Alabama – home of college football, great comfort food, longleaf pines, tons of wildlife, country music and bordered by four states (try to name them). And it’s home to The Shady Palm, an Alabama tanning facility chosen as this month’s Salon of Distinction. I had a delightful chat with Co-Owner, Debra Cary. Let’s dig in.
IST: Debra, everyone has a story of how they ended up in the tan biz – always of interest to our readers. How did you get your start?
DC: I left a long-term intermittent position with FEMA after 9/11. I decided that I no longer wished to travel and with my husband in agreement, we went for it and became business owners. I had tanned indoors each year to get a base tan and prepare for the many hours of fun in the summer sun. I had always thought a salon would be an awesome business to own since I was an entrepreneur at heart. We went to our first ITA Tanning Expo in 2002 and have remained in the industry in one aspect or another. In 2014, we closed our former salon (Sundaze Tanning Studio) after the building we were leasing was sold. I opened a boutique and added Norvell Sunless spray-tanning. I was in the very first group of master certified graduates at the ITA Expo in Nashville and have been spraying customers ever since.
IST: The pandemic certainly impacted many small businesses. How did you survive over the last year?
DC: Once COVID was running wide open, I just closed the salon and really took advantage of that down time. I added services to the menu, upgraded our software and increased my retail offerings and took several online courses to help systemize the housecleaning business that my husband was operating.
IST: Well done – you definitely made some lemonade out of lemons! So, did COVID change your salon sanitization standards? If so, how?
DC: We always maintained a very clean and sanitized salon; we just closed for several months until a vaccine was approved for our own personal safety. In Alabama, a lot of people were anti-vaxxers and mask-wearers so we didn’t want to risk it. During that time, we just focused on our cleaning service and sanitizing our clients’ homes and businesses. We now only offer tanners disposable eyewear and have hand sanitizer available, but we do not require guests to wear a mask.
IST: Congratulations on recently getting certified with Sun is Life® Training. How important is it to have a staff that is fully trained with Sun is Life?
DC: It is imperative to have that knowledge which gains you credibility with the public. The program is also about the professionalism that is really needed for salon owners and staff. I highly recommend operators take the course, if they haven’t already!
IST: Agreed! So let’s move on. Salon ownership can be really challenging. What has been your biggest hurdle to overcome?
DC: Joe, without a doubt, it’s been keeping a dependable, knowledgeable staff. I’m sure that’s a challenge that many small businesses face. Beyond that, it’s been a challenge to maintain a steady stream of customers!
IST: Social media or website: which has the bigger impact on your business?
DC: It’s a challenge trying to keep more involved with all social media! I’m starting to share more on Tik-Tok to reach the younger generation of our clientele, as well as Instagram.
IST: What are your goals for the next 1-3 years? Do you plan to keep growing internally, externally or both?
DC: I want to make our current facility the best that it can be. I’ll probably add a hybrid tanning system and eyelash extension services.
IST: We both live in the heart of SEC football, which is huge in the south. It’s big in other parts of the country, but it’s been compared to a religion down here, LOL. As you’re from Alabama, I don’t need to remind you who won the National Championship last season (but I will: Georgia). Who do you root for? Alabama or Auburn?
DC: Joe, with us it’s both “War Eagle” and “Roll Tide” – we are a house divided!
IST: Debra, Thanks for taking time for a chat and we wish all the best to Shady Palm in the future.
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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