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As our industry enters its fifth decade, we can look back at overcoming seemingly insurmountable hurdles: negative media releases, anti-tanning coalitions, restrictive and sometimes overbearing regulatory measures and of course, the everyday challenges of running a small business. Salon operators and product providers have persevered and survived. The industry has changed dramatically since the halcyon days of the late 80s and early 90s and we have rolled with the changes. It’s smaller in size, yet our yearly expos continued. Our regional training events went on. We adapted with more manufacturers and distributors offering online training. And we survived.
In late February/early March, as salons were gearing up for another kick-off to our prime season, reports of the coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic emerged. Clearly, things were changing at lightspeed. Arguably the strongest economy the world has ever witnessed screeched to a halt, our entire country stopped mid-stride and people learned what it was like to “mask up” and “shelter in place.” Tanning salon operators would now have, perhaps, their biggest hurdle of all to clear. In late May, as states began to ease restrictions, salons were slowly beginning to re-open. However, (as of this writing) tanning salons and other small businesses were still shut down in some states.
This shutdown has affected everyone in this country either directly or indirectly. To gain perspective on the “new day/new way” that will transform our industry and country, I interviewed members of the tanning community. As you read on, try to picture attending an industry event and listening to these folks as they may have participated on stage in an “Industry Forum.” It’s what I kept in mind as I wrote this piece.
IST: From an internal staffing perspective to the products and services you offer, how did your company change in response to the health crisis?
Gallion: We quickly adapted our product offerings to include personal protective items. We worked with local first responders, hospitals and medical facilities to provide things like disinfectant, disposable gloves, masks and hand sanitizer. We even started manufacturing sneeze guards through our sister company, Sterling Acrylics. Due to our actions, we were granted the status of essential in our area, but, unfortunately, had to furlough over half of our staff. We are slowly reinstating our employees as business conditions improve.
Fishbaugh: I’ve been making disposable eye protection for the tanning industry for 29 years and I’ve never seen anything like the way our world shut down. I feel so badly for all the tanning salons losing their high season. We sell our disposable eye protection world-wide, so we experienced zero sales for the better part of three months. Our sister company is our manufacturing facility and was deemed essential, as they make FDA-compliant food labels, in addition to our FDA-compliant disposable eyewear, so we were able to manufacture and ship as orders came in. Jackie DeWald, my right hand for over two decades, works from her home, and I work from my home – we’ve worked remotely for years. We switched up what we worked on from home – I created dozens of social media memes for salon teams to share about missing their customers, and Jackie created hundreds of personalized certificates for salon staff who took our free ‘Eye Protection Expert’ 30-minute online training. Jackie has been mailing our educational counter mat packs out to salons as their states allowed them to re-open. This is what I love about being a small business: we quickly pivoted our day-to-day focus from selling Wink-Ease to our distributors world-wide to promoting our eye protection training world-wide helping salons keep in touch with their valuable customers during their lockdown.
Joyner: We’ve stayed in touch with our clientele to keep them informed of our status and how things will be handled when we reopen. I told all employees to file for unemployment benefits and assured them they had a job when we were able to reopen (city/county order to close as of March 17, we’re still closed. Hopefully, June 1, when the current order expires). Obviously, we could not provide services. We sold a small amount of hand sanitizer and self-tanning spray, but otherwise, no product sales during the closure.
IST: From expos to online presentations, many companies offer training elements. IST offers Sun is Life, what many regard as the premier salon operator certification program in both online and classroom versions. A vital element of our training has always included a section on hygiene and sanitation. Moving forward, industry training will also need to include a stronger emphasis on cleanliness. How will yours adapt and change?
Fishbaugh: Eye Pro offers salon teams a free, 30-minute on-demand video on eye protection. When completed, we send them a package with personalized certificates and educational materials on the importance of eyewear to help them educate their guests. Eyes are a mucous membrane, just like our nose, mouth and genitals, and mucous membranes are the easiest pathway for viruses to enter our body. Clearly, all salons should stop sharing goggles. If we aren’t providing towels because we can’t disinfect them properly, we don’t want to offer community goggles that people are touching and then putting on their eyes. Disposable eye protection is the obvious choice! So, I worry about tanners using their own goggles. Salon owners (and regulatory agencies) would clearly be concerned about cleaning reusable approved eyewear with a sanitizer, drying them thoroughly and storing them properly.
