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Sunless, Inc. made headlines recently when it acquired longtime industry-leading sunless product maker, Norvell Skin Solutions. According to Peter van Niekerk, CEO, the dynamic move is a powerful step toward increasing the global presence of Sunless, Inc. Peter is a tough guy to lock down due to an incredibly busy schedule, but I finally reached him to discuss the move and find out what makes Sunless, Inc. “tick.”
Peter and I have some common ground, both of us having lived for a time in the Washington, D.C. area. To begin the interview, I asked him to sum up Sunless, Inc. in one word and he didn’t hesitate, replying: “Integrity.” From the best quality ingredients in our sunless solutions, to compliance with regulations, honesty in dealing with our customers and transparency in working with our employees, integrity is what drives his business model. For a closer look, read on!
IST: Peter, you have an extensive global business background from South Africa to New York, Singapore, London, Switzerland and more. What would you say is the strongest attribute that you bring to Sunless, Inc.?
PVN: Joe, in leading organizations and executive teams around the world, I’ve learned that it’s not about me – it’s about the team. I’m not the smartest guy in the room and I don’t need to be; what’s important is that the team performs well as a unit. Each member is a specialist, respected for his/her perspective. I have a good team – we all take co-ownership of leading the business, speak our minds, are focused on a clear set of priorities, understand where we’re taking the business over the next 2-3 years, and work harmoniously together. We run the business for the good of our customers, staff and shareholders; there is no place for egos. That is the tone I set, and the environment I create. Call it empowerment, call it strategic clarity, call it humility – the point is, it works.
IST: The investment portfolio of Riverside Company (parent company of Sunless, Inc.) is very diverse and stretches globally, including: food and workplace training programs, auto lighting and sensor manufacturing, healthcare systems and many more. Sunless, Inc. became part of these holdings in 2011 and has had some strong growth over the last five years. Without revealing any proprietary info of course, how will Sunless, Inc. attempt to continue this growth trend?
PVN: The responsibility to help salons optimize their growth opportunity from spray-tanning is something we take seriously. We’re seeing new momentum in the industry based on a growing understanding among salons that spray-tanning is highly profitable (also exempt from the federal Tan Tax), that reducing prices of individual spray-tans and EFTs leads to surprising revenue growth, and that giving away a memorable spray-tan experience is one of the best ways to promote the business. The leading salon chains are now focusing on growing their spray business, and are investing heavily in new, state-of-the-art spray booths – after years of dwindling equipment sales, we are seeing a huge resurgence. As a result, leading salons are seeing 10-25% year-on-year growth in their spray-tanning revenues.
In addition to supporting all aspects of this resurgence, we are looking at taking our “Dancing with the Stars” retail line into mass retailers, with heavy promotional spending. This will grow the concept of self-tanning with the general public, which will help all sunless product retailers. We are also having great success with our private label production, where we put our technology and efficiencies to work for salon chains and other brands – all of whom remain confidential, of course. These are some of our sources of growth going forward.
IST: Peter, Sunless, Inc. now includes VersaSpa, Mystic Tan, “Dancing with the Stars” sunless collection and now, Norvell Skin Solutions. That’s quite a group! How do you see Norvell integrating with your current line-up?
PVN: The different brands are totally complementary: we run two distinct business models. Norvell is a distributor model, and we are totally committed to maintaining the integrity of that model. We support and respect our distributors – we have more than 20 major partners – and serve the valuable Norvell customers through them. Mystic Tan and VersaSpa are direct salesforce models and we don’t take these brands to or through distributors. The models don’t mix. So, sales/distribution and customer service for the direct versus distributor models are quite separate; but in production, we gain the benefit of having the best technologies and scale across all these lines.
IST: It’s remarkable that despite constant attacks from the media, the indoor tanning industry has been providing UV options to the public seeking to minimize the risks of overexposure and sunburn for over four decades. Yet, it remains increasingly difficult for our industry to combat negative press. What suggestions do you have for tanning businesses?
PVN: I have a lot of sympathy for folks dealing with this environment. What I’ve seen the leading players begin to do is to focus their advertising message at spray versus UV. The public knows that if they see a facility promoting spray-tanning, in 99% of cases, they will find UV-tanning offered there, as well. The result is an easier campaign message and a growing spray-tanning segment, while also supporting the UV side of the business.
The other point we always stress to our customers is to run the business responsibly. Just like there are folks out there who try to overindulge in UV-tanning, you find a few oddballs who want to spray-tan two or even three times a week. Don’t allow this, and always ensure that you encourage customers to follow the FDA guidelines about safe spray-tanning practices and facilitate compliance by having the nose filters, eye protection, etc. available for use. We insure our future by behaving responsibly.
“The responsibility to help salons optimize their growth opportunity from spray-tanning is something we take seriously.”
Peter van Niekerk, CEO
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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