Are Tanning Salons A Good Investment?

Tanning salons are increasingly popular. On average, more than 1 million Americans visit tanning salons per day. Of this number, 70% are Caucasian females between 16 and 49 years of age. It’s not hard to see why this beauty treatment is so popular, everything is better with a tan right?

If there’s anything that makes those long winter months bearable, it’s having a golden-bronzed look that makes you stand out and feel wonderful. There are different ways to tan (without the sun)  and some tanning salons specialize in one or offer a couple.

The main ones are spray tans and sunbeds. If you are looking into opening your own tanning salon, there are a few things to consider such as which method you are going to offer and the safety measures surrounding these businesses. 

In this article, we are going to cover all you need to know about investing in this kind of business so you can decide whether it is the right path for you.

What are tanning salons and what services do they offer? 

Tanning salons are establishments that offer services to artificially tan the skin. This can be done by using a UV-bed light, known as a sunbed or tanning bed, or by using a spray tan application.

Many tanning salons will specialize in one type of service, but some may offer both. They are sometimes integrated with spas, hair salons, or other personal care services. 

Tanning Beds 

Tanning beds became popular in the 1970s when the first tanning salon opened in Berlin. This was followed by the opening of salons in Europe and North America.

They work by emitting UV (ultraviolet) radiation which is a form of electromagnetic radiation that comes from the sun but also man-made sources like tanning beds and lasers. However, the sun produces this naturally, whereas sunbeds use an artificial type.

Although just as little as ten minutes in one of these machines can give you the golden tan you’ve been after, these machines can increase your risk of developing skin cancer by 20%. This has become common knowledge among Americans, and although researchers estimated back in 2015  that 7.8 million women and 1.9 million men still use tanning beds, acknowledgment of their dangers now has many Americans deciding against this service.

Spray Tanning Services

Spray tanning is a popular, damage-free way to get that bronzed look we all crave. It is an increasingly popular treatment among Americans and is now a billion-dollar industry. In 2014 it was estimated to be at $775.3 million which increased in  2017 to just over one billion! It’s safe to say this would be worth investing in. 

The logistics behind it are very simple. A thin mist is sprayed onto the body which turns the skin into a natural-looking tan. Spray tans use a chemical called Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which funnily enough is a colorless liquid that interacts with amino acids that are in skin cells.

Once they come into contact with each other, skin cells become darker.  DHA has no recorded health risks and is perfectly safe for contact with the skin! The only downside is it tends to last no longer than a week, so frequent trips to the salon are needed for those determined to keep their glow (which is very good for business!). 

Salons that offer this service usually have spray booths. These booths are fitted with nozzles that spray the tanning solution onto the body.  Before entering a booth, tan artists will work with clients to create a customized color for them, to achieve the best results (and avoid looking orange like we all fear). 

Another option is for tanning artists to use airbrushes or spray guns. These are portable machines that some artists who provide mobile services can use on clients in their own homes, and they give off the same effect as tanning booths. If you are looking to start your own tanning business, one way to start could be providing mobile services to build up a clientele before opening up your salon. 

Regulations for opening a tanning salon 

There are various tanning regulations for different states in America, but what is consistent within these are the FDA (The Food and Drug Administration) and the FTC regulations. (The Federal Trade Commission). They are responsible for regulating tanning devices such as tanning beds.

The FDA is responsible for ensuring that labeling and manufacturing have been done correctly, and the FTC is responsible for investigating any false claims or advertising to do with these devices. Examples of what the FDA regulates on this are: 

  • All sunlamps must have a warning label.
  • They must have accurate timers. 
  • They must contain an emergency stop control button. 
  • They must include an exposure schedule. 
  • Protective eye goggles must be provided. 

With regards to the FTC, they enforce consumer protection laws. They work to eliminate any acts that are deceptive or misleading such as advertising. For example, in these types of salons, there can’t be any advertisements stating that: 

  • There are no harmful side effects to sunbeds.
  • Eye goggles are not needed as there is no glare in these machines. 
  • There is no harmful danger in any exposure to UV rays. 
  • A safe tan is achieved all year round. 

People who own and work in these businesses must ensure they are not making false claims about any of their products. Advertisements are fine, but business owners must ensure to not sell false advertising. 

Pros of investing in a tanning salon

There are pros and cons to starting any kind of business. It is important to consider these in detail before making any decisions on starting up this kind of business. 

Tanning salons are very popular. This brings on the benefit of being able to obtain sunbeds second-hand for half the price. Reconditioned beds are available, and if you take your time to look for a reputable supplier, they can be as good as new. This is a great option if you are only just starting, and as your business grows, you can then invest in first-hand beds. 

Another benefit is that this is a business that offers flexible hours. You may choose to even start by offering mobile services, to build up revenue before spending money on an actual store. However, If you choose to start with a store, you only really need to operate when someone needs your services. There is no set 9 to 5 with this kind of business, and as people are more likely to show up after working hours, there wouldn’t be much need for early morning starts. If you are someone who likes to press the snooze button, this is a no-brainer! 

An advantage of providing beauty services such as tanning is that they tend to operate as a word-of-mouth business. If you provide excellent services to some clients, they are likely to spread the word to their friends, family, co-workers, etc. This makes it an easier business to grow than others. 

Cons of investing in a tanning salon

Despite the advantages we have covered, there are some disadvantages you need to be aware of. 

For one, It can be an expensive business to start up. Even if you are going for second-hand equipment, these machines are still expensive and the likelihood is you’ll need several of them to make the business worthwhile and attract customers. You’ll also need to spend a bit more to make sure you are getting legitimate machines to avoid any mishaps with clients which will find you in a legal battle.

If you plan on having a physical store, rental fees can be expensive, especially if you’d like your salon to be situated in a central area for it to be noticed. Although pricey, this will be worth it to expand your business and get more clients in. Like tanning beds, spray tan machines are also expensive, and these machines will ramp up your electricity bill significantly. 

Another expense is your payroll.  As much as you may want to, it would be very difficult to run this business on your own. You would need at least a receptionist and unless you are experienced, you’d also need to hire an experienced tanning bed operator. 

Negative publicity around these businesses is also something to consider. As we discussed earlier, research has found that skin cancer is related to sunbeds, so this could reduce the number of clients you will have for this type of tanning treatment. This is why it is also important to offer other types of tanning if you are still planning to offer sunbed services. 

One last con to consider is that the business tends to be seasonal, with people wanting to top up their tans mainly during the winter. This is where it would be wise to also include some other beauty treatments to keep business up during the quieter months. 

Final thoughts

Overall, tanning salons can be a good investment if run properly and despite the information on sunbeds linking to cancer, people are still using them. However, if these statistics make you feel uncomfortable, and you’d rather not offer services with this risk,  you can devote your money and time to spray tanning services and invest in making that well-run.

As we also mentioned, you could combine this with other spa treatments such as massages, hairdressers, or other beauty services to bulk up your revenue. It’s safe to say that anything to do with the beauty industry that is well-run,  is going to be successful, so if this sounds like something you could thrive in, then go for it! 

Matt Roberts
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