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Tips for Starting a Tanning Salon

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While this isn’t an exhaustive list of tips for starting a tanning salon, these will cover a majority of the issues you will face when starting your tanning business.

  • Owning a business isn’t easy and the tanning business is no exception. While you may be knowledgeable about the tanning part there is still the employee management, retail sales, marketing, bookkeeping, customer relations, money management, … If you don’t have these skills and can’t afford to work with a consultant or can’t hire it out, then educate yourself now, before investing in a salon.
  • The tanning salon industry has changed dramatically in the past ten years (just like many other retail industries) where the smaller, intimate salon is losing ground due to the mega salons.
  • There are few barriers to entry in the tanning business, with the exception of the investment needed to start. Someone can open up next door in a short amount of time. If this scenario were to happen, why would customers stay with you?
  • The tanning business is extremely seasonal and most of the income is made in three to four months out of the year. Will you make enough during the peak season to keep the doors open the rest of the year? Have you worked on your projections before starting to see how it will affect the business?
  • Your customers will want access, so plan on being open 7 days/week and a minimum of 65 hours plus another 15 hours per week for things that need to be done after closing time such as bookkeeping, cleaning, planning and more. Can you and your family handle the commitment? Will it be worth the investment or would you be better off working a minimum wage job?
  • The tanning industry is under fire with different groups promoting the dangers of tanning which may result in future legislation and higher fees, licenses and taxes, not to mention bad press which could result in fewer tanners.
  • Cash flow is king and the first year is the hardest to go through. Make sure you have enough (after doing your business plan) and double that amount you think you will need. How will your personal finances react if your business doesn’t turn a profit for the first three years. (Most businesses don’t)
  • Location is important. Make sure you are close to where people live or work and with good visibility to your target demographic. Don’t trade a good high priced location for one off the beaten path to save a few hundred in rent. Visibility is critical to getting traffic in your doors and one of your best marketing methods is being in a visible location. Be sure your location has easy access, ample parking and sufficient electrical.
  • Negotiating your lease will be a way to save money. Items on the table are buildout costs, no rent for your initial months or whatever your imagination holds if the space has been vacant for awhile.
  • Knowing how to market and stand out versus the competition is critical. Going only half-way/half-funded and you will risk losing your entire investment.
  • Before starting a tanning salon, try working in one to see if you like it or not. This can be a real bonus if it is a competitor so you can see how busy they really. Be sure to work during the peak and non-peak seasons to see how the traffic patterns change. Do you still think there is enough business to go around?
  • Also tan in all the other tanning salons in your market area and put together a list of their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Research your total market potential and the number of tanning salons. Can the area you are looking at support another tanning salon?
  • Talk with other tanning salon owners outside of your market and ask them what they would do differently. Maybe even offer to shadow them to see the ins and outs.
  • Do a business plan. Be sure you know how you want to run the business and whether this investment makes sense. Have others look at it like a Small Business Development Center. They are a free service to help businesses start. www.asbdc-us.org.
  • Your expenses will be higher than you expect them to be. It happens in every business. Plan accordingly in your business plan and estimate high on everything. Even if you come out right on your costs there are always extra costs that you could not have anticipated.
  • Pay attention to the look and feel of your lobby. Sales are made in the lobby, not in the tanning rooms.
  • Your employees will never be able to do as good of a job as you (this is your investment after all) but then again they are working for low wages. Keep your expectations realistic, train and make sure their duties are well defined. Write a comprehensive employee training manual and use it.
  • Your competitors will likely react to you coming into town. Would you be able to survive the “dirty” or “rude” competitor if they drop their prices? Remember they will probably not be happy to see you open the doors and may adjust their prices in hopes of driving you to bankruptcy. They will probably have a lower operating cost and they could drop their prices a bunch and still make money while your operating costs don’t allow as much flexibility.
  • Estimate everything taking twice as long as you think it will take and you should have a realistic time frame.
  • Oversaturation and undercapitalization are the largest contributors to tanning business failures. Do your research and make the starting a tanning salon profitable and fun!