Anniversaries typically cause us to ponder the passage of time. Think of the changes that occurred in our country from 1862-1902. In those 40 years, we lived through the Civil War, the Spanish American War, America’s 100th birthday and the advent of the telephone. The decades between 1902-1942 brought us World Wars I and II, the TV, and transportation moved from horses to automobiles and planes. Penicillin was discovered. From 1942-1982: WWII ended but these 40 years also brought the Korean and Vietnam wars, the first American lunar orbit and then moon landing in the same decade. America celebrated its 200th birthday. Now in the last slot, 1982-2022, Tom Brady chalked up multiple Super Bowl wins, the 9/11 terrorist attack happened, Presidents Bush I and II, Obama and Trump. And in 1982, a tanning product distribution company was born in Lee’s Summit, MO. Forty years later, we celebrate the impressive longevity of Heartland Tan.
In early February, I hosted Heartland’s Product Prep & Retail Coaching Bootcamp event and had the chance to sit down and chat with my friend Brad Henson, COO.
IST: Brad, what a great run! Tell us how Heartland Tan came to be.
BH: In 1982, my brother Greg and I were both working in our father’s exercise equipment business. As we interacted with various health facilities that were our customers, Greg was asked if he could acquire and sell them a “tanning machine.” Later that year, Greg sold and installed his first tanning bed. He soon realized the interest and potential growth for indoor tanning services and Heartland Tan was born.
IST: My business interactions with Heartland began in the early 90s and I have personally witnessed the company’s resilience. What would you say are the keys to longevity in this industry?
BH: As with any business, scale and growth are the two crucial factors, especially in early stages. Greg always had the innate ability to measure the industry and to expand (or contract) when conditions warranted. As the business grew, we surrounded ourselves with like-minded people and let them do their jobs. Business success is truly simple: hire loyal, competent people. Carry quality products and stand behind them. Know your clients’ individual circumstances. And most importantly, treat people as you would want your spouse or yourself to be treated.
IST: With props to the philosopher Nietzsche, “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” (how often does one get to quote Nietzsche, anyway?), what have been your biggest challenges?
BH: Change. It’s a constant, and sometimes the decisions you have to make impact your product line, as well as employees (i.e., see March 2020 to present). Our team reacted to the industry struggles dealing with the pandemic and was able to offer what turned out to be a popular salon owners’ gathering last summer. People were really just excited to gather together at an in-person trade event again.
IST: Alright, time to trumpet a little. What have been Heartland’s biggest successes?
BH: Without sounding too corny, it’s truly the relationships that have been created with both our customers and employees. In both cases, some have lasted 20+ years. And for me, without a doubt, it’s been going to work for all this time and enjoying what I do.
IST: As noted, the industry has endured many upheavals, yet Heartland has adapted and forged ahead. Can you forecast the next 3-5 yrs for Heartland and the industry?
BH: Joe, my crystal ball broke back in ’08! I feel the “shake-out” of both salons and product suppliers is over. The stability, and dare I say it, the growth of indoor tanning, spray-tanning and auxiliary products over the last few years (in spite of a worldwide pandemic) have factored into our plans for the future. We plan to invest in better systems both for sales and internal controls and most importantly, focus on taking care of our valued customers and associates.
Brad, you and your team rock! What a pleasure to interview someone I’ve known for so long on such a great occasion. I wish you and Team Heartland all the best in the coming years!
A 26-year industry veteran, Joe has taught certified salon operator training for the last 15 years, as well as advocating indoor tanning in many capacities. Joe is a sought-after speaker and presenter at both national & regional trade events, also interacting with the FDA, state & local regulatory agencies. During his most recent tenure with the ITA, he served as director of membership.
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