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These daily scenarios serve as the segue into this month’s industry roundtable discussion: tanning equipment service. You’ll probably never know how important it is until of course, you really need it. For this article, I went right to the source – three longtime associates with whom I’ve had service interactions over the years. A couple of them actually bailed me out of service trouble with my tanning bed distribution company in the late 80s. Service “Yoda” Jeff Valaska, Bruce Williams of PC Tan and Darren French of Four Seasons Sales & Service join us to share some great tips on service.
Jeff: In 1984, I was farming 700 acres in Ohio and there was such a huge supply of corn in the U.S., the government was paying farmers not to plant anything. It was springtime and there was nothing to do! A couple of brothers I knew began selling sunbeds for SCA Wolff System. It was taking off like crazy, and they needed installers. I got started driving around in a Ryder rental truck installing new tanning beds at salons. But as I put them together, I wondered who was taking care of the aftermarket parts, so I thought, “Hey, these things are going to break down.” So, the bed distributor let me purchase parts from Germany, which is how I got my start in the parts business.
Darren: I started in the industry almost 15 years ago. I had just finished as a project manager for an electrical company installing conveyors in Jackson, MS at the Nissan North America Project. After that was complete, I didn’t want to work out of state, and Four Seasons made me an appealing offer.
Bruce: Joe, you and I go back to the days when a 24-lamp bed was the top level! That’s right where I started out with SCA Wolff Corporation. I was attending college in 1982, and was made aware of an opening position in the quality control department by my grade school friend, Korri Harris, who was recently hired. The equipment was imported from Germany and we were responsible for adapting and testing the finished product to UL Standard. Korri and I received our theoretical training in tanning equipment and have worked together ever since.
Bruce: It’s good practice to keep spare items on hand that a salon operator can become proficient at replacing, such as lamps and lamp starters. Other parts such as lamp holders, ballasts and ignitors are also good to have on hand, but replacement should be addressed by contacting a qualified service provider.
Darren: As an educated and prepared business owner, you can prepare by stocking a few spare parts. These would include a bench acrylic shield, ballasts, cylinders/springs, and a timer – one per every three units in the salon of the same type. Capacitors: one of each type used per salon; fans: one per unit; lamp holders: one set per unit; starters: one box of 100W and one box of 160W on hand for spares, and finally, lamps: 2-4 spares per each lamp type used.
Jeff: I always tell salon owners to keep lamp holders, ballasts, capacitors, starters, T-Max com chips and lift pistons in stock for their most popular units. If they have storage room, acrylics are also a must. Your bed can be down for a couple of days if you don’t have these items. Also, if a salon is looking to replace equipment, they should always research to make sure they can get parts for the equipment being replaced. There is a lot of used equipment out there and many of the manufacturers are no longer in business.
Darren: Joe, you answered part of the question in the paragraph above: a unit out of commission generates no revenue. In addition, the salon’s reputation and customer confidence can suffer. The ability to maintain and repair equipment in a timely manner is a must. An even bigger hazard is the risk of someone getting hurt in a bed that you know is in need of repair. It is impossible to put a price on safety.
Bruce: Maintenance record-keeping is good practice and essential. For example. if the manufacturer suggests replacing the canopy lift pistons every 2,000 hours, it is very important to track the hours and comply. There is a potential risk of a canopy dropping and damaging the unit and possibly causing injury to the user or staff.
Jeff: The one thing that always cracks me up is how a salon owner or an individual who owns the tanning system has no clue as to what model it is, what year it was built or how many lamps are in it. I’ve seen so many owners put the wrong lamps in their machines, 100-watt lamps where 160-watt lamps are supposed to be or vice versa. A quick note to salon owners: each day at closing time, turn off all the breakers that power your tanning units. Salons have burned down overnight from electrical fires.
Jeff: Acrylics have a useful life of about 1,500 hours, and even more useful hours of UV transmission. However, not all acrylics are the same – check with the sunbed or acrylic manufacturer for their estimated life. Always use a tanning bed acrylic cleaner. Of course, there are salons that have used glass cleaner and even abrasive cleansers. Don’t do it!
Bruce: Only use industry-approved, acrylic-safe cleaners, nothing that contains alcohol. Useful acrylic life may vary from 1,500-3,000 hours and even longer depending on the unit; therefore, you should always refer to each unit’s owner’s manual for recommended replacement time.
Darren: Don’t allow tanners to use any lotions that are not designed for use in indoor tanning. Clean and polish acrylics regularly with a product such as Novus Plastic Polish. One of the biggest mistakes made by salon owners is waiting for a shield to break before replacing it. Even if the acrylic appears to be in perfect condition, the composition of the material will break down over a period of time. Once decomposition takes place, the shield will block a percentage of the UV light. To prevent this, I agree with Jeff and Bruce – most acrylics should be replaced every 1,500-3,000 hours.
Darren: I believe the main factors are reliability, experience, and knowledge; a reputable distributor will deliver quality and stand behind their products and service. Experience is invaluable – purchase only from a company with a proven record of professional service and support. Reliability is the future; moving forward, it’s imperative to purchase new equipment that is both reliable and innovative. The ability to continue providing outstanding products and service will benefit and differentiate those dedicated to the industry.
Bruce: Knowledgeable after-sale support is essential when considering the purchase of new equipment. An independent service provider should be approved to perform service by the equipment manufacturer / distributor to ensure they are properly trained.
Jeff: I agree. Do your homework and get local referrals. Service can make or break you, and it’s critical to have technical support that you can rely on.
You’ll probably never know how important a good service tech is until of course, you really need him.
I asked our panel to share a few service-related goofs that happened during install or service work, etc.
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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