We Are Sunshine

Many Ways to Sell a Spray: Sunless pricing options that balance margins, demand, consistency and convenience

Wednesday, March 17th, 2021

You undoubtedly offer your clients a multitude of ways to purchase their UV tans. But, how many different ways can they buy spray tans?

Sunless tanning is quickly becoming equally as important to tanning businesses as UV, but the purchasing options remain limited in many salons. Of course, there’s an inherent difference, because there are many sunbeds in every salon, and usually only one or two spray tan booths or airbrush equipment. But, each modern spray tan booth does allow for numerous options for different solutions and upgrades, so there are plenty of ways to expand the alternatives. And, a similar approach as you use with UV packages and membership options can also be viable with sunless.

In most cases, the main goal should be to get as many people in your community to spray tan as possible, because there’s ample room for growth. But, there are also more creative ways to provide additional options that appeal to different people and enhance your profitability, while still keeping your spray tans accessible to budget-minded clientele and making a regular spray tanning routine cost-effective

Find the Middle Ground

There are different perspectives within the industry about how to price your spray tans, and there’s not necessarily any right or wrong answers. Each business’s situation is different, based on client demographics, competition, positioning and other factors. You have to find what works for you and optimizes the axis of price and demand to maximize profitability.

But, while the specifics will vary, the different perspectives on pricing strategy aren’t actually entirely incompatible. So, ideally, you can meld the two schools of thought together in a way that maintains the profit margins you’re accustomed to with spray tans, but also provides purchasing options that increase your session counts by enticing new people to try sunless and making it financially feasible for people to spray on a regular basis.

You’ve probably read in Smart Tan Magazine before about the notion of reducing sunless pricing to enhance demand. Today, only about three percent of women in the U.S. have ever spray tanned, so there’s an endless pool of potential sunless clients that remain untapped. Many people also still view spray tans as too expensive to make a part of their regular routine. Marketing and outreach can help in both of these areas, but realistically, the fastest way to get new people to try spray tanning and do it more regularly is to make it more affordable. Cost of living varies, but in most areas, a single, base level spray tan price at or above $30 is not going to maximize demand or revenue.

On the other side of the conversation, many salons are unwilling to part with the huge margins they’re used to making on each spray tan session. It’s certainly a fair perspective – if you charge $30 a spray, you’ll make more money from 20 sprays than you would from 30 sprays at $20. There’s no question that it takes a lot of time and sessions to make up for that decrease in profit margin

So, perhaps the ideal scenario for most is to formulate your pricing and options to sell spray tans in different ways, and balance the ideas of increasing demand, protecting margins, and locking in long-term revenue. All sales are not equal. When you’re talking about the UV side, different purchasing options accomplish different goals, and the same can be said with sunless. While UV and sunless and different in many ways, your experience with selling UV still provides the blueprint for developing spray tan pricing that meets all of your objectives.

Upgrade Your Options

Think about your UV pricing. Most salons offer base-level pricing for somewhere around $20 to $30 a month or $5 to $10 a session. In many cases, that price is more of a marketing tactic than anything else. Most salons need to offer an entry-level price that is similar to their competition’s and gives them an enticing number to promote outside of the salon. But, when somebody comes in for the first time, that’s not what you really want to sell. The majority of your money is made from the more expensive memberships that offer access to equipment that provides faster tans and more features.

You don’t have a variety of sunless equipment to upsell, but you do have options. There are numerous solution options you can carry, and some might cost you more and warrant higher consumer cost as well. Today’s sunless tanning equipment also provides a variety of options, with functionality for prep, post, added color, accelerator, scents and more.

For example, Tanfastic Sun Tan Center in Pennsylvania starts pricing at $20 for a base spray tan with light or medium color. Then, consumers can choose a “dark” option for an additional $5 or “darkest” for $10, as well as pre-tan prep spray and post-tan moisturizing spray for $5 each. So, their most expensive option is $40 for the darkest tan with pre- and post-sprays.

While they can promote the $20 base price, Tanfastic finds that most clients end up opting for more than the $20 spray.

“Their first experience, I think they should try all three steps, so we always try to push that first. We start with the lighter shade and work up depending on their skin tone. Some people come right from work so they’re not 100 percent prepared, so having prep is great, and a lot of people have dry skin, so you have moisturizer,” says Tanfastic General Manager Amanda McGarry.

“It’s not hard to get them to buy those. The only time people really do just the bronzer is if they want to get in and out – if they’re just really experienced and feel they don’t need it. But, a lot of people do the three steps. Most people do at least two or three steps.”

