All Eyes On You: Safety in a Cash-Based Business

Posted by Lilly on October 29, 2014 at 7:25 AM

If there's one draw to the business of Italian Ice, it's the fast, somewhat easy cash you can make day to day.  But if you think you're the only one drawn to that, think again. 

On more than a few occasions, I've felt that I needed to be on high alert as to my surroundings when selling Italian Ice.  But truthfully, I have continued to sell without much regard for my safety, not to mention that of my teen daughter who also sometimes sells with me.  However, the issue of prevention and protection came front and center the other day when I sold at a large Walk-Your-Dog-for-Cancer type event.  It was business as usual, until the end of the day.  Since I always seem to get the straggler sales, I opted to stick around a little longer to make a few more bucks instead of taking down my booth and leaving with all the other vendors.  It was at this time that a customer came up to buy ice.  As I was serving, he was eyeballing my operation, and as he began to walk away, he asked how I did that day.  I have certainly had folks consider getting into the Italian Ice business, and I can usually tell those types when they ask simple questions like how I keep the ice frozen.  But I this  guy's eyes wandered onto the apron around my waist, my money bag.  That unsettled me.  I very suddenly felt that this guy's intentions could turn in a different direction.  Luckily he was with a female companion, and she started to walk away, so he went with her and that was that.  But this encounter has lingered in my mind for a while, raising a lot of questions for next season. 

For starters, I'm a woman.  Secondly, I often sell alone.  Thirdly, a profitable event leaves a noticeable bulge in my apron!  But really, regardless of whether the first two issues apply to you or not, the last one is the key exposure.  You're carrying cash, and everyone knows it.  Heck, the thieves hit up Italian Ice stores, for crying out loud!  So, besides quitting this business (which isn't going to happen, I love it too much), what are my options for protection?

1.  Sell only during day events. 

This has a good probability of reducing my chances of getting muggged, but I don't like to lie to myself that it solves the entire problem.  There's always a desperate criminal who sees me as an easy mark, day or night.

2.  Get outta Dodge! 

The "Safety in Numbers" rule applies here.  Close down the booth when every other vendor starts to do it.  Luckily my takedown is lightning fast, so I can get out before everyone else a lot of times, for which not sitting in a jammed parking lot alone is a great reason to bolt. 

3.  Get a dog.

Having a dog, preferably on the larger side, is always a deterrent to would-be thieves.  Additionally, it might even be a draw for the kids, if it's cute!  This is a win-win.  A protective dog is a great asset to have guarding my back as I take down the booth, and a great companion for the rides home at night.  Better yet, I could keep the money belt ON the dog!  Luckily so far, nearly every event would allow me to have a dog present too.  So, looks like I'll be hitting up the pet adoptions!

4.  Get a gun.

This one sounds extreme, and may be, but it's still a viable option, and not near as hard to do as it seems.  In fact, in the majority of states, it's easier to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon than it is to get approved from a Health Department to sell mobile food!  To learn a little bit more, read this Wikipedia article.  The only issue here is what a trained gun carrier told me... only take it out to actually use it, never to just warn.  And that's a little scary to me.

5.  Keep a bullhorn at hand.

No, really.  Okay, you should know by now that I don't think like most folks, so this idea actually is plausible to me.  Thinking about a home and how we protect it, there are lessons to learn.  A home alarm system serves really only one purpose, and that is to SCARE OFF THE BURGLARS & ROBBERS.  So the same principle applies.  If I'm alone and about to be mugged, an exceptionally loud noise will hopefully scare off the criminal, but more importantly, it will draw attention from anyone nearby.  And for only $20 for one with a siren, it's worth it!

6.  HIre security.

While this is more a joke idea, maybe it's a way to go.  Bring on a tough friend who has nothing to do that day and would love to be paid with Italian Ice.  Let him sit in your booth all day.  On a similar note, I tend to get into conversations with lots of my customers, and I think that helps too.  And when I get offers of help from other vendors to take down, I now take them up on it, for the company.  I have had up to seven people (customers, friends, kids, kids' friends, even politicians!) in my booth just chatting with me and each other at the end of events.  While fun, it allows me to leave in safety.  Lastly, I make friends with my local police.  They are often at the events where I sell.  I need to get clever and offer all cops free ice at the end of the gig!

7.  When needed... LIE.

If I get a snoopy customer asking obvious questions like "Is this your business?", "Do you run it alone?" or "Do you need any help with your tent?", I have now opted to lie.  Yep, I simply tell them my partner or friend is coming back to help me, or went to get the car, or I'm waiting for my crew to come back.  Anything that makes them think twice and leave.

