We Are Sunshine

Tanning in 2030: Planning for the equipment mix of the future

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2024

As we anticipate the next groundbreaking leap in tanning technology, the introduction of full-body LED sunbeds from the industry’s leading manufacturers, the importance of having a long-term plan to keep your salon’s equipment mix up to date will only become more apparent.

It’s only been about five years since the advent of hybrid tanning with LED delivery of multiple light spectrums ushered in a new era for the industry, helping salons elevate profits with a new kind of tanning experience that’s perfectly suited to be the centerpiece of the increasingly prevalent “tanning spa” business model. Now, in the next five years, we can expect this newer equipment technology to become more of a standard than a novelty, and we’ll see an increasingly significant gap between salons that are actively modernizing their equipment mixes and those that aren’t.

Ready or not, it’s time to start planning for what your business needs to offer to sustain success in 2030 and beyond.

“Everything that happened in the 2020s started with the equipment being created in 2018-2019. We used to expect to see 60 percent of equipment in Levels 1-3. Now it’s to the point where that’s flipped. Sixty percent of equipment is in Levels 4 or 5 and wellness and spa. That’s what’s happened in the last years with the introduction of spa and wellness and higher-end equipment,” says Bill Pipp, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Tanning Supplies Unlimited, the exclusive U.S. distributor of KBL equipment.

“Now, where do you want to go from here? It’s kind of like building blocks. What do I need? How do I fit it in my salon? How do I plan for cash flow to allow me to make those acquisitions? How am I going to market it all as I get it in there? Five or six years might seem like a lot of time, but if you haven’t started on it by this year, you aren’t going to be there in 2030 unless you have a ton of cash flow.”

A quick look at the industry’s largest operators gives us a clear enough picture of the direction the industry is headed. In salons operated or franchised by the industry’s largest companies, you’ll only see a few older, base-level units, if any. Virtually every location features at least one premium flagship unit with hybrid and LED technology. And the second and third tiers of equipment will be comprised mostly of equipment that would have been top tier in most salons only a few years ago.

That doesn’t mean the future of tanning is reserved for those with millions of dollars of financial backing. Hundreds, if not thousands, of independent tanning businesses with one or a few locations are achieving new levels of success with the same approach. For well over a decade now, the industry has been trending toward higher-level equipment, higher-priced EFTs, and diverse service offerings that encourage membership year-round as well as patronage from non-tanners. Regardless of competition, success in tanning today is largely dependent on providing value and options that give customers a reason to spend more.

“What we’ve seen is an overall leveling up of the equipment quality in salons. As a manufacturer, we see it ourselves. Our top seller by far is our top-level equipment. It’s not just a reflection of what we’re offering, it’s truly a necessity for the salons to offer better quality equipment to customers because that’s what makes them successful,” says Charles Lerebours, Executive Director of Sales for JK Products & Services, the exclusive U.S. distributor of Ergoline equipment.

“When we have conversations with customers, that’s where the most successful ones are. As soon as they upgrade their top level or put a higher-level unit in place of a lower one, this is where the money starts coming in — when they can charge more and people continue to come back. Getting rid of the old stuff, simplifying, and putting in equipment that looks better and tans better makes them successful.”

As costs continue to rise, we can expect that it will only become more challenging to make a profit from lower-level tanning. Even as the sole operator in a small market with a local monopoly on tanning, that approach will only become less sustainable. Then, consider that if you’re barely making enough to get by, you’re certainly not saving to continue investing in your business. The farther behind you get, the more difficult it will be to get out of that cycle.

Maybe you think you can succeed in your market with an old-school approach, but why would you want to? There’s little question at this point that the only path to greater prosperity in tanning today involves an elevated equipment mix and, in most cases, some level of spa and wellness diversification.

“There’s no guarantee that new equipment will pay off – It depends on how you run your business – but there are enough people out there who have done it. I can name at least 2000 salons personally that are doing what we’re talking about. They’re two years ahead of people who haven’t started yet. Do you think the largest chains would be spending $50,000 on beds and buying more than one if they didn’t pay off?” Pipp says.

“If you’re behind now, you’re in trouble in 2030 if you don’t do something. Most of the major salons are already well into that program. Look out to 2030 and all the things you need to work on, and there’s a lot to do. Have a good plan. Stay on the plan, and in five years, you’ll be ready. It’s going to take six years for people to slowly get themselves there. If they start today, there’s no doubt that by 2030, they could be well on their way to being there.”

Despite the evidence of the potential ROI, some tanning businesses seem to have a hard time adjusting to the reality of the costs of maintaining a premier tanning facility in 2024, let alone 2030. But, over the next five-plus years, it’s going to continue to become less of a question of, “Can I afford to?” and more of a question of, “Can I afford not to?”

“We hear a lot of smaller salons saying they don’t have enough money to invest in equipment. Their equipment is 15 to 20 years old sometimes. Respectfully, I tell them, ‘When you opened your doors, did you open with no equipment?’ No, they made an investment and opened the business, and the customers came. It’s the same thing now where they’re coming to a point where they haven’t upgraded equipment. [They have to start looking at] going back to the roots of their business and investing in equipment,” Lerebours says.

Whether you need to catch up, keep pace, or you’re well positioned to stay ahead of the pack, there’s still time to achieve a suitable equipment mix for the tanning industry of 2030, but you’re going to need a plan. If your goal is to sustain success in this industry for decades to come, preparation for the 2030 tanning season needs to start now.

Click here to read the entire article in the latest issue of Smart Tan Magazine online.