Sometimes a dip in business seems to come out of nowhere. But when you get yourself thinking like the client, you often can solve the mystery.

At Glow Beauty Boutique in Braintree, Massachusetts, October was the month in recent years that signaled an end to the bustling business of the previous six months. It was somewhat to be expected, because early spring through September produced added income from airbrush tanning.

“Here up north, everybody loves the look of being tan in the summertime, but no one wants the sun damage,” North says. “People want to look good for prom, graduation, weddings, and bachelorette and other parties.”

But where were all the year-round clients? By wintertime, more than one esthetician noticed the loss of regulars in a pattern that was beginning to repeat annually. 

Mystery Solved

Owner Shelley North figured out that the timing was no coincidence. While airbrush tanning services provided appreciated additional revenue, many of those clients booked only that service. Coming in as frequently as every week, they’d fill time slots the estheticians otherwise would have had available for their year-round facial, waxing, and general skincare clients. By fall, when the tanning stopped as clients covered pale skin with pants and turtlenecks, the year-round guests had grown impatient and moved on.

“These clients are loyal and won’t see someone else in the salon, even though we always offer,” North explains. “They feel guilty for ‘cheating’ on their regular esthetician, so they go somewhere else. We were losing them—or, at best, we were losing them for a while.”

Not wanting to continue this tail-wagging-the-dog model, North thought about how Glow could return to focusing primarily on the esthetics clients.

“These were the people who were keeping us in business,” North says. “We value the airbrush clients, too, but we couldn’t lose the ‘whole’ in order to offer tanning services.”

Perfect Solution

Glow had enough room to accommodate tanning, just not enough technicians—unless North counted her entire 17-member team. In the state of Massachusetts, a spray tan technician needs only state certification, not a cosmetology license.

“Our airbrush tanning has its own space in the salon and its own capacity restrictions,” North reports. “Because of this, we were allowed to train our guest services staff and esthetics students to do the spray tanning, allowing our estheticians to focus on their year-round clients. This maintained our elevated cash flow during our busy season while protecting our main clientele.” 

North arranged outside training for any support staff who were interested in extra summer income. Then they brought in models and practiced. As a final step along with getting the state certification, they would airbrush the estheticians to get them comfortable referring their year-round clients who also booked tanning services.

By taking all of those precautions, North says, “we did not compromise on the health and safety of clients, and we maintained high client retention rates.” In October 2022, revenue did not drop off a cliff—or at all. 

Permanent Change

The estheticians have communicated with their guests about the change, and most clients are fine with it, North reports. While they can still call and request their favorite esthetician to do the tanning, in online booking only the support staff appear as technicians for the service.

“Now our estheticians can stay in a dedicated room doing back-to-back services,” North says. “They don’t have to bounce back and forth from the airbrush room. We’ll definitely do this again for the 2023 season.”

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