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Ray of hope: add more sizzle to your bottom line with tanning beds.

For Tiffany and Steve Pope, adding tanning beds to their product line was part of an effort to diversify inventory. The plan worked like a charm.

The Popes estimate that tanning bed sales now comprise approximately 10 percent of their company's sales volume. "Tanning beds go well with what we do," says Tiffany Pope, co-owner of Spa and Tub Manufacturers, with one store each in Chickasaw and Saraland, Ala., and Gautier, Miss.

"We sell a lot of personal-type outdoor products--spas and swimming pools--and everything has its own season," she adds.

Offering customers a total home resort entertainment package was the biggest motivation behind the addition of tanning beds to his family stores, says Kevin Prefontaine, sales manager of the six Watson's stores owned by his father in Indianapolis; Nashville, Tenn.; Kansas City, Kan.; Little Rock, Ark.; and Minneapolis.

Watson's added tanning beds 15 years ago, not long after that industry's inception. Commercial tanning salons began doing business in the United States in 1979 and gained popularity in the mid-'80s, according to the Suntanning Association for Education.

Today, nearly 2 million Americans tan at home, says Joseph Levy, vice president of the International Smart Tan Network, a consortium of indoor tanning professionals and industry members. While Levy's Jackson, Mich.-based organization does not keep specific statistics on home tanning bed sales, he says the consumer market for "moderate, responsible tanning" continues to increase, which also pushes growth in the home-bed sector.

The growth of the salon market is a key indicator for Prefontaine and the Popes. It provides a steady supply of potential customers who are predisposed to tanning.

"My biggest customers are housewives, although men are becoming a larger part of the market as well," says Prefontaine, who pegs tanning beds as one of the top five selling categories in his store. In fact, they account for about 10 percent of his sales.

The Popes cater to families with teenage daughters or "young mothers, who have a hard time getting to the salon because they can't find a sitter," says Tiffany Pope, whose peak sales season runs from November to April.

"Now I'm also finding that a lot of businesspeople, who don't have time to tan during the day, buy beds for their homes," she notes.

Proper placement

To direct attention to tanning beds in showrooms, some retailers group them with saunas. Others use eye-catching, point-of-purchase display material that touts the affordability of ownership in relation to how much people spend at a local tanning salon.

"The beds together with the saunas help people get the idea that they can utilize both products together in a home-exercise and health-oriented environment," says Jeff Berry, president at Leisure Living Superstore in Temecula, Calif. He expects around 100-bed volume in sales during his best season this year, which runs from winter through spring.

In Prefontaine's stores, the tanning bed displays are arranged to create a scenic impact. "We set up 22 beds in a triangle along with a palm tree and goggles, lotions and other accessories. We want to create a beach-type setting," he explains. In many of his stores, this includes corresponding paintings on nearby walls.

Berry and Prefontaine sell only the horizontal beds similar to what most tanners use in salons. Tiffany Pope offers the traditional beds, as well as the stand-up ones, which she describes as more of a niche-type product.

"They take up about 20 percent of the floor space, and we have each one set up so that customers can lie on it, open and close it down or get in the stand-up display and wrap it around them," says Tiffany Pope, whose company has sold tanning beds for approximately 10 years as the result of a personal experience.

"My husband was trying to find me one for an anniversary present, and couldn't find one in the area," she adds. "We had to go out of town to purchase a tanning bed."

At that point, a new line of business was born for the Popes. In the early days, they had little competition. Today, not only are there tanning salons in the area, but a number of other companies also are selling tanning beds as a sideline.

The competition doesn't faze industry veterans, though. They rely on the longevity they've attained, as well as outstanding customer service to lure and keep customers. At Watson's, the Prefontaines count on exclusivity to enable them to control market share.

"Everything we try to sell, we find a way to be the only one in the market. That's an agreement we make with all our manufacturers," Prefontaine says. He adds that initially his company used buying power to coax an agreement from manufacturers. "Now people come to us. At this point, they're willing and understand the program," Prefontaine observes.

Cost considerations

Consumers shopping for a home tanning bed will find prices ranging from just under $1,000 to around $3,000. The average price will depend on which bells and whistles people want.

Pope says her average sale is about $2,200. People usually finance it through monthly payments that are comparable and, in some cases, less expensive than their tanning salon subscriptions. At Watson's, the average price for a bed is $2,400, with most people financing the purchase as well.

Berry's best seller is his middle-range model, a $1,599 bed, bought by approximately 70 percent of his customers paying with cash. The training to sell the beds initially comes from manufacturers and is offered as often needed, says Prefontaine.

All three retailers also rely on the manufacturers to provide them with skin-protection information to give to buyers. "The tanning bed is an environment, where you can control exposure [to potentially] harmful ultraviolet rays, whereas when you go out into the sun, it may not be as controlled, especially if you are going on vacation," points out Berry.

He adds that people often use their home beds to get that base tan, which can help reduce the chances of damaging vulnerable skin.

Another key issue is proper skin care during tanning, according to Levy. He says he wants to make sure that the home market grows in the same responsible manner as commercial indoor tanning.

That's why he's in favor of training on safe tanning--as much as possible--for retailers who decide to sell home tanning beds. This includes taking one of the certification classes offered nationwide by International Smart Tan Network and SAE.

Both organizations also provide retailers with considerable information on how to counteract some of the negative information disseminated about indoor tanning.

Read all about it

Keep abreast of what's happening in the growing tanning bed industry. The following organizations provide information that may help boost your bottom line:

Indoor Tanning Association

(888) 377-0477

International Smart Tan Network

(800) 652-3269

Suntanning Association for Education

(800) 536-8255

Lighting the way

Choosing tanning beds to sell at your retail location does not have to be a long and involved process, especially if you do it strategically.

Just ask Tiffany Pope, co-owner of Spa and Tub Manufacturers in Chickasaw, Ala. Instead of tracking down each individual manufacturer, Pope attended the Indoor Tanning Association's annual show, which occurs in November. There she was able to talk to virtually all of the industry players in one location. Currently, a number of companies make and sell tanning beds, both through a network of distributors and dealer-direct.

The most important thing to note about selling tanning beds is that they're considered medical devices. Therefore, they are regulated by the Federal Drug Administration through the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH).

Under regulation, every sun lamp product and ultraviolet lamp is supposed to carry prominently displayed warning labels that do the following:

* Advise against overexposure

* Suggest wearing protective eyewear during usage

* Detail recommended exposure positions and schedules

* Feature a statement with the amount of time it may take for the expected results

* Describe information on the lamp being used in the product

Once you determine that the manufacturer is complying with all of the legal requirements, the bed you choose depends on your customers' needs.
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Author:Griffin, Cynthia E.
Publication:Pool & Spa News
Date:Jan 30, 2004
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