Something worth doing is something worth doing well, as the owners of Tropical Bodys and Absolute Sun of Kalispell, MT have proven.
Devonna and Shawn Benware purchased Tropical Bodys in July 2008 and quickly realized they would have to turn this “American nightmare” into the American Dream. “The former owner promised us he would stick around and help train me in everything I would need to know to operate the business, but he left soon after we purchased the business,” said Devonna. “The place was in such disrepair that I began to second-guess my decision to pursue salon ownership and became very disheartened.” Fortunately, Shawn stepped up to do all the remodeling, which was no small task, and he also worked with an electrician to learn tanning equipment repair and maintenance. This act of determination inspired Devonna to master the salon’s front-office duties. “He really saved the day!” she exclaimed. The 1,300-square-foot facility now features seven tanning units and a sunless spray-booth.
Within their first year in business, Devonna and Shawn turned Tropical Bodys around to the point that many local tanners were won over. Their secret was placing an emphasis on customer service. “Before owning a salon I sold insurance, and after that I was an office worker for a manufacturing company, so I’ve had the opportunity to develop strong customer-service skills in my previous careers,” she explained. “As more and more clients came into Tropical Bodys, I discovered that I loved talking with them and getting to know them.” Tropical Bodys currently has more than 6,000 clients in its database and averages 80 clients per day during its peak season.
After operating Tropical Bodys for five years, Devonna decided it was time to open a second salon. “There was an empty building on the other side of town that used to be a tanning salon and I told Shawn we should go for it,” she said. “We leased the building and were able to open the salon rather quickly because the build-out had already been done. We decided to name it Absolute Sun because I never planned on keeping the Tropical Bodys name forever. We also chose a different name for our second salon so no one would confuse the two businesses or expect the same equipment mix between the two stores.” Absolute Sun opened in February 2013, and the 1,400 square-foot facility offers five tanning units and a red-light therapy system.
Five years and two tanning salons is enough to tell Devonna that there will be more sun – as in “sun biz” – on her horizon. “I’m so happy we made the choice to become tanning salon owners,” she said, “because I love all the joys of free enterprise, including being my own boss. I also love talking to our customers and getting to know them, and Shawn and I have met so many wonderful people.” After changing Tropical Bodys to Absolute Sun later this year, Devonna says she’s considering adding custom spray-tanning at both salons because she believes it’s a service her community would love. “We live to make our clients happy!” she said.
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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