Joyner: Our clientele’s awareness of sanitation and hygiene will definitely be heightened. We’ve always been known as a very clean salon, and our new enhanced procedures will give guests an added sense of our professionalism and our focus on cleanliness and sanitation.
Gallion: We are encouraging salon owners to follow CDC guidance for cleaning and disinfecting retail stores and salons. Salons should publish their disinfectant routine for their guests to read. Allowing their customers to visually see staff cleaning and disinfecting around the salon will also help to build confidence in both salon staff and tanners. Our tanning bed disinfectants are hospital-grade and state on the label that they kill the human coronavirus. It’s good for salons to share that information with their tanners.
IST: We’ve seen some salons re-open with really creative marketing efforts. Did any catch your attention in particular?
Gallion: When salons had to be closed, they became very creative with sunless retail and selling products curbside, or even making home deliveries. Salon operators have embraced social media to stay in contact with their customers. We have seen some great Facebook Live videos. Text messaging services have grown, as well. We have learned a lot from our salons and plan to implement some of their ideas in our digital campaigns. We are looking for creative ways to help salons succeed in a changing business environment.
Joyner: Joe, I haven’t noticed any other local salons’ promotions. We plan to have a Free Tan Weekend the first weekend we’re open as a ‘welcome back’ to our tanners and to start generating cash flow. We’ve changed our pricing to offer more value-priced levels.
Fishbaugh: I think the salons that consistently list their new procedures on their website and all social media platforms with their cell numbers to call with questions are instilling the most confidence and will get the most tanners back. I think it’s brilliant that some salons have extended their hours, since the social distancing procedures slow the number of people the salon can serve at a time. I’m most impressed with those that used their down time to paint, put up some new artwork, maybe buy a couple of new pieces of inexpensive furniture and change up their lotion displays, as a fresh and clean look goes a long way toward building confidence with customers.
One salon created a video showing their team in action cleaning! What a great way to show everything you are doing to protect your tanners (and their loved ones at home). The salon is putting a bottle of bed cleaner in each room, even though they have cleaned the beds. I think this is a good idea, so tanners don’t use alcohol wipes on expensive acrylics. I am also impressed by salons that have proudly posted on social media and in their salons various certificates they received by completing and passing online certifications. I think it’s critical every staff member has a new Sun Is Life Training certificate posted in the salon, as well as our “Eye Protection Expert” Certificates. I think it’s critical for salons to show they are taking their cleaning practices seriously.
IST: Indoor UV tanning systems are still classified as Class II medical devices for the purpose of cosmetic tanning of the skin. Reports have surfaced that have focused on the positive effect that UV exposure may have on mitigating coronavirus. Do you see a time that regulations may/could change to allow salons to market the positive effects of UV?
Fishbaugh: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if tanning becomes an essential business because we offer UV light that reduces viruses? I certainly hope so!
Joyner: Hey, I certainly hope so! I’m in my 28th year as a salon owner and have always felt we should be able to publicize the potential benefits of sensible UV exposure.
Gallion: We hope to see that time come. There are some promising studies, for sure. However, there is so much uncertainty as to what the government may do. For now, we have to caution salons against making any sort of medical claims. We just had a conversation in the office about how our grandparents would hang bed linens out on the line to dry so that the sun would kill the germs.
IST: As we move forward, clearly the method in which salons offer tanning will change. What elements do you see in the “new norm?” What new products are you carrying?
Gallion: As a society, we are now acutely aware of the importance of sanitizing and disinfecting and providing a safe environment for our guests. Requiring that strict cleaning and disinfectant measures are taken inside the salon must continue. We have picked up a variety of personal protective equipment items, as we feel that these items will continue to be in demand as we wake up to this new world.
Joyner: Pricing and offerings will become simplified. Levels will be less important. Clients consider upcharges to be an annoyance and will become less prominent. Think about it: what if I only offered one EFT membership allowing all-access at an affordable price with no levels, no add-ons, just come in and tan. I think there’s a market for that. In fact, I might try it … I’ll let you know!
Fishbaugh: The “new norm” is certainly an evolving situation. We’ve all become much more aware of the differences between sanitizing, disinfecting, sterilizing and how the UV rays emitted from sunbeds is completely different from UV-C, which is used to sterilize in hospitals. I hope salons will really step up their training in all aspects of tanning and really think through their customer service from beginning to end. Do we ever handle cash again? Do we ever provide shared eyewear again? How do we sell a bottle of lotion through a sneeze screen? It’s a great time for tanning salons to become even more educated, clean and professional! ν
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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