Prompted by shootings at its Columbia discount outlet, the Scan furniture chain no longer accepts cash payments for merchandise -- an unusual move aimed at improving safety for its workers.
The policy went into effect at the chain's 10 furniture stores in the Baltimore-Washington area June 5, the day after two employees were shot, Russ Dailey, president and chief executive officer of Scan International Corp., said yesterday.
He said company officials decided not to accept cash after speaking with store managers, their sales force and a security consultant.
"We felt that . . . this is what we could do to have an impact," Mr. Dailey said. "If we can make the environment a little safer by taking cash out of it, why not?"
On June 4, two armed, masked robbers confronted two Scan employees after they had locked the doors to the discount outlet in east Columbia and forced them back inside. When an alarm later sounded, they shot the two employees.
The outlet store, in the 9400 block of Gerwig Lane, didn't usually have a lot of cash on hand, and the intruders ran without taking any money. One of the victims then managed to call police.
The gunmen remain at large, police say. Both victims, whose names are being withheld to protect them, were treated at Maryland Shock Trauma Center and have been released.
Mr. Dailey said one of the victims, a 37-year-old man, is expected to return to work this week. The other, a 24-year-old man, is recovering at home.
Mr. Dailey said some of the Scan chain's 110 workers are shaken by the robbery attempt, but he hopes the new policy will help relieve their fears.
"We're a small company," he said. "Everybody knows each other here, and it was a pretty emotional time. You don't want to see it happen again."
No federal regulations require businesses to accept cash, but customers might be frustrated with their limited options, said Domenic J. LaPonzina, communications chief for the Baltimore division of the Internal Revenue Service.
"The means of payment is an option businesses can choose," Mr. LaPonzina said. "The question is, 'What will happen to business?' "
Both Mr. LaPonzina and Stephen D. Hannan, administrator of the Howard County Consumer Affairs office, said yesterday they had heard of few other businesses that had taken a similar step.
The Scan policy requires customers to charge items or to pay with checks or money orders. Mr. Dailey said the company did not take in much cash -- less than 3 percent of its overall sales -- because most buyers make large furniture payments with credit cards or checks.
Customers now must find another way to pay for light bulbs, furniture polish and other smaller items that usually have been purchased with cash. If they don't have a credit card or a check with them when they want to make a small purchase, Mr. Dailey said, buyers can mail in a check later -- after they have given the company their names, telephone numbers and addresses.
He said Scan plans to keep the no-cash policy unless business suffers. So far, he said, "Customers are very positive and supportive."
Frank Napfel, a security consultant with Baltimore Security Systems, who advised Scan on the new policy, said security consultants nationwide are suggesting that businesses not store large amounts of cash.
"It's a viable alternative as the number of holdups increases" nationally, he said. "It's unique, but it has been done before. As long as you have literate holdup men who understand what 'No Cash on The Premises' means, it'll help reduce the problem."
The security consultant also suggested that business offices be moved to the front of stores so workers can spot approaching trouble.
Many businesses that sell expensive items say their patrons usually prefer paying with credit or through a credit union.
At R & H Motors on Reisterstown Road in Baltimore County, General Manager David Russel said the only cash most employees ever see is for small purchases at its parts shop.
Any time someone tries to pay for a car with $10,000 or more in cash, they're reported to the IRS by regulation, Mr. Russel said.
"It doesn't excite you when you see someone come in with a large amount of cash," he said. "You'd have to count it."