Tanning Business Article

Josh Yardley, of BodyCare Direct, heads one of the UK's main tanning salon suppliers and supplies all The Tanning Shop's own shops: 'The beauty of the SolarTrack database control software is that it has allowed us to understand our customers a lot better. Once a month there are always 7 days of promotions within each Tanning Shop that we own. Remember, these are specific promotions for specific types of customer.

- 18% increase in sales

This has achieved a lotion sales growth for us of 18%, like for like, month on month, over the previous year. In the same period, we (ie. The Tanning Shop's own shops) saved 15% of turnover on better salon control (ie. stamping out free sessions, theft, bad management of bed downtime, etc.) at the same time as our increase in business has been 18% - that's an overall 33% rise. SolarTrack have come up with a robust, user friendly (point and click) system that can cope with a lot of salon staff coming in and using it each day, and it cost only a tiny fraction of what we've gained by it. We're happy to recommend the SolarTrack system because we've tried and tested it in The Tanning Shop (we bought 50 SolarTrack packages). I should point out that we have no commercial interest in it at all other than buying it for our own use. If people want to look at it in our shops, they can do so (get hold of an area manager and they'll pull out the information and show you).

Once you've installed the SolarTrack system, the management information available to you is really very comprehensive and you can dial into the salon and call it up or have it e-mailed to you as many times a day as you like. Which means you can control 50 shops from a central point (and we do). So, if say, you go tanning in our Aberdeen shop today, I will know about it tonight. A salon can tell what each and every customer likes to use and therefore what they will be likely to buy next.

- Customer profiling

I can look up an individual profile on a customer and find that, for instance, she's always 10 mins. late for a session, she likes to tan in the mornings and her favourite cream is 'X'. So, if I want to increase the sales of lotions I know that product 'Y' goes very well with product 'X', so I will market product 'Y' either by mailshot or on screen to all (but only) the people like her. This saves a fortune in wasted effort. If I market it on screen then when that customer comes into the salon and her details are brought up on the computer, a message pops up and the member of staff has to ask her, 'Julie, did you know that because you are a buyer of product 'X' you can get 20% discount off product 'Y' to use at home?' Until that question has been read out and cleared from the screen the transaction won't go through. This makes sure that our sales staff actually sell, because they are prompted all the time - but now in a way that they can't lose (overall) because the odds are always already worked out in their favour. At last, they are selling to the people most likely to buy! If a customer left their watch behind last time there would be a message on screen when they came in again, 'left watch behind last time'. It all helps build good customer relations. With the addition of a thumb-print reader (which is a low cost add-on) this stops other people using a customer's pre-booked course without their permission, thus cutting down on theft and other forms of business migration between salons. If someone genuinely does want to give their permission for a friend to use their course, this can be loaded into the thumb-print reader too, enabling both of them to use the one course.

- Tan guaranteed or money back

The next stage for us is to tie this in with the European skin types system. For instance, a customer comes in for the first time and fills out their questionnaire. On it they identify themselves as, say, skin type III and they want to use sunbed A. The programme will then print out a schedule for that customer, telling them how they should use sunbed A to reach their tanning goal. If they just want a healthy glow it will tell them how often they need to come in and how many minutes to go on for, throughout their course. Likewise, if they want pre-holiday protection, post-holiday top-up, or whatever else their needs are. This way we can be sure we are selling the correct tanning course to every customer, and this creates added value for them. Also, the number one complaint from consumers is 'your sunbeds don't work!' Well, you know full well that they do provided they are used correctly. However, the public often mis-use sunbeds or use them in a manner that is not correct for their skin type. What this means is that you've got a customer who is unhappy, and when a customer is unhappy they vote with their feet. So, in the future they'll get a printed report that spells out what they should do to reach their tanning goal, which will prevent their complaints that the equipment does not tan. This enables us to offer a money back guarantee - if they don't go brown on a scheduled course they get their money back. Why not? We can soon tell if they've followed the course, by looking it up in the SolarTrack software.

- We know what works

We, at BodyCare Direct, are one of the few tanning supply companies that have their own retail chain (The Tanning Shop), but we supply anyone in the industry. If a salon wants a complete service from A-Z we can supply it; if they just want A, B or C we can supply that too. Because we have our own retail chain we understand the salon owner's business -as we have the same problems: we want equipment that tans, looks good so the customer is happy, we want promotions that work, etc. We're in the same business - we know that it's going to get quiet at such a time and that we need to promote here. What does actually work? Well, rather than saying 'try this' we can say 'this has worked for us and this is the response we got from it'. If you target 1000 customers for a specific promotion we know what response rate you should be getting. We also know what income you should look for from the same promotion. How do we know? Well, here are the figures from our promotion through our own shops - take a look.

- Growth in tanning business

I think salon owners need that kind of support at the moment. I think the tanning business in the UK is about to take off in a big way - to explode onto the same level as Germany and Holland, where there is a shop on every street corner and they are very professional and maintain their prices. Obviously, regulation and legislation is going to come in soon as well, so we need to look forward and make sure we're operating professionally and properly as far as the consumer is concerned. Why? Because when the legislation comes in, it won't be for our benefit - it will be for the consumer's. So, we need to think about the consumer now, much more.'

'I want every salon in the UK to turn over £120,000 a year; I want every salon to reach the pinnacle - because if the whole industry does it, the figure of 9% of the population who currently tan is going to grow wildly. This will make our whole industry better - so we should all work together. The fitness industry is a great example: 8 years ago there were a lot of small independents who were not working together. Now we've got the big chains, the David Lloyd's, etc., it's a highly professional industry and people everywhere want to get fit. Again, take running machines as just one example: 8 years ago you used to run outside, now you run on a piece of kit worth about £5,000 with a TV screen in front of you - it's all state of the art technology. Tanning salons have a long way to go to catch up with the fitness industry - computerising salon control is just a start. If a salon owner makes more money and re-invests it back into their business, of course suppliers like BodyCare Direct will benefit.

Information is the key to good business.

I know that in 49 Tanning Shops last month, for instance, the average sale of lotions per customer coming in was £1.38. Every customer spent £1.38 on top of their session cost, on average. Without this kind of detailed and accurate information how can you go forward? Guess? The salon owner who says, 'I know what my customers want' needs to wake up. They only know that (if at all) about yesterday. Today, things are different but the change is so small the salon owner will miss it. I won't. If the average lotions spend goes up to £1.39 today I will know it by tonight. That kind of early warning system is vitally important to running a successful business today. It lets your customers tell you each day what they want, and therefore what they will want next. You just cannot do this by guesswork alone or you'll come unstuck. Computerising your customer database will give you a clearer picture of your customers' needs and wants. To stay in business, profitably, in the face of more and more professional competition, means you need to apply these principles to your business now, not in 5 years' time. It will pay for itself if you do it properly, and will give you a higher return for many years to come.'