How to Start a Tanning Salon Business

Despite a variety of opinions about the hazards that tanning beds can cause for your skin and overall health, tanning salons continue to be quite popular. It seems that a nice tan and sun-kissed skin are still in vogue, though the heavy tans of the past are old news. With the health craze showing no sign of slowing down, it’s not all uncommon for the next step in getting to that beach-ready body is getting a bit of sun. But, for much of the United States, getting a healthy dose of real sun is not all that easy. Since most of us don’t have the financial means to purchase a tanning bed for our personal use (let alone the space to put one), most sun-seekers find tanning salons to be a viable option.

Opening a Tanning Salon        

If you have an entrepreneurial spirit and like that sun-kissed look, then opening a tanning salon might be a wise business investment for you. Your investment can pay off even more if you are opening a salon in an area that has the right target audience and minimal pre-existing competition. This said, opening a business of any kind will require a good business sense, an ability to work with all sorts of customers, and a commitment to making the business successful.

As part of your planning process for your tanning salon business, you should make a point to visit other tanning salons, even those that are some distance away. Try to experience the salon as an actual customer by participating in the various services and trying things you might never have tried before. This will allow you to become better versed in the services available and how to keep your skin safe through the process so that you can better engage and share your expertise with your future customers.

Once you have visited a variety of salons, it is time to get to work on your business plan. In that plan, at the minimum, you should thoroughly document your approach to the following:

  • Your salon location and the demographics of the area
  • Five-year business plan with financial projections
  • Outline of capital needed to get started and anticipated capital for the next five years
  • List of required equipment
  • Outline of staffing needs including headcount, titles and position descriptions, and anticipated salaries and benefits
  • Plans to account for handicap accessibility

Tanning beds are not inexpensive, and even more basic models can sell for $10,000 or more. Depending on how you plan to differentiate your business, you may find that you need to purchase higher-end equipment, and you may need more than tanning beds.

Costs of Starting a Tanning Salon

The costs of getting a tanning salon up and running will vary greatly. Tanning salon owners should be prepared to invest quite a bit of capital upfront to get the business going and meet customer expectations.

  • Tanning beds will cost $10,000 to $20,000 on average for a high-end or top model, with more basic models available for $10,000 or less
  • HVAC system for your salon, if not provided by the landlord, will cost approximately $1,500 per ton
  • Exterior signage will vary depending on the site of your location, but you should estimate $2,000 to $5,000 on the low end
  • Marketing costs including direct mail pieces will add up fast so you should anticipate a minimum of $5,000 for an initial direct mail campaign and for a basic website set-up
  • Interior finishing can cost an average of $500 to $1,500 per room depending on what you are looking to do
  • Technology such as point-of-sale systems, iPads for customer check-in and disclaimer documentation, copy machines, and other standard office equipment will likely be $7,500 to $10,000
  • Inventory of bulbs, cleaning supplies, uniforms, lotions, etc., will likely run $1,000 to $2,000 to get you started

In addition to the anticipated expenses and budgets mentioned above, you will also want to have some working capital (cash) to cover upfront expenses. Most banks won’t offer capital financing for a new business until they have a few months of revenue on the books, so you need to be prepared with cash to get started.

How Much do Tanning Salons Make Per Year?

Income for a tanning salon will vary greatly depending on your pricing structure, the type of equipment you offer, how you differentiate your business, and where you are located. As you get into the business, you will receive projections from a lot of people, including commercial tanning bed distributors. But you need to be careful to avoid putting too much faith into the numbers that they provide. While bed distributors have access to demographic data that you can use to form your own opinion on prospective income, you should do additional homework on your own so that you know what you are getting into.

With that said, you can put together a relatively educated estimate of potential income based on the following averages:

  • An average bed will generate $12,000 – $15,000 per year.
  • The average customer will spend $5.00 to $9.00 per session.

Do, however, keep in mind that foot traffic into your tanning salon will fluctuate dramatically during the year. July through November should be anticipated to be slower months as most people across the country will have access to the sun and can tan during their outdoor time. Though some customers will provide a steady stream of business year-round, and these months will see ‘pre-vacation’ traffic as customers look to get a bit of a tan before heading on holiday, you can expect that traffic will be much lighter than what you will see between December and June each year. Thus, be sure to project your cash flow so that you will have enough money to keep your salon doors open and that you can pay yourself and your employees.

Developing your Tanning Salon Name, Logo, and Visual Identity

Every business needs a name, and along with a name, they need a catchy logo that draws out the personality of the brand. Not only that, but they need a visual identity that will be used in every piece of advertising and throughout the salon to help customers connect your business to their memory.

A great place to get started here is by identifying your tanning salon’s name. Having a catchy name for your tanning salon will be vital. With so many tanning salons to be found, having that memorable and brand-aligned name will make a great difference for customers seeking a tanning salon. As you think of your tanning salon’s name, don’t be afraid to leverage puns or rhymes or to pull in the type of tanning bed that you offer. Don’t resist using your name either. Go ahead and use whatever sounds catchy and that your customers will remember. Then, make sure you build your brand, your logo, and your color palette off of that name.

Here are just some fun and memory-worthy tanning salon names for consideration to help you understand the fun that can be had in creating your salon name:

  • TanTastic or TanTastic Skin
  • Sun Kissed
  • Must B Tan
  • Tan Fans
  • In the Mist Tanning

How to Market and Advertise your Tanning Salon

As mentioned previously, with the well-known and perceived dangers of tanning bed usage, not everyone is a tanner. Tanning salon owners need to know salon marketing ideas and understand their clientele. Having this knowledge of the business will make it easier to provide great service to your customers and to give recommendations on what can provide a healthy and long-lasting tan. For your marketing efforts, play to those who pride themselves on their health and physical appearance. Your initial audience should include hair and nail salon customers, fitness center members, and those preparing to attend a special event or go on vacation. Many new tanning salon owners have found that providing a ‘new customer’ offer of some kind such as a free initial session or consultation can give you exposure to new customers and can get them in the door so that you can win them over. So prepare to involve customers to participate in marketing efforts.

Keeping your Business Thriving with Loyal Customers

As is the case with any small business, word-of-mouth advertising is the best advertising that money can’t buy. In the tanning industry, your customers are spending their hard-earned dollars on a luxury service that isn’t really needed. This means that if they have a poor experience, they are either going to go elsewhere or forego tanning services altogether.

Make sure that your customer’s first impression is impeccable. Provide an immaculate space, high-quality tanning beds, friendly but not overly aggressive service, and a palatable price. Personalized experiences and respect go a long way in the service industry too, so make a note of who your customers are so that you can play on what you know about them the next time they come in. If you know a certain customer dislikes a particular brand, make a note of it and consider having another option available the next time they come in. Or, if you know your customer was working on their tan before a trip to Hawaii, be sure to ask about the trip after they return. These small details can make all the difference in the success of your business and will help to keep your customers coming back.

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