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The Paradox of Indoor Tanning Business – USA and Russia Compared

SmartTan Downtown_Tanning-Expo-Nashville-2012
Click on image for video

I recently visited two large exhibitions. One was in Nashville, Tennessee and the other one in Moscow, Russia. Click on image for video

The Smart Tan Downtown Expo in Nashville is totally dedicated to tanning. The Intercharm in Moscow is Russia’s largest bi-annual exhibition for hair-, nails- and beauty.

The Nashville expo (and seminars) was attended by more than 2000 salon owners and their staff from tanning-salons all over North-America. All tanning suppliers were present as sponsors and exhibitors.

The Moscow fair had probably several thousands of visitors during the four days it was running but only a few of them were interested in tanning. Only five companies were exhibiting tanning equipment.

And here is the indoor tanning paradox …

The tanning market in USA is besieged by both regulators (everyone from federal to local levels) and media (who depends on the advertisements from the manufacturers of chemical sunscreens) but the people involved in the tanning business are super motivated, very positive professionals.

The Russian tanning market is totally (almost and as for now) free from restrictive regulations. Russia also has a long tradition from the old Soviet times of using sunlight and UV-lamps for health purposes. In spite of this, the tanning business is very small and full of negativism. There is a common perception that tanning is bad for you and therefore should be avoided.

The power of tabloid media to change the perception of tanning

This just demonstrates the extreme power of modern tabloid media. By repeatedly hammering in the message that tanning is dangerous and unhealthy, modern media, spearheaded by women’s glossy magazines, has managed to brainwash a whole generation. Even the approach among medical professionals in Russia has changed. The old school physicians, who knew the health benefits of UV-exposure, are moved aside by younger doctors trained by Western pharmaceutical companies to preach sun-avoidance.

If the attitude among (and the number of) tanning professionals is one abyss that separates the North-American and the Russian tanning markets, the tanning market itself is another.

In North America, huge chains of dedicated tanning salons dominate the market. In Russia, 80 % of the tanning time is sold by small hairdressers and beauty-salons, often with only one or two tanning beds.

Even in Moscow, a city with more than 15 million inhabitants and with an environment which encourages to indoor tanning all year around, there are less than 50 salons that have tanning as their main offer and none that offers only tanning.

The possibility to optimize the UV-power in tanning beds has also lead to a tanning market in Russia which to 95 % consists of vertical tanning units. The domination of vertical tanning beds over horizontal is the third, and maybe the least important, gulf of difference between North-American and Russian tanning.

An interview with a Russian indoor tanning professional

Tanning supplier (Solana) at Intercharm 2012 in Moscow Russia
Tanning supplier at Intercharm

During the Intercharm exhibition in Moscow, I met with Elena, marketing director in one of the leading tanning distributors in Russia. She gave me her explanation why the tanning business in Russia oozes more gloom and doom than the North-American:

[quote]“The fact that tanning is mainly offered as an add-on service to hair- and beauty- treatments mean that the owners and staff have to be convinced of the benefits of tanning, not only as a business but first as a way to better health and beauty for their customers. Unfortunately, in most salons they are more convinced about the opposite, that tanning is dangerous and that it is no good business.”

Me: “What are you doing to educate the salon-owners about the truth of tanning?”

Elena: “Our company is the only distributor in Russia focused 100% on indoor tanning. For us it is a matter of survival that we can educate our customers in all aspects of indoor tanning in order for them to convince their customers of all the benefits they will have from regular but moderate tanning sessions. In that sense we are unique. Our largest competitors are providing a wider range of products for beauty-salons and for them tanning is a smaller part of their business. Since most people are inclined to follow the road of least resistance, and since often even their own sales-people are not truly convinced about that tanning is good, they care less and less about the tanning part of their business. Our competitors seem to consider their work to be finished when they managed to persuade a salon-owner to fill up some empty space in their salon with a cheap vertical tanning unit. For our company, the sale is only the start of a relationship that never finish. We are not satisfied until our customers understands all parts involved in running a tanning business. And then we provide continuous training in order to make sure that our customers will be successful and that everyone of their staff is ably to explain the benefits of correctly done tanning to their customers.”

Me: “Which are the biggest challenges to the growth of indoor tanning in Russia?”a tanning distributor at Intercharm in Moscow 2012

Elena: “The biggest challenge is to be able to balance the negative information about indoor tanning as communicated in media. Russia is a country where people really need indoor tanning in order to stay healthy and younger looking. We have great traditions of using indoor tanning for both illness prevention and treatments and thanks to manufacturers and suppliers of tanning equipment; the market has become self-regulated in a unique way. Still, during just 10 years, media, guided by western influence, has succeeded in twisting the truth about indoor tanning. If you ask any people on the street in Moscow today what they think about indoor tanning, they will tell you that they believe it is dangerous. Our trainings are the only source of positive information there is. We see a lot of initial doubts among the older participants in our seminars and we have to spend much time on helping them re-programming younger salon staff back to the logic and common sense of tanning. We use the information on The Tanning Blog a lot. It is very helpful for us and thank you for providing the translations into Russian for much of your information.”

Me: “Thank you Elena, for your kind words. I am sure your continuous efforts to remind the Russian people about their long traditions of good relationship with sunlight and use UV-therapy will be successful. The key is to convince the Governments in Europe and Russia that they are being misled by false negative propaganda about tanning and that this is very costly for them and very bad for their citizens.”[/quote]

Now, and since most of the readers of this blog comes from UK and North-America, what kind of advice would you like to give to the people involved in the tanning business in Russia? Give your comments below and don’t forget to share this post with your friends.

This post is also available in: German Polish Russian

4 thoughts on “The Paradox of Indoor Tanning Business – Indoor Tanning in USA and Russia Compared”

  1. In Russia tanning is bad but vodka is good. They should make the connection of UV light and it’s impact of insulin on alcohol sugars and liver disease. (Similiar to how UV light helps diabetics.)

  2. Richard Thompson

    I feel like indoor tanning would be more popular in Russia than it is. But I guess if it has a bad reputation, or people are just generally suspicious of it, then it won’t do well. I think that if the market could be broken into by dedicated indoor tanning businesses, Russia would be a great place to start.

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