How to Open a Tanning Salon

Tanning Salon Image

Our guide on starting a tanning salon covers all the essential information to help you decide if this business is a good match for you. Learn about the day-to-day activities of a tanning salon owner, the typical target market, growth potential, startup costs, legal considerations, and more!

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Start a tanning salon by following these 9 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple step guide to starting your tanning salon. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

STEP 1: Plan your Business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

  • What are the initial costs?
  • Who is your target market?
  • How long it will take you to break even?
  • What will you name your business?

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you. Skip on ahead to the Business Overview for more detailed answers to all your questions.

Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your tanning salon is sued. Consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

STEP 5: Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

STEP 7: Get Business Insurance

Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.

STEP 8: Define your brand.

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Business Overview

A golden-tanned body never goes out of style. Many consumers work hard to feel and look healthy and a bronzed body is part of their health regimen. Most, however, don’t have the funds or space to purchase a tanning bed for their private use, making the tanning salon a more viable option.

Who is this business right for?

Opening your own tanning salon requires good business sense and a commitment to the business. For those who are passionate about helping people maintain that “summer glow,” a tanning booth can be a lucrative business venture.

What happens during a typical day at a tanning salon?

As the owner of a tanning salon, your biggest task will be to interact with clients. Both personally and online, you’ll need to educate consumers regarding a healthy skin care regimen and to dispel any myths regarding tanning bed safety. The tanning beds will need to be maintained and salon product inventory should be kept up. Since the business can be seasonal, you’ll also need to spend part of each day analyzing and tweaking your marketing strategy to ensure you reach your target audience year round.

What is the target market?

While you will always have a revolving door of first-time clients, most tanning salons thrive from their repeat customers. These individuals are committed to looking their best and maintaining a golden tan is part of that look.

How does a tanning salon make money?

Revenue from a tanning booth is generated on a per client, per visit basis. Many salons have multiple beds and/or spray tan options available and are priced accordingly. Visits last up to 15 minutes per session and will vary based on the client’s specific needs.

What is the growth potential for a tanning salon?

Typically, tanning salons remain small, serving those in their community. If your goal is to build a larger business, consider starting your own franchise or partnering with a franchised company such as Sun Tan City.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful tanning salon?

As the owner of a tanning business, you’ll need strong business skills. Your work will require you to interact with clients and staff regularly, so strong interpersonal skills are critical. Many consumers have been taught that tanning is bad for the skin, so an understanding of the effects, as well as skin care will also be beneficial. The National Tanning Training Institute and Smart Tan offer both educational and networking opportunities that can prove invaluable to your business’ success.

What are the costs involved in opening a tanning salon?

First, you’ll need to decide if you want to have tanning beds or spray tanning available for your clients. This will help in determining the type and size of space you need. Once you’ve secured a space, it’s time to start purchasing supplies.

Spray tan machines cost anywhere from $500-$5,500, while UV tanning beds can cost upwards of $10,000 each. Both can be found used for a moderate price.

Once these important purchases have been made, you’ll just need a few basic items, which will run you approximately $4,000:

  • Lamps
  • Lotions
  • Eye protection
  • Timer system for each bed
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Signs and brochures regarding tanning bed safety and UV ray exposure
  • Upgraded electrical for tanning beds
  • Cash register and credit card machine
  • Marketing products

Read our tanning salon purchasing guide to learn about the materials and equipment you'll need to start a tanning salon, how much to budget, and where to make purchases.

Where can I find a business mentor?

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

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Growing Your Business

How to promote & market a tanning salon

Not everyone is a tanner. As a salon owner, it’s important to know and understand your clientele. Focus your marketing efforts on consumers who pride themselves on health and beauty. This could include hair and nail salon customers, gym members, and people preparing for a special event. Many have found success through offering a free initial/consultation visit, which gives you an opportunity to show them why your establishment outshines the rest.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

As with any small business, word of mouth can make your business. Remember, your customers are spending their money on a luxury service. Show them you appreciate them by always giving them a relaxing and enjoyable experience. Your pricing should be transparent and your staff should be energetic and helpful. Most importantly, your workspace should always be immaculate.

How and when to build a team

Your team will be an integral part of the business’ success. It’s important to employ individuals who are well-groomed and professional. Many of your customers will turn to your team with questions regarding the risks of using a tanning bed as well as proper protocol.

Read our tanning salon hiring guide to learn about the different roles a tanning salon typically fills, how much to budget for employee salaries, and how to build your team exactly how you want it.

Legal Considerations

Federal Business Licensing Requirements

Legislation is being processed which will restrict tanning booth users to consumers over the age of 18.

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Though this varies by state, tanning salons are typically required to provide consumers with warning statements informing them of the risks that accompany UV radiation. Consumers must sign the warning statement after reading it. More information related to tanning business regulations can be found here.

In addition, certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply. For more information:

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

Maintain Personal Asset Protection

Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
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To learn more about maintaining your LLC's corporate veil, read our guide and protect your personal assets.

Release of Liability

To avoid liability and potential lawsuits, tanning salon businesses should have their clients sign a release of liability. Here is an example of one such form.

Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional release of liability form for your tanning salon when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.

Earning Potential

How much can you charge customers?

Customers are charged per visit. Tanning bed sessions range anywhere from $5-$20 each, depending upon the length of the visit and the level of tanning bed used. Spray tans are billed the same, with salons charging between $25-$50 per visit.

What are the ongoing expenses for a tanning salon?

Your energy bill will be one of your largest ongoing expenses. Salon owners report paying anywhere from $500 - $1500 a month. Exact amount will depend upon the time of year, how many beds you own, and how busy you are. Payroll and payroll taxes are also a major expense, which will fluctuate seasonally with the business.

Budget for at least $200 per month for cleaning and maintaining the beds. Retail products will set you back another $1,000 per month. If you decide to do spray tans rather than tanning beds, your inventory costs will be higher, but can be offset by a lower energy bill.

How much profit can a tanning salon make?

Your business’ profit is directly tied to the number of beds you maintain and how often those rooms are filled. On average, each room should generate between $12,000 - $15,000 annually. Each visit will cost you $6 - $9 in supplies and energy costs. Some salon owners report making upwards of $58,000 in profit, while others claim to have very little left after business and personal expenses. The one item they all agree on - more beds = more profit.

How can you make your business more profitable?

Tanning businesses who have reported higher earnings offer a variety of tanning options and skin care products. If you’re looking to increase your business’ profits, consider including the following in your business strategy:

  • Stock your shelves with skincare and tanning products
  • Become certified
  • Offer both airbrush tan and UV tanning
  • Offer a mobile service for spray tanning
  • Set up membership options, with each tier offering different incentives
  • Offer additional spa services. If customers only have to go one place for multiple services, they’re more likely to return

Next Steps

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