Indoor tanning is hotter than ever, and as a result, many nail professionals are considering adding tanning to their salons. The tanning industry is worth more than $4 billion, according to The International Smart Tan Network, a trade group based in Jackson, Mich. It is popular not only in colder climates, where summers are short, but also in sunny states since many people prefer to tan indoors at times they can control.

Before you jump into this exciting business, you need to do some preparation. Just like you explored the local area before deciding where to start your nail salon, so should you do some market research on tanning The following articles are designed to give you a basic checklist of things to consider.

Bed (and Booth) Shopping

You have two choices when it comes to tanning equipment: a bed or a booth. Beds allow the client to tan while lying down, and booths are similar to stall showers where the client stands upright to tan. According to Larry Gaynor, president of Nailco Salon Marketplace (Farmington Hills, Mich.), a booth has many advantages. “You don’t need a private room, since tanning booths are available with dressing areas attached,” he explains. “The sessions are usually faster, too, because tanning booths generally come with 40 lamps, as opposed to the 24- to 26-lamp tanning beds. The tanning booth can be positioned at the front of your salon, so that it actually works as a marketing strategy to draw clients in.”

Tanning booths can cost a bit more than tanning beds, and some salon owners prefer beds because they say their clients do. “It’s my clients’ time to relax,” says Brenda Bollard, owner of Bren’s Nails in Conroe, Texas. Bollard chose a 24-bulb Klafsun bed and uses Wolff bulb. She did not pay extra for a “facial tanner, which is a section of the bed around the foe that uses special bulbs for face tanning. The bulbs emit light with a softer intensity. They don’t tan as quickly or as deeply as the standard tanning bulbs. “In Texas, women don’t: like to tan their faces,” Bollard says.

Tanning beds and booths have different bulb requirements, and this will affect you cost of doing business. As mentioned before, tanning beds range from about 24-28 bulbs, and tanning booths usually have between 35-40 bulbs. The Peacock Tanning System from Avex Industries (Hudson Falls N.Y.) actually sells a 24-lamp tanning booth, which national sales manager Robert Cozzolino says is particularly popular with nail and hair salons. “It has adjustable panels that move in and out according to the tanner’s body size, so the bulbs can be three or four inches away from the tanner,” Cozzolino explains. Bulb life is usually between 600 and 700 hours; so if you have five clients a day having 20-minute sessions, your bulbs will last about a year.

Disinfection is just as important with tanning services as it is with nail services. Tanning beds must be cleaned after every client Renee Skrocki, co-owner with her mother, Julie, of VIP Nails & Tans Inc. in Riverview, Mich., uses a strong sanitizer made for tanning beds. “It’s formulated so that it doesn’t damage the acrylic shield,” Skrocki says. “We just spray it on and wipe off with a soft towel. There’s no smell at all.” Tanning booths do not have the same amount of body contact as beds, but they should also be wiped down regularly. Leslie Hartlieb, vice-president of marketing at ETS Inc (Indianapolis, Ind.), says the area where the client stands should get cleaned after every session. As for beds, she says, “Don’t forget to wipe the upper part of the bed (the lid), which clients breathe on.”

How much should you expect to pay? Tanning beds and booths cost anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000, depending on the number of extras you order, such as an advanced cooling system, the time of session the bed is capable of, or a built-in facial tanning system. Keep in mind, too, that the units built to withstand heavier traffic are generally more expensive. You will also need to factor in the cost of electrical installation. Most tanning equipment requires special outlets of 220 volts (they don’t just plug in like a blow dryer). Here are the things you should look for and ask when you are shopping:

An automatic timer with variable controlsHow many bulbs does it use, how long do the bulbs last, and how much do they cost to replace?How thick is the acrylic shield (should be at least 4 mm thick)?What does the warranty cover and for how long?Where do you get replacement parts or to have the equipment repaired?A built-in cooling system, for both the bulbs and the tannerDoes the company offer any financing options, or help with starting a business (design ideas for optimum comfort and cooling, technicians to help install the system, etc.)?

Ask the seller for a reference to someone who has the same bed or booth you are considering. Ask that person about the equipment’s reliability, ease of use, whether or not her customers like the tanning results, and how responsive the company or distributor is to her complaints and questions. You want your equipment to last a long time with a minimum of downtime. You’re going to spend a significant amount of money, so take the time and do the research before you buy.

