When three entrepreneurs open four tanning salons in two states, that’s sunsational – Sunsational Tan, Inc. of North East, MD!
So, what makes a tanning salon “sunsational”? In this case, it’s a combination of top notch tanning equipment, the latest lotions and friendly and helpful customer service. But more than that, it’s having a passion for what they do that’s catapulted this four-store salon chain into a sunshine-soaked success story. Its owners, Jessica Hilliker and Lori and Mark Pfeiffer, are family, and they do their best to make everyone who walks through their salons’ doors feel at home. When it comes to selling sunshine, the folks at Sunsational must be doing something right, considering the chain’s continued success… and growth.
Fateful Phone Call
Jessica Hilliker will never forget a particular call she received in 1998 from her sister, Lori Pfeiffer. “I was studying forensic anthropology at the University of Alabama and I had every intention of graduating and beginning a career in that field,” said Jessica. “One day, my sister told me that she and her husband, Mark, were planning to open a salon in a new shopping plaza. My sister and I enjoyed indoor tanning when we were younger, and she and Mark wanted to open a salon because there weren’t many in North East at that time.” Lori asked Jessica to work at the salon during her summer breaks, and Jessica agreed. “It reminded me of the time when our parents owned a grocery store,” Jessica added. “Everyone would come in just to talk to our mom.”
The décor at the original Sunsational Tan is light and cheerful, setting the tone for the entire salon chain. Updated a few years ago, it features stained concrete floors and purple walls with textured, yellow accents, while the lobby furnishings include red chairs and benches, and pendulum light fixtures. The salon has 19 UV tanning units – four SunDash 32/1, four Soltron Passion, four Soltron Strawberry Star, a SunCapsule Starship, an Ergoline Avant Garde, an Ergoline Evolution 600, an Ergoline Classic 600, one Ergoline Affinity 600, a SunCapsule Supresonic and an Ergoline Classic 650. A Norvell Auto Revolution sunless spray booth and an Ergoline BEAUTY ANGEL red-light therapy system round out the menu. Lotions by Australian Gold, California Tan, Designer Skin and Swedish Beauty line the shelves, while the business operates using Helios software.
Two, Three & Four!
In April 2000, Lori and Mike knew the time was right to open a second Sunsational Tan facility. To do that, they knew they needed some help. “I was in my last year at school when my sister asked me to become a partner in the business and I agreed,” Jessica said. “While I was working at the first location, I fell in love with everything about indoor tanning, so I knew I would be passionate about it. I was also excited to be included in my sister and brother-in-law’s growing business.” Jessica returned home and began managing the original Sunsational Tan while Lori and Mark focused on building and operating the second store, which opened in April 2000 with 24 Ergoline and Soltron tanning units, as well as spa services.
Utilizing hard work, friendly customer service and clever marketing, Jessica, Lori and Mark have built Sunsational Tan into a thriving, successful salon chain. When opening their third location, the trio decided cross the state line into Deleware. “Many of our clients suggested we open a salon in Middletown, and we noticed that the city was growing,” Jessica said. “We decided we’d better get started building there before someone else did!” The Middletown facility has 17 Ergoline and Soltron tanning systems, as well as spa services. The trio followed up their third success with a fourth in 2008, this store in Perryville, MD. The newest Sunsational Tan offers 16 Ergoline and Soltron units by, as well as spa services.
While Lori is the visionary and Mark is the numbers guy, Jessica’s specialty is marketing and promotions. A few years ago, she launched a huge branding campaign designed to personalize the business within the community; while this year, her aim is to continue building the clientele. “We looked at our database and found a number of clients who hadn’t been back in a while,” she said. “We sent them postcards offering a free tan, a $7 sunless spray-tan, (normally $25), and one-month of tanning at all levels for $29. The strategy was to use awesome savings to get them to come back, then allow our staff to ask them why they quit coming, and entice them to return. We’ve done a great job at recovering our lost clientele.”
Growth & Service
As Jessica, Lori and Mark move forward, their ultimate goal is the continued growth of their salon chain. “We’ve been considering a fifth location for a while now,” Jessica said. “Currently, we’re considering one of two shopping centers that are being built in our area; but we’re willing to take our time to make sure we do this correctly.” In the meantime, the three plan to get more involved as industry advocates. “In 2002, we helped the Indoor Tanning Association by testifying at a hearing held here in Maryland, and we want to do more,” she added. “We’ve already spoken with John Overstreet (ITA Executive Director), and he was very supportive and helpful.”
As business owners, Jessica says she, Lori and Mark are very passionate about what they do. “It’s our clients who inspire us to be that way,” she said. “It’s great to see them come in excited about visiting us and even more pleased with the results we’ve helped them achieve. It’s also great to see all our staff become excited as we head into another tanning season!”
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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