Turn tanning into a hot profit center

The tanning debate has heated up, so to speak. The Suntanning Association for Education Inc. issued an alert to members who operate tanning salons, stating that on May 15, 2000, the National Toxicology Program "added 14 substances to the list of 'known carcinogens,' which now includes sunbeds and sunlamps. The Suntanning Association for Education has issued a petition aimed to delist sunbeds and sunlamps from this list."

In a letter to government officials, the association wrote, "There is no data to support that tanning without burning is conclusively linked to melanoma as well as no conclusive data on indoor tanning related cancer."

But federal regulators hold fast to their research. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), "Many older tanning devices used light sources that emitted shortwave ultraviolet rays (UVB) that actually caused burning. Aware of the harmful effects of UVB radiation, salon owners began using tanning beds that emit mostly longwave (UVA) light sources. Some salons claim this is safe. While UVA rays are less likely to cause burning than UVB rays, they are suspected to have links to malignant melanoma and immune system damage."

For clubs that offer tanning, accusations like this can seriously cool business. Still, by weighing the pros and the cons of tanning, operators that stress safety-and market appropriately-can make themselves sunny with a little extra money.

* Take safety issues seriously. Experts agree on the following safety measures: Check existing tanning beds for UVB and UVA specifications with the supplier. Follow the bed's manufacturing guidelines for safe use and operation. Post tanning safety measures near your bed(s) that are clearly visible for users.

You should also stay alert of federal, state and local regulations on operating tanning beds. For example, various laws require tanning-bed operators to offer eye protection to clients, according to Richard Alan, a writer for Island Sun Times, a tanning industry newsletter. Ultraviolet rays, as those emitted from tanning beds, can cause cataracts or blindness in users who don't wear eye protection.

* Think vertically. Geoff Dyer of Lifestyle Family Fitness Centers in Tampa, Fla., says that five of his 10 clubs offer vertical units. He claims that beds raise hygienic and maintenance concerns, while vertical units do not require as much upkeep.

Wanda Neste, co-owner of a Gold's Gym franchise in Palm Springs, Calif., agrees. She says the vertical booths cut tanning time in half because they expose all areas of the body to rays simultaneously. She chose verticals because the only unit surface that is touched by the user is the floor, and no peruser unit cleaning is required by law.

* Market to members. By surveying members, club operators can learn how many people would use a tanning bed. In marketing, be specific about your tanning offer. Let members know whether you use a bed or vertical unit (it makes a difference to some people). Let them know the price and how many uses their fee gets them. You should also inform members of the safety regulations to which your club adheres, assuring them of a secure and healthy tan.

* Sell tanning to nonmembers. When members arrive at a club to get fit and healthy, some want a good tan to show off their new look. But don't limit your tanning business to existing customers. Market outside of the club.

* Don't let a warmer climate discourage you. Just because your club is in a sunny area doesn't mean you can't sell tanning. At Neste's Gold's Gym in Palm Springs, tanning sells well because, as Neste puts it, "today it's 118 degrees outside!" Nobody wants to bake in that heat for a tan.

* Do your homework. The following Web sites offer club operators more information on tanning-and will allow you to familiarize yourself with both sides of the safety debate. An FDA portable document format (PDF) on tanning research can be downloaded from http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/98fr/ch9870.pdf. The FTC's indoor tanning research report is located at http://www.lawpublish.com/ftcintan.html. The Suntanning Association for Education's Web site is at www.suntanningedu.org.