Selecting a Product Line

Your tanning customers are going to want lotion to enhance their tanning experience. The ones who don’t are just waiting for you to sell them on the idea. Stocking a line of products you’ve tested and trust is very important. You’ll need to be able to tell clients how tanning lotion works, why it can enhance the tanning process, and which ingredients contribute to that healthy glow. Here are some things to consider:

How do you find the right line? Most tanning product lines have a “step system,” explains Mark Chovan, marketing director for Supre Tanning Products, Inc. (Dallas, Texas). “You want something for your customers to develop a slow, base tan,” he says. “Then, these clients will reach a plateau. They need something that results in a deeper, darker color. Finally, you have skin care and ‘after-tanning’ products for moisturizing.” The right line will be something that is in the price range of your clients, that gives good results (test it for yourself), and that has a pleasant smell. Don’t dismiss the fragrance factor; many people base their purchasing decisions on whether something smells good.

Should you stock more than one line? Offering clients a choice is always desirable. However, don’t go overboard. Larry Gaynor recommends that salons carry three brands at different price ranges, although he says many manufacturers now offer product lines in a variety of price ranges. So if you like one brand more than any other, chances are you can get it with enough options to satisfy every client’s budget.

What do these lotions do? The most important service you can offer tanning clients is a relatively quick indoor tan. Tanning lotions will help you do that. “It makes a big difference when clients use tanning accelerators,” says Renee Skrocki. “They enhance the melanin activity in the skin.” Ingredients such as Unipertan, P-2002, Unitrienoi 727, and DNA enzymes are all ingredients that speed up the tanning process. Inge Glees, marketing director at Swedish Beauty (Scottsdale, Ariz., also mentions tyrosine and malaplus as two all-natural accelerating ingredients. Swedish Beauty’s tanning accelerators also have vitamins A, B and E added, Ingredients such as aloe vera and jojoba are moisturizers.

In general, higher concentrations of these ingredients result in a more expensive product. Avoid products with mineral oil, which can clog pores, or alcohol, which is very drying to the skin.

Don’t forget self-tanning products. “These products are a great complement to tanning services,” explains Gary Fisher, senior account executive for California Sun labs (Chatsworth, Calif.). “Some women will put a towel over their face while tanning, and then use a self-tanning lotion on their face afterwards.”

How should you price them? The majority of salon owners add a 50% markup to their tanning products; thus, a lotion that sells for $10 wholesale would sell for $15 retail. Gina Sites, owner of Nails of Elegance Tanning and Dayspa in Decatur, Texas, says that most of her clients purchase lotions although she realizes the prices for the Supre line she carries may be slightly higher than her competitors’. But since Sites installed her tanning bed as a perk for clients, she feels the prices are justified by the comfort and convenience her salon provides. Another big seller is the one-application packets. Swedish Beauty, for example, just introduced a one-application accelerating oil in capsules. “They can be used as samples or sold as single-application items,” Glees says.

Space Considerations

You don’t need a gymnasium-sized salon to offer tanning. In fact, many nail salons incorporate tanning into their services without having to move to a larger location. Brenda Bollard’s salon, an old church garage, had an extra room on the other side where she installed one tanning bed. The room is 8 feet by 12 feet, but Bollard says it’s more than enough space. “I could probably fit the bed comfortably in a 6-foot by 8-foot area,” Bollard says.

Renee Skrocki agrees. Her salon has six tanning beds in separate rooms. The rooms don’t have to be big, she says, but make sure they’re well-ventilated. Skrocki accomplished this by having walls constructed that do not extend up to the ceiling. This way, heat from the beds can escape and the rooms remain cool. Skrocki also recommends using tiled floors with non-slip throw rugs instead of carpeting. They stay cool, and cleanup is easy. Some salons prefer sturdy indoor/outdoor carpeting because it’s more comfortable for barefoot clients.

Tanning beds need a private area, but tanning booths offer a bit more flexibility. Most booths come with dressing areas attached (although they aren’t always considered standard, so you may pay extra). Some booths, such as models available from ETS Inc., have fans at the bottom of the unit that blow the warm air out. In addition, there are cooling fans positioned directly on the tanner. Booths can be placed almost anywhere in the salon. You might consider putting a booth in a conspicuous spot so that passers-by are aware that you offer tanning. Try to find a permanent spot for your booth since it is not designed to be moved around easily.

Promoting the Tan

You’re going to be investing a good deal of money into your tanning system and retail line. But don’t forget about how you plan to pull tanning clients into your salon. Marketing tanning services, especially if they are part of an established nail salon, takes a good strategy and at least a small budget allocated to the marketing plan. You’ll need to consider how to market in the following areas:

Adverting: Advertising is everything from a sign in your window to buying 60-second spots on your local television station. Most salons start small with advertisements in the local newspaper, perhaps a radio spot campaign during peak months, and promotional direct mailers sent to your existing nail clients and anyone who has come in to use your tanning bed (make sure you keep good client records, preferably on a computer). Renee Skrocki advertises her tanning service in the local high school newsletters and gets a lot of business this way.

