After 18 years, the owners of 20 Minute Tan in Cape Coral, FL have found a renewed sense of enthusiasm for their business… and it shows!
While still in their 20s, Nichole and Matt Dukas began their indoor tanning adventure in 1993 when they opened 20 Minute Tan. Although the salon got off to a slow start, things quickly turned around for the couple with their introduction of high-pressure tanning, which soon became popular with tanners in and around Cape Coral. This success allowed them to grow their salon, both in square footage and the number of tanning units, and it also provided the necessary means for them to open a second 20 Minute Tan in nearby North Cape Coral. These days, the couple plans to spends a lot more time “behind the counter”, all the while continuing the tradition of service for which their small, “mom-and-pop” salon chain is known.
Big Dreams, Small Start
Like all compatible couples, Nichole and Matt Dukas tend to balance each other out, and this has benefitted them as business partners. “Matt is very conservative and realistic, while I tend to be a bit more of a dreamer,” said Nichole. “When we decided to become business owners, I suggested we open a strip mall that included a tanning salon, gym, restaurant and nail salon because this would provide people in our area with one-stop-shop convenience. He was the one who brought me back down to earth by suggesting we start small with just a tanning salon, which, as he predicted, presented plenty of challenges on its own.” Nichole – then in her 20s – quickly discovered that the banks weren’t exactly willing to loan money to open a tanning salon, especially someone as young as she was. As a result, she turned to her grandparents for the capital needed to get 20 Minute Tan up and running. The couple opened on August 14, 1994 in a 1,200 square-foot retail space.
Increasing the “Pressure”
Nichole and Matt soon discovered that their tanning business wasn’t as profitable as they hoped it would be. “In 1997, we attended an industry trade event and were introduced to high-pressure tanning, which was a game-changer for us,” Nichole explained. “We installed a high-pressure unit and began educating our clients about how it could help them achieve the results they wanted in less time and fewer sessions. Once they realized this, they were happy to pay the upgrade price to enjoy its benefits.” As business began to increase, Nichole and Matt were presented with the opportunity to acquire 400 additional square feet of space in the shopping plaza, which they did, and installed four medium-pressure tanning units. “Business really started to take off from that point,” she added.
The original 20 Minute Tan in Cape Coral is now a 1,740 square-foot facility that features a unique décor. “A friend painted the walls in a desert color scheme using lots of blues, purples, yellows and reds,” Nichole said. “We also wanted to do something unique with the floor, so he painted a huge orange and purple sun over the linoleum tiles.” The salon offers 14 tanning units – four Tanses TRX-52 sunbeds, three SunCapsule booths three Sun Series Genesis E, a Tanses high-pressure TTQ50 Vertical and an Ultrabronz 818 high-pressure mattress unit, a Tanses Entropy and one Mystic Tan sunless spray booth. 20 Minute Tan sells lotions by MR International and its own private label line, and operates with Helios software.
Right Time, Right Place
As soon as their first store started doing well, Nichole began bugging Matt about opening a second salon. “At that point, we needed a second store to serve all the clients who were driving from North Cape Coral and Fort Myers, which is more than nine miles away,” she said. “Matt told me we could open a second store if we found the right location; but, no matter where we looked, we couldn’t get a place that offered everything we needed. Finally, in April 2006, a salon owner in North Cape Coral contacted us about purchasing her business, so we decided to take a look at it.” The couple purchased the business and reopened it under the 20 Minute Tan banner on June 1, 2006. The salon has 13 UV tanning units – four Tanses TRX-52 sunbeds, three UltraSun sunbeds, two Tanses Convex 360, three SunCapsule booths, and one UltraSun high-pressure unit – and a Mystic Tan sunless booth.
When it comes to marketing, Matt Dukas has discovered that when he offers a special promotion is more important than how. “If you own a tanning business in Florida, it’s best to kick off your promotions just before Thanksgiving and run them until Easter,” said Matt. “This is the time when the state’s temporary residents, whom we refer to as ‘snow-birds’, are typically here. This means that we have to tailor our marketing to make the most of this transient demographic.” These days, Matt offers coupons for half-off the salon’s upgrade UV and sunless tanning sessions, which he sends via e-blasts to existing clients and advertises in local coupon mailers. “It also helps to put an expiration date on the coupons to encourage people to take advantage of the deal right away,” he added.
The Future, Redefined
Nichole admits that when it comes to business, she’s always dreamed big; but nowadays, her inspiration has been tempered by the realities of today’s economy. “About four years ago, our district manager decided to pursue another career and we found it very difficult to find someone who could fill her shoes,” she said. “As a result, I decided to leave my job in the insurance industry to work at the salon full time, and it’s been a real eye-opener for me. Not only do I love the whole hometown, mom-and-pop feel we have at our two stores, I also don’t see the economy changing in the next couple of years, so we plan to focus on making our existing stores phenomenal.” The way she and Matt plan to do this, she says, is by keeping their clients happy and satisfied. “If we can do that, they’ll keep coming back,” she added.
Returning to her salon full time has reminded Nichole why she opened 20 Minute Tan in the first place. “I’ve been an indoor tanner for many years, so I know just how enjoyable this service can be,” she said. “I also love talking with our clients, many of whom we know on a first-name basis. Most of all, I love the flexibility that comes with it – I can spend more time with our daughter, Alanna, and attend her tennis matches, and that’s priceless.”
A 14-year industry veteran, John "Ribby" Ribner has written hundreds of
articles for IST Magazine and, as Director of Editorial Content, has also
helped guide the publication's evolution. Ribby is a graduate of Central
Michigan University's journalism program and has brought many years of newspaper reporting experience to his position of Head Writer. He is also the author of three novels, "Legacy of the Bear," "Prophecy of the Bear" and "World So Dark."
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