Tanning Oasis in Utah offers a base spray price of $25, which includes a complementary prep product, with a $5 upcharge for “dark” solution and $3 for post-spray moisturizer.

“I really think our ladies are trained to help the client chose what’s the best for them, based on skin type. For those who are lighter, we recommend the medium solution rather than the dark to start. Once they have the first experience, they know where to go themselves,” says Tanning Oasis owner Brian Moser. “We don’t really push it as an upsell. We try to do the right thing for the customers. But, we probably push them to the moisturizer more. We tell them that’s going to help maintain their tan longer. We’re telling them, for the optimal experience, use the moisturizer.”

Many salons already incorporate these upgrades in their sunless pricing options, but there are opportunities to do so with more tact. First, look at the numbers and consider if selling spray tan upgrades gives you the freedom to reduce your base session cost. If your base spray tan price is $25 a session, but your average spray tan sale is $30 due to upgrades, can you afford to reduce your base price to $20? Yes, you’d lose a portion of your profit margin, but at least give the possible advantages some consideration.

How many customers would promoting that $20 base price entice to try spray tanning or make the switch to your salon? How much more frequently would current customers spray tan at the reduced price? Would more people utilize the upgrades when they’re starting at a lower price, effectively making up for a good chunk of the difference in average sale per tan?

When you’re looking at that average price per spray, another consideration is any specials or discounts you offer from time to time. If you offer a special, low price one day a week, or some weekly or monthly specials for cheaper spray tans, and you haven’t looked to closely at the numbers, you might come to learn that your average price per spray isn’t as high as you thought. If those special, lower prices generate more demand, you might find that reducing your everyday price, then abandoning additional discounts, will actually work out better. The other benefit of that approach is clients are also able to spray at their convenience and know that they’re always getting the best price.

Then, consider the way you present the options. Choices are good for both you and the client, but you also don’t want to make it too confusing. A more simplistic way to present a variety of selections for different solutions and additions might be to develop levels for spray tans, like you do with UV. For example, starting at a $20 base cost for light or medium color and no extras at Level 1, you could price Level 2 at $30 for darker color and some extras, and Level 3 at $40 for anything they want to include. Chances are, most people would end up selecting Level 2 after some consulting with your staff, and you might even increase your average sale. 

Lock it Up

Most salons offer steep discounts on UV services to lock people into EFT memberships and create consistent revenue. Just because your sunless solution costs a few bucks a spray doesn’t mean you should be unwilling to use a similar approach. It makes sense that many consumers aren’t as drawn to sunless memberships because it’s not used as frequently as UV, so making your sunless memberships successful does require providing substantial value. Many salons are reticent to cut margins as much for sunless memberships, but is that just a case of clinging to the way they’ve always done it?

While UV and sunless services differ in many ways, the principles of a membership-based business remain the same. You sacrifice margins in order to lock in regular revenue and guarantee future opportunities to upsell and offer additional products and services. That’s exactly what you’re already doing with UV. Most successful tanning businesses today rely heavily on their EFT structure to provide regular revenue and a high percentage of their total sales. In most cases, guaranteed monthly revenue is preferable to higher-margin one-time sales.

If you buy in to that approach, the cost of sunless solution shouldn’t change your thinking. One salon in Michigan offers their introductory spray tan membership at just $39.95 a month for three sprays a month. Less than $14 a spray might sound too cheap to you, but is it really that much different than offering a $25 monthly package for Level 1 tanning that you charge $10 a session for? Then, the salon also offers eight sprays per month (nobody should really ever use that many, but it makes the deal sound good!) for $69.95.

Tanning Oasis also offers an unlimited spray tanning membership at just $59 per month, as opposed to their single session price of $25.

If you really want to commit to sunless memberships, you can provide an option for everyone by adding more levels based on frequency. At first glance, it might seem trivial to offer a membership for just two spray tans a month, but again, compare it to UV. You probably offer a Level 1 UV membership for somewhere around $20 to $30 per month, and you do that because of the value of locking in that recurring revenue. Why wouldn’t you consider doing the same with spray, for a modest discount? That will appeal to some customers simply based on the convenience of not having to pull out their credit card each time they come to spray. At a single session price of $20, you could offer two sprays per month for $35, three for $50 and four for $60. That still leaves added value to entice them to spend more, but it gives someone who doesn’t want to spray as much an option for membership.

Or, you can develop sunless membership levels by incorporating the different upgrades and additives. Nobody really needs more than four spray tans per month, so you could have each level include four per month and charge an additional fee if they happen to want more. Then, differentiate the levels based on options. Working with the example of a salon with a $20 single spray price, a Level 1 membership could include four sprays with only one solution for, say, $50. If that sounds too low to you, compare that to the value of locking someone into a $50 UV membership. When you consider the cost of more visits, electricity, lamps and maintenance per UV session, does the cost of solution really make it that much less of a win? That also gives you a low number to promote, even if your goal is to always upsell to a higher level when they come in.

