The Beach Sun & Spa is a successful mother-daughter operation that is happy to serve many college students in Champaign, IL.
After earning her Master’s degree in business administration, Kristin Little realized she needed just one more thing – a business to administer. With the help of her mother, she purchased an ailing tanning salon in Champaign, IL and within five years, the business had a new name and location and more than twice as much equipment… and many more satisfied tanners. That’s because Kristin’s marketing and customer service is designed to appeal to her many college-aged tanners. The success of The Beach Sun & Spa has allowed her to start her own custom spray-tan company and salons, a goal she plans to continue pursuing while also operating her successful tanning business.
An Educated Decision
Unlike many salon owners who come to indoor tanning after working in other industries, owning a salon was Kristin Little’s first job out of college. She and her mother, Terri Mongillo, purchased the Electric Beach tanning salon in July, 2006 – in retrospect, that wasn’t the best time to open a tanning salon in a college town. “I tend to take more risks in business than some people, and my mom has always been there to back me up,” said Kristin. “She’s been my sounding board and my support, and she’s definitely been my best friend through this whole process. Besides, I don’t think anyone else would be able to deal with me the way she does!” Initially having plenty of downtime on their hands, the ladies remodeled the ailing business and updated its tired, Tiki/beach theme.
By the fall of their first year, Kristin and Terri’s little salon had become a thriving business bustling with student tanners. “A large corporation purchased the building with plans to put some high-rise apartments in its place,” Kristin explained. “What they offered us to leave was not enough to cover our costs, so we decided to hold out as long as we could, and were the last business to go.” The mother-daughter team was fortunate to have found some new digs – a 2,000 square-foot tanning salon with 14 units located a block away, which they purchased in August 2011 and renamed it The Beach Sun & Spa. “We wanted a name that would reflect the many services we planned to add to the new menu,” Kristin said.
The Beach Sun & Spa features a “sophisticated comfy” décor with neutral tones of beige, mauve, and brown, and 14 tanning units, including a Kettler Siena, two TanAmerica VIP 3000, two Hollywood Tan stand-ups, a Heartland Ovation and an Ergoline. The salon sells tanning lotions by Designer Skin, Devoted Creations and Supre Tan, and operates using TanTrack software by Nichesoft. “We started offering custom spray-tanning in 2007 and over the next five years, we developed our own sunless system,” she said. “We named it BodiBronze, and we have our own spray unit and mist-reduction booth, as well as the BodiBronze collection, which includes prep, bronzing and moisture lock solutions and aftercare products. This service and products continue to be popular with our clients.”
Dollars & Sense
Being in a college town, Kristin gears much of her marketing toward the area’s many students. “We print flyers with our coupons and offers and distribute them to the sororities in town,” she said. “We also run coupons in the Campus Special, which is a coupon booklet given to all of the students and many people in town, and this has been very effective. They design our coupon to look like dollar bills that tanners can redeem in the stores, and we get hundreds of them back.” One of The Beach’s most popular offers is one week of tanning for $10 for new clients, which Kristin says works much better for her than offering free tans. “We’re usually already swamped with tanners, so giving away free sessions would back us up even more,” she added.
The Beach’s text club is something that Kristin says has been very successful… all because she knows how to play the game. “Whether they realize it or not, your clients join your text club trusting that you will not bombard them with advertising,” she said. “We only use it to promote immediate sales because that’s the nature of text messaging. For example, one of our more popular promotions has been ‘tan today for $5’ – we send that out about once or twice a month and that’s usually enough to bring in a lot of people who want to take advantage of that offer at that time.” Kristin also utilizes Facebook and Twitter to help promote her salon’s specials.
A New Kind of Bronze
Success in other areas of the tanning biz has Kristin’s ideas for the future of her salon focused on maintenance instead of rapid expansion. “I’m not sure we want to open another Beach salon,” she said. “We’re currently doing so well with our college-aged demographic that we don’t really see a need to open a separate location in another part of town. Besides, our BodiBronze business is gaining momentum – we’ve opened two sunless-only salons and licensed another two, and sales of our BodiBronze products are also picking up, so we plan to concentrate on growing this aspect of our business while also updating the tanning units at The Beach. That’s enough to keep us busy for a while!”
Indoor tanning has always been a look good/feel good industry, and Kristin Little enjoys it when her clients remind her of this fact. “I love how our clients let us know how much we’ve helped them,” she said. “They ask questions about how they can achieve the look they’ve always wanted and I’m always happy to help. The feedback we get from them is extremely rewarding.”
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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