire plumbing system backed up due to too much hair in the pipes. We cleaned up the floors, had some pipes adjusted and had to replace our entire Pergo floor. We also had to cancel a day’s worth of appointments since we didn’t have any water. Then it happened again. Luckily, we have a good relationship with a salon across the street and they allowed us to come over with our clients wrapped in towels and shampoo their hair.

“I’m getting ready to build a second location and my one criteria is that the shampoo bowls have to be on two different systems. I don’t want this to happen again.” -Franck Rihouey, Molecule Salon, Washington, D.C.

 “There have been times when a client is coming from out of state and a stylist has called in sick. We call another stylist at home and ask her to come in. This is not a policy in our handbook, but we tell everyone who comes in that we’re a team. When a customer comes in and gets a stylist different from the one she expected, we explain the situation to her and usually she understands.”

“A few years back a burst pipe flooded our entire salon. It happened on Christmas Day when we were closed. Fortunately, we are located in a mall, so the alarm went off and my husband and I were contacted by the fire department. I was at home preparing Christmas dinner and we were expecting a houseful of people—we had to call them all and reschedule our dinner plans. Then, we called a cleaning service and headed to the salon. We all worked well into the night and got the water up so we could open the next day. “There were a few areas we had to cordon off, and some cabinetry had to be replaced, but we were operational.” -Rosey Gilbertson, City Looks Salon & Spa, Rochester, MN

 “We’re always burning candles in the salon and we have them in all of the treatment rooms. We had an accident when one of our estheticians moved a candle to a side table near where clients disrobe. The client put an article of clothing on the chair near the candle and it started a little fire. The client was in the room by herself and put out the fire with her hand and ended up with burns. She didn’t end up filing a claim, but it prompted us to check with our insurance agent to make sure we had ample coverage for fire and liability insurance. Now we have people sign off on locations of candles every morning and night as part of opening and closing procedures. I have a map of the whole salon that lists all candle locations.”-Amy Lamparelli, Bogar Salon & Spa, Londonderry, New Hampshire,

“We had a stranger walk in the back door of our breakroom and steal a few purses. I saw it happen and I tried to confront him, but he jumped into an employee’s car and took off. I called the police and they caught him; the thief spent that Christmas in jail. The employee’s car was eventually recovered, but it was trashed. She was a hardworking mother of four. The staff organized a fundraiser for her, and the money helped her fix the car and get her back to a normal life.” -Matthew Khodayari, Aria Salon Spa Shoppe, Alpharetta, Georgia,

“At the end of last summer, hurricane Isabel hit near our salon and we lost electricity for three days. I was stuck at my home, an hour away from the salon, worrying about not being able to open. Meanwhile, my managers took over the situation. Even though the bottom floor flooded because the sump pump wasn’t working and we were without phones and air conditioning, they kept the salon open—without computers or phones. They serviced clients on the sidewalk and in the parking lot and got in touch with people by cell phones. They used candles in the spa for light and ran to a laundromat to wash towels. They even called the phone company to reroute our salon phone to someone’s cell phone. They couldn’t process credit cards, so they had to manually write down numbers with tickets, and then process them when the electricity came back on. For a $3 million salon, that was a lot of work.

 “Even though this was a freak situation, I’ve learned how important it is to have great managers and to give them the authority to institute a backup plan. You also need to know how and where to call to get your phones transferred You need a generator if you lose electricity Having that gave us a just enough power to get the sump pump running again and save a lot of our computers, files and inventory.” -Diane Fisher, Eclips Salon and Day Spa, McLean, VA

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