Then, your Level 2 sunless membership could include the choice of multiple, but not all, solution options and some additional upgrades for $65 per month. And, Level 3 would offer any and every option and upgrade for $80. This way, rather than paying for their different options a la carte each time they visit, clients have them built into their monthly fee, and you are guaranteed that extra revenue for the higher level memberships each month.

Structuring your sunless memberships with levels also carries another benefit, based on human psychology. Research shows that when people choose between two options, they’ll usually choose the cheaper one. But when they have three or more options, they’ll tend to select a middle option, rather than the lowest. Thus, it’s likely that you’ll end up with more clients opting for the Level 2 membership than Level 1, especially since you’ll be telling the clients about the benefits of the higher levels.

If you’re still wary of reducing the price per tan too much with sunless memberships, you can alternatively take the approach of appealing based on added value, rather than reduced cost. You probably already do this with UV memberships, by offering product discounts, free upgrades or some variation of “points” that go toward the price of other purchases.

Rather than reducing the cost so much, you could incentivize membership with discounts on sunless retail products, free or discounted upgrades and additives, and points. With that approach, based on the $20 single session price, you might just offer one sunless membership option for $70. While that’s not much of a discount per spray, the added benefits might make it appealing enough.

Tanfastic utilizes a combination of designating levels based on upgrades and benefits, along with making memberships appealing based on added value, rather than a steep discount. They have two sunless membership options: For $69.95 per month, clients get four sprays with light or medium color and prep and moisturizer included and 10 percent off sunless products. For $89.95, clients still get four sprays with prep and moisturizer, but can also select any level from lightest to darkest and get 20 percent off products. At a $20 base single session price, $69.95 and $89.95 don’t sound like great deals at first glance, but those options are equivalent to upgrade sprays that actually cost $30 and $40 a session. So, the memberships do actually provide tremendous value, and by including the options rather than reducing price, the salon receives more money each month.

For some salons, spray tan packages might be the sweet spot between single sessions and memberships that works best. Offering packages of anywhere between three and 10 spray tans gives you the opportunity to make a larger one-time sale, provides a better deal and ensures that people will utilize the service enough to make it a habit moving forward, without making them commit to a membership. If you also offer sunless memberships, you just need to make sure you still leave enough room to provide more value with the membership than the packages.

Tanning Oasis offers packages of three and five sprays for $65 and $100, as opposed to one session for $25 and unlimited monthly for $59. Tanfastic offers a package of three for $49, as opposed to one session for $20 and membership starting at $69.95. But, remember, their memberships provide additional value with upgrades included.

One last note on sunless memberships and packages: Do consider providing great value in return for larger and more consistent sales with these options, but don’t make the mistake of artificially inflating the price of your single session just to make packages and memberships seem like a better deal. With many customers still wanting to make that single session “impulse” purchase, but only for a good deal, you’d likely be doing more harm than good.

Make the Transition

Whether they’re buying single sessions, packages or memberships, getting more people to try spray tanning and do it more often will have the most substantial impact on your sunless sales. You’ll certainly need to draw in people that don’t tan at all and steal clients from other salons to maximize growth, but your easiest targets are your current UV tanners. That’s why some salons, like the one in Michigan, are getting ultra-aggressive with efforts to expose their UV tanners to spray tanning.

The Michigan salon includes three “free” spray sessions in its top-tier UV membership that also includes access to every level of sunbeds. In their four-level system, Level 3 UV members still get two free sprays, Level 2 members get one, and even Level 1 members get 50 percent off one spray a month. It’s another perk to convince tanners to become and stay members. Even if they don’t know if or how much they’ll spray, it sounds nice to to have at their disposal.

But, moreover, the salon’s primary goal is to get UV tanners to try spray any way they can. We’ve all seen too many faithful tanners give up UV tanning because of all the negativity they hear about it, so with the long-term future in mind, the salon is committed to maintaining as many customers as possible with sunless. They’re thinking about the big picture. Every new spray tanner presents a huge opportunity for future revenue, especially when you consider that there’s a chance they might stop tanning entirely otherwise.

Whether you’re considering the cost of a free spray or accepting lower margins allow clients to buy sprays in a way that is more sustainable on an ongoing basis, if you’re in this business for the long haul, the initial cost is far less important than the long-term results. Whatever approach fits the unique mold of your business, just make sure dependable revenue and future growth are great priorities than instant gratification.