This month’s Sun is Life® Salon of Distinction® comes from New Hampshire, “The Granite State” named for its substantial granite formations and quarries. Sun Seekers’ Owner Robert Ashe has been making it happen in the tan biz for over 30 years, enduring and surviving many of the economic fluctuations that affect our industry. Perhaps the perseverance is apropos; maybe it’s testament to the intestinal fortitude of those from The Granite State!
I had a wonderful conversation with Robert and his Salon Manager, Megan Lozouski, so let’s dig into the interview and find out what makes Sun Seekers our Salon of Distinction.
IST: Robert, everyone has a story of how they got started in the tanning business. What’s your backstory? Did you “fall into it” like many of us have, or was it a strategic plan?
RA: I fell into it. I had previously owned another business that offered some tanning services on the side for extra revenue. We were pretty successful with it, but knew we could do better. One day, my competitor approached me about buying him out, so I did. That was 1996.
IST: Wow! That’s quite a history as you move into your fourth decade. You’ve no doubt gone through some good and not so good times. The pandemic certainly impacted many small businesses; how did Sun Seekers survive over the last two years? How do the “numbers” compare with this time last year?
RA: Joe, it hit pretty hard as we had to close the salon for 63 days. When we reopened, we definitely took a hit. Our client base is on the older side, so we didn’t see many of our regulars come in for their vacation tans. With people still worried about COVID, we had a rough time getting back on our feet but thankfully, we survived. Numbers for 2021 were comparable to 2019 numbers and 2022 was going along pretty good, but midsummer numbers, as with many salons, have seen a definite downturn. We have enough money set aside to weather this through.
IST: Challenging times for sure and glad to hear you’re rolling with the punches. Let’s move on. Dealing with difficult customers can be tricky, and an important topic of the Sun is Life training program. Give us an example of a tough one you overcame and how you did it.
RA: A customer came into our salon demanding to go full-time in a UV bed for his first session. He insisted that he had been tanning indoors for 40-something years and knew his skin could handle it. Our staff tried to explain the tanning process and how it takes time while also showing that we understood his needs. After a fairly heated conversation, we negotiated a session time we felt was appropriate, but long enough to satisfy him. A few days later, he came back for a session, didn’t say a word about it but asked to decrease his exposure time.
IST: Ah, the old “customer learns lesson” deal. Nicely done! The Sun is Life Certification course asserts that salon staff should never allow the guest to dictate their tanning time. Speaking of Sun is Life, you told me earlier that you enjoyed the program. What insights did you gain from the class? How important is it to have a staff that is fully trained with Sun is Life?
RA: It is extremely important to have a fully trained staff so that we can all be on the exact same page with protocol and correctly educate our guests to ensure they are getting the tanning results they are looking for. A properly trained staff always brings happier customers. We also gained more insight on the way lotions interact with your skin and the tanning process.
IST: The tanning industry has many times been in midst of challenges; i.e. the negative media coverage, state regulations, the economy and others. What has been your biggest hurdle to overcome?
RA: I’d say the biggest challenge has been addressing the negative stigma surrounding the tanning industry. That is where proper training and education plays a big role in guiding initial conversations with guests and teaching about tanning in moderation.
IST: So, Megan – let’s talk about demographics. You mentioned that you have a more mature clientele. How does that factor into the mix of UV, sunless tanning and airbrush services on your menu?
ML: Our UV tanners enjoy the process and are more willing to try sunless – kind of a mix-and-match concept. However, our spray-tan customers tend to be there only for the sunless method, but that’s largely due to their skin typically being a Skin Type I. They want the tanned look, but can’t get UV exposure without burning whether indoors or out. Hey, we’re more than happy to offer them what they want!
IST: I’ve always felt that websites can provide static, solid info and social media is much more fluid and evolving. I’ve seen both your website and social media page, both of which are very well done. Which has the bigger influence on your marketing?
RA: We find that although the website is where our customers get the most information, it’s more like our billboard. Our social media activity has a bigger influence on sales.
ML: We’ve always had a lot more fun doing social media and work to get our customers involved. This year, our Valentine Special was just fantastic. It seemed like I was responding almost around the clock to inquiries. Our customers just loved it!
IST: Timely special deals seem to ignite clientele. Who doesn’t want a good deal? Alright, let’s wrap this up with some goals. Where do you want Sun Seekers to be in the next 1-3 years?
RA: Joe, we certainly want to diversify our business, taking advantage of all the spa services that mesh well with this industry. We also plan to refine our marketing strategies.
Well, there you have it. Congrats to Sun Seekers on being our Salon of Distinction for September and all the best to you in the future!
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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