For more than two decades, Caribbean Island Tanning has brought tropical sunshine to Old Saybrook, CT.
Caribbean Island Tanning is a recipe for salon success with all the right ingredients. Its owners – twin brothers Christopher and Michael Vergato – grew up working in their parents’ tanning salon, and they were looking for the same type of fun and exciting career after graduating from college. They opened Caribbean Island Tanning, then used their marketing know-how to build the salon’s clientele, and sealed the deal with friendly, helpful customer service. Twenty-two years later, the business is still going strong. Heading into the future, the brothers Vergato put their mark on the local business world as they continue to update and improve their successful venture.
Christopher and Michael Vergato practically grew up in the indoor tanning industry. “In the 1980s, our mom started tanning at a neighborhood salon and she really enjoyed the experience, so she and my dad bought the business,” said Christopher. “My brother and I worked there through high school and college and we really enjoyed being part of everything at the salon.” The brothers attended the University of New Haven and graduated in 1991, each with a degree in Business Administration and Marketing. At that time, they were faced with a slow economy and an even slower job market, so they decided to get back to their roots. “There was an older salon for sale, so we made an offer and the former owner accepted it,” Christopher said.
On the Move
The Vergatos purchased the salon long before the days of social media; but this didn’t stop them from getting the word out. “We did a three-month, direct-mail blast to households within the area, and sent press releases to all our local newspapers about the ownership change,” Christopher said. “The response was overwhelming!” Wishing to have a facility they could grow into instead of out of, the brothers moved Caribbean Island to another location that offered up-to-date facilities, more tanning rooms and improved visibility. “It was just a much-better place overall, and the decision to relocate did wonders to improve our business,” Christopher added.
True to its name, Caribbean Island Tanning is decorated with life-like palm trees, a sandy beach area and tanning rooms that look like the “chattel houses” popular in Barbados. The salon features 17 UV tanning units – eight Ergoline Ambition 250 sunbeds, two Ergoline Open Sun 550, two Soltron Kiss, two Bermuda Triangle booths, a Sontegra Generation X, an Ergoline Evolution 600 and a Sportarredo N’Joy Mix – as well as a Mystic Tan sunless booth and a red-light therapy unit. The salon sells lotions by Designer Skin, Devoted Creations and Pro Tan, and operates with Helios software.
When building a client base, Christopher and Michael discovered that direct mail to their target demographic works best. “The majority of our clients are between the ages of 25-55, and it’s a fairly even male to female split,” Christopher said. “Whether it’s our mail offers or incentives to EFT members, we’re all about providing just enough added value to make staying worthwhile.” The brothers offer coupons with discounts on tanning, sunless and red-light therapy sessions, such as buy one month, get one month free, and this strategy works well for them. They also offer many other incentives to encourage clients to bring a friend, as well as to remain in Caribbean Island’s EFT program.
When using Facebook to market their salon, Christopher says he rarely posts Caribbean Island’s specials on the salon’s page. “Facebook, like any other social media, should be used to make a connection with our clients,” he said. “Knowing this, we try to keep things fun and exciting on our page.” For example, he posts monthly contests that ask a tanning-related question and provides multiple choice answers. Christopher randomly chooses one person with the correct answer and rewards the winner with upgrade sessions, bottles of lotion or other prizes. “This keeps people excited and ensures that our Facebook page stays busy,” he added.
Due to an uncertain economy and increased anti-tanning fervor at the legislative level, Christopher and Michael are uncertain about turning Caribbean Island Tanning into a salon chain. Fortunately, their current clientele keeps them busy. “While we don’t have any plans to expand, we definitely want to update some of our older tanning units,” Christopher said. “We’ve also opened a tattoo studio – Twin Tattoo – adjacent to our salon, and it’s getting off to a good start. Although the tanning and tattoo crowds are mostly separate from each other, we have been able to cross-promote the businesses and gain new clients for both.” Christopher says that he and his brother are excited about the possibility of opening another combination tanning/tattoo business sometime in the future.
After 22 years behind the counter, Christopher says he still loves coming to work each day. “In the time I’ve been here, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people, and many have become my friends,” he said. “It’s great to have a job that allows me to spend time with friends each day and to provide them with something they enjoy.”
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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