Collateral materials. Emphasize your new service by immediately including it on your business cards, stationery, service menus, aid especially your signage. You may not want to go from Sherry’s Nails to Sherry’s Nails and Tanning, but include tanning as a part of your signage whenever you can. Window signs are a good way to promote tanning, and you can change them to advertise special tanning package deals.

Public relations. Sometimes the best advertising is free advertising (otherwise known as publicity), and there are several ways to get it. Write a press release to your local paper about your new service. The more story ideas you pitch, the more likely you are to capture the attention of an editor.

Promotions. Promotions are usually discount offers for a frequent tanners club, clients who bring a friend, clients who tan on non-peak days or off-season, or clients who purchase a long- term tanning membership. Sites had a great promotion last spring. She offered “temp tips” for $19.95 and a free tan to all local high schoolers before the prom. “We were very busy, and got a lot of tanning memberships as a result,” Sites says.

Manufacturer/distributor help. See if the vendors you purchased your bed and products from offer any co-op advertising benefits or discounts. California Sun Labs, for example, will credit salons for 20% to 50% of their advertising cost in product. So if you take out a $200 ad that mentions the California Sun Labs product line, you’ll get a credit of $20 to $100 applied toward your next purchase.

Following the Rules

Since indoor tanning is a relatively new service (although indoor tanning has been around at least a decade, it has only recently gained a substantial popularity), many states have little or no regulation. According to Maureen Mann at Nailco (the company tracks state-by-state regulations because it distributes products nationwide), 25 states have rules anywhere from minimal to stringent For example, in South Carolina tanning system operator training, remote timers, and compatible lamps are mandatory. In Michigan, a minor must have parental consent before using a tanning bed.

Here are some general guidelines for you to follow with your new tanning bed:

  • For specific information on your state, contact the state board of cosmetology or the department of consumer affairs.
  • Do not promote your tanning service by using the words “safe” or “therapeutic.” Check the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines to find out what you cannot say in your advertisements. For their brochure entitled “Indoor Tanning Guidelines,” write to the FTC, Public Reference Branch, Room 130, Sixth St. and Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20580 (or access them on the Internet at
  • Post warning signs where appropriate. Companies such as Nailco and ETS carry signage that will inform your customers of certain precautions to take while using the tanning bed or booth, such as the necessity to wear protective eyewear during tanning. Be aware that there are some people and some conditions that would make indoor tanning inadvisable. These include pregnant women, certain medications that create photosensitivity (sensitivity to sunlight and other intense fight such as UV), and of course, people with extremely pale skin and/or a history of skin cancer.
  • Each client using the tanning unit must sign a consent form explaining what the service entails and exempting the owner from any responsibility. This form should be initialled by that client at each visit.
  • Make sure your wattage is within the legal limits set by your state (if they have any such restrictions). You should always follow manufacturer recommendations on bulb wattage as well as what kind of bulbs are recommended for that bed or booth.
  • Federal law requires that there be an emergency off switch located within reach of the tanning client. Usually that switch is located on the hinge side of the bed, near the client’s hand. A remote timing device is mandated in some states so that the client is unable to reset it for additional time once the session is over.
  • The disinfectant used to wipe down beds and booths should be a quaternary ammonium compound made specifically for this use. If you use disinfectant made for nail implements, check the ingredients to make sure it is EPA-registered. ETS Inc. carries a test kit that allows you to test your liquid disinfectant for effectiveness.
  • Check your salon’s liability coverage. You may need additional insurance to cover the tanning unit.
  • The International Smart Tan Network has a manual, educational brochures, posters, and a training book available about the indoor tanning industry. Call them at (800) 652-3269 or (517) 784-1772.

The Necessary Accessories

Probably the most popular accessory for tanning is protective eye-wear. Tanning goggles are tiny plastic cups attached with a thin strip that goes over the nose. They are designed to protect the eyes from UV light exposure and create a minimum amount of tan lines on the face. Every tanning client must wear protective eyewear, so they must either purchase a pair or bring their own. Some salons purchase reusable goggles and disinfect them between clients, but Leslie Hartlieb says the majority buy disposable ones.

If you really want to get into the tanning swing, consider some other fun retail optics such as clothing, swimwear, towels, and miscellaneous, impulse items. Swimwear is great for the client who forgets her suit one day in fact, encourage clients to keep a suit and towel or lotion that they’ve purchased from you at your salon (if you have enough storage space). Many of these items, especially the T-shirts and hats, take up very little shelf space; some salon owners display one or two items and take orders. Or keep a catalog handy for clients to look through.

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