The U.S. indoor tanning market emerged 30 years ago and has evolved into a viable and socially accepted industry with an estimated worth of more than $5 billion at the retail level. There are more than 20,000 indoor tanning facilities nationwide and another 20,000 businesses that offer indoor tanning.
Describing the U.S. indoor tanning market is an enormous task. In fact, one would be at fault if they did not refer to it as an evolution—a series of gradual changes that result in an improved product and industry.
Before we examine the U.S. market, let’s first take a look at indoor tanning’s European roots. By all accounts, the concept of indoor tanning was a German innovation. A number of companies brought forth highly engineered tanning units to the European market, which helped spur interest overseas.
Indoor tanning immigrated across the Atlantic to the United States in 1979. In fact, the first UVA tanning beds introduced in the United States were very basic and just the bottom of the beds. Yet, UVA tanning was not the first form of tanning to interest the American market.
During the late ’60s and early ’70s, UVB tanning booths had been the norm; however, by the late ’70s they gradually fell from favor. Industry experts agree that one reason for its decline was the fact that unless exposure was carefully controlled, the effect of UVB radiation was more often a sunburn than a tan.
The primary problem was that UVB tanning units could not deliver what was promised by those marketing them. In addition, UVB tanning also came under attack for safety reasons by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and often was too expensive for cost-effective cosmetic use. Therefore, the major task at hand during the late ’70s was to educate the public about the differences between UVB and the newer UVA technology.
Many equipment manufacturers—past and present—have influenced or continue to influence the U.S. tanning market. Some of those companies include Ergoline, SCA Wolff System, ETS, Klafsun, PC Marketing, Montego Bay, UWE, International Tanning Equipment/HEX, CMC/Sun Capsule, SMI Sontegra, SonnenBräune, Dr. Müller, AUVL, TanAmerica, UltraSun, Ultrabronz, Megasun, Royal Sun, Sunbronze, Hapro, ProSun, Celsius, Puretan International, Alpha Industries, Future Industries, Simply Tan, ACN, Dr. Kern, Vitasun, Tanses, KBL, Sol-America, Heartland Tanning, Sportarredo, Sunvitale and International Tanning Technologies.
Advancements in equipment helped indoor tanning to gain popularity between 1981 and 1982. During these years other manufacturing companies became involved in the industry that really helped to get the word out that tanning was not just a fad. By 1983, the industry saw explosive growth—to the point where thousands of machines were being built.
Much of indoor tanning’s initial growth resulted from its increasing popularity within the health and fitness industry, where existing facilities added a tanning unit or two to create a new profit center. It wasn’t until 1982 or 1983 that free-standing tanning salons began to become widespread.
In 1984, the indoor tanning market literally exploded. Dozens of importers, distributors and manufacturers of equipment seemed to spring into existence overnight, but demand still outweighed supply. This period of rampant growth lasted well into the mid-’80s. In fact, by 1985, there were more than 70 manufacturers of tanning equipment based in the U.S., operating from the U.S. offices of foreign companies or acting as U.S. importers of foreign tanning equipment. In addition, there were in excess of 500 distributors in the United States.
According to industry veterans, the 1986 drop in the equipment market was attributed to the indoor tanning industry growing too quickly and too much profiteering from undesirables in the industry. As a result, competition became keener, forcing equipment manufacturers to become more progressive and updated.
Between mid-1985 and 1987, times were still profitable for the indoor tanning industry. Salons saw the typical slump in business during the summers, and some of the less stable manufacturers vanished as quickly as they had come into business one or two years before. Yet, the overall tenor was still strong.
But 1987 was a year met with mixed reviews from equipment manufacturers. After the previous few years, 1987’s more moderate expansion was disappointing to many. However, one factor playing a role in the lower growth rate was an ongoing decrease in the overall price of new tanning equipment—a trend that had been in motion since the end of the so-called boom period.
Another area that affected the U.S. tanning market involved the influx of toning. During the late ’80s, toning facilities were popping up nationwide and adding tanning to their offerings. This phenomenon spurred increased equipment sales and made the industry even larger. However, when toning dropped off in 1988, it dropped hard, flooding the market with a huge surplus of used tanning equipment.
The next few years were lean ones for equipment manufacturers and contributed to the cleansing of the industry. As the opportunists were cleaned out, companies cut back on their overheads and consolidated their interests. Equipment manufacturers were not the only ones to feel the pinch. Many distributors and tanning salons closed shop because their owners did not know how to run a business or plan for their future.
As the ’90s approached, the industry experienced a rebirth. The companies that had survived the ’80s now had their sights set on the future of tanning, and began providing state-of-the-art tanning equipment and products.
The new millennium ushered in more technological advancements from equipment manufacturers. However, many agree that sales suffered somewhat after Sept. 11, when salon owners, and the rest of the nation, held back on large purchases.
With the 2009 tanning season securely underway, we can look back at the evolution of an industry and be proud of where we are today. There are leaders who have weathered the storms of time and economics and set the standards by which other companies have learned to follow. Today, the indoor tanning industry is a viable business with suppliers working toward a common goal of sensible, moderate and responsible tanning.