With a name that’s as fun as its atmosphere, Lion in the Sun has a staff that happily helps tanners in Fairmont, WV.
As the tanning industry evolves, so has Lion in the Sun. The business started in 1994 as a one-unit venture inside Kim Wherley’s children’s clothing consignment store. Over the years, as Kim’s daughter Amber grew, so did the business, until it became a full-service tanning salon with 15 units. From there, it wasn’t long before Lion in the Sun became a three-store chain serving the needs of Fairmont-area residents looking for a friendly place to get a tan. Today, Amber helps manage the business while Kim plans its future… one in which Amber takes the helm at Lion in the Sun while Kim spends more time lyin’ in the Florida sun.
Lion in the Sun began 19 years ago when Kim Wherley wanted to offer indoor tanning in an unlikely location. “I owned a consignment shop called ‘Re-Runs for Wee Ones,’ and we had extra space in the back of the shop,” she said. “There weren’t any tanning salons in Fairmont at that time, so I decided to add a tanning unit to see how it would do. Within two weeks, the bed was busy all day, so we quickly purchased two additional beds to accommodate more tanners.” As expected, Kim’s “side business” – which she named Lion in the Sun because it was “whimsical, yet fitting” – continued to grow in popularity and equipment offerings as the years went by. By 2003, Kim knew it was time to close the consignment shop to focus on tanning.
…Becomes a Salon
In its first year as a full-service salon, Lion in the Sun had 15 Montego Bay tanning units. “In the early days, we took appointments for tanning sessions, and the more customers we attracted, the more of a problem this became,” Kim said. “With the expansion, there was no longer a need for appointments, which meant no more worrying about clients canceling and how to fill those empty slots. It also freed us up to place an even greater emphasis on customer service and education.” Kim says that taking the time to get to know her clients and educate them about moderate tanning was a huge help to her business, and she remains thankful that the community of Fairmont continues to support her.
Lion in the Sun sells lotions by Playboy, Designer Skin, Fiesta Sun, JWOWW, and Pro Tan, and Kim recently added Jennifer Bradley Professional Cosmetic products and BeeFit Bee Pollen to its non-tanning offerings. The salon also offers Bleach Bright teeth-whitening services, and operates using SalonTouch software by Interactive Designs. “David McFarland (Performance Brands National Sales Educator) has been a big help to our lotion sales,” Kim said. “We met him three years ago at a tanning expo, and we invited him to train our staff. He’s been here for three Playboy-featured events, and he always makes our time with him very fun, exciting and educational. Because of him, Performance Brands products are our best sellers.”
Six months after its debut as a full-service salon, Lion in the Sun became a pride. “A five-unit salon had just closed its doors, so I contacted the owner and asked if I could purchase it,” Kim explained. “We stayed at that location for ten years before relocating in February 2013 to a location nearby that is about three times the size of the previous space.” The new salon has 12 units by Heartland Tanning, Inc. and an Arena airbrush system by Norvell Skin Solutions. “The décor is very modern, featuring ice blue and silver with black accents, grey floors, a black ceiling and chandeliers in the lobby.”
The third Lion in the Sun opened in September 2008 on Fairmont’s west side. “Since we were starting with something that was brand new, we decided to create a relaxing, spa-like feel,” Kim said. “With a spice, yellow and beige color scheme, it provides a very tranquil feel.” This salon also has 12 Heartland Tanning units, including Fairmont’s only high pressure bed – the Acclaim – and an Arena spray-tan system by Norvell Skin Solutions.
The best way to kick off a tanning season is by hosting a special event, Kim says, and Lion in the Sun has created one of its own. It’s called “Sunshine Saturday,” and it’s held on the first Saturday in March. “We started this back in 2003 and our clients look forward to it every year,” she said. “Everyone tans for free, existing members receive free upgrades, and everything is on sale for that one day. It’s always a huge hit. We’ve also held successful fundraisers in the last couple of years for the local humane society that was on the verge of closing, and also for Amber’s grandparents in North Dakota whose home was destroyed in 2011 during a massive flood.”
Sunsets & Sunrises
After 19 years and three tanning facilities, Kim says she’s at her limit… for locations, that is. Although she doesn’t plan to open any more salons, she still has big plans for her existing stores, particularly the original. “In the next two years, we plan to upgrade to all new Heartland Tanning equipment and remodel the décor to match the newest location,” she said. “After that, I’m looking forward to the day when Amber can take over operation of the salon full-time so I can spend the winters in Florida, and the rest of the year enjoying my new grandson, Landon.”
After nearly two decades of tanning salon ownership, Kim Wherley says she wouldn’t have done anything differently. “I absolutely love this industry, the loyal client base we’ve built, and especially my dedicated staff, including my daughter Amber and our Assistant Manager, Latisha Kriston,” she said. “We’ve always put our customers first and it shows in the friendly smiles they give us, as well as their continued support. I look forward to providing more great tans and friendly service to the people of Fairmont.”
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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