8.  Use your bank's drop box.

While you still have to close down your setup and  get out of the event safely, one way to make yourself less of a target on your way home is to use your bank's drop box.  if you have a business account, you can ask for those plastic bags bank use for after-hours drop offs and dump your cash right after each event.  UPDATE:  also make use of a locking cash box.

Which leads to...

9.  Never drive home directly.

if a would-be thief thinks he can't get to you at an event, he may consider his next best option, which is to follow the money...  meaning you on your way home.  Think it can't happen?  Read this story!

I'm still grappling with all of this, and may come up with some other useful ideas.  But I bet you've thought of it too or encountered a similar situation.  I want to hear what you think.  Share your ideas in the comments! 

Categories: Is Vending Italian Ice for Me?, Tricks of the Trade, Getting Started

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Reply beachbum
10:48 AM on October 30, 2014 
Lilly, during a conversation with an ice vendor a couple of weeks ago, he brought up that he had been robbed six times during the past ten years. He sets up every day with very few exceptions, year round. His comment was that you can not stop it , but you can minimize what they can take. He pointed out that you should take the normal reasonable precautions that you would do but found the best way to take control was to have a locked cash drop box securely attached to your cart for which you did not have the key on you. You would still have cash in your apron, but would transfer money to the drop box as it builds up. I think this is a good idea to get this conversation started.
Reply The Melted Scoop
10:17 PM on October 30, 2014 

I was thinking the same thing. Keep that drop box somewhere near and empty it as it builds up. Please continue to be safe out there!
Reply Yulandop
9:38 PM on November 11, 2014 
I know at times where I make a large amount, i'll have 2 of the events planners volunteers help me break down and escort me to my car. as just a precaution.
most times i'll put my money bag in my glove compartment lock it up and bring the car close to the loading up area.
Reply Mita's Italian Ice
4:38 PM on January 5, 2015 
Good thread Lilly, and one that needs to be taken seriously.

For those that use a cash box: Try to keep the box in front of the server, but below the counter top. Not all setups have a "stash shelf" that is below the cart top and inaccessible to the customer. But if not, try to have one built out. This would be a shelf that has a "back and side" covering to it so as to hide the shelf contents.

We don not place cash boxes behind us, forcing the server to turn their backs to the customer. I know of vendors that have had their cash lifted from the back of their booths, and nothing can be more disheartening than losing your daily sales. :-(

I will try to post in the pictures an example of the shelving and covering.

Also, I realize every states health departments vary, but Oregon does not allow animals in a food service area unless they are service dogs. That said, the buddy system really works wonders. All vendors have the same concerns, so connecting with someone close to you and asking if they wouldn't mind keeping and eye out for each other can be very appreciated. This goes for during the event as well as during breakdown. It really is like an extended family, and the more events one does, the more this becomes evident. We help each other set up / break down, run for stock, give potty breaks, etc. In 7+ years, I've never had a negative response to a request to buddy up for safety.
Reply Lilly
12:20 PM on January 20, 2015 
Pat, you are so right about the buddy system. I didn't think of it when I wrote this post, but I do use that during events, not as much after. Though other vendors and I help each other load up and take down.

I didn't think of the dog issue with food, but then not one of the smaller type events that I do cares. A lot of my events are dog friendly, so they are there anyway. I would want my dog to just sit in a back corner anyway, not walk around the booth. And by the way, right after writing this article, I adopted an awesome dog! He's chow and husky, medium, but stocky with a hell of a bark! Love him! And he'll be coming with me once I can get him over his carsickness... wouldn't ya know it?!

Regarding cash box, I keep a lockable one in my car, tethered with one of those thick cables to my seat frame, rather than putting sales in the glove box. It's hidden under the seat. Picked up at Walmart.

Thanks for all your contributions to this very important issue, everyone!
Reply All inThe Family
2:06 AM on October 17, 2015 
If a gun is not your thing you could always carry some Mace or a Stun Gun. It might sound silly but even keeping a simple whistle around your neck could come in handy.
Reply Lilly
8:52 AM on October 17, 2015 
That's a great addition to this topic, All In The Family. I think I will look into those. The whistle is great... and easy. Thanks!
Reply oldsoldier
6:05 PM on November 8, 2015 
I keep a can of wasp spray nearby its shoots spray about 10-12 feet.. Point it at their face. They have to be taken to the hospital!