As winter grudgingly gives way to spring in the Flathead, it’s easy to forget what sunshine feels like on one’s skin. But there are two places in the valley where the sun is always shining, at 12- and 15-minute intervals: Club Sun Tanning and Smoothies.
At Club Sun, futuristic Italian tanning beds provide that sought-after shade of summer color in about half the time of conventional machines, hence co-owners Don and Tammy Hedlind’s motto: “Tan stronger, not longer.”
The Hedlinds are celebrating the fourth anniversary of their business after adding a location at Hutton Ranch Plaza in February 2008 to their original tanning salon in downtown Kalispell, and they’re working on plans to add another Montana location in the future.
Over the last year, the indoor tanning industry has bestowed several accolades on the Hedlinds’ business. In July 2008, Club Sun was profiled in the trade magazine, Tanning Trends, and Looking Fit magazine recently ranked Club Sun as one of the top 250 tanning salons in the country.
Like any local business, Club Sun is weathering the recession by focusing on the fundamentals: customer service, cleanliness and competitive prices. Don has introduced package deals on tanning sessions and skin products, as well as “VIP” programs to keep customers coming back. After tanning sessions, the staff cleans and buffs the acrylic beds to a sheen, leaving behind a rolled towel and candy. Deodorant and baby wipes are available as well for customers who need to freshen up before returning to work.
On a recent weekday afternoon at the uptown location, despite the blowing wind and rain outside, customers were lined up at the counter, and being shown to one of eight beds by three-year employee Emily Betthauser, who described herself as a “tanning consultant, smoothie-maker and lotion helper-outer.”
Staff retention is a key part of Club Sun’s plan, and all employees undergo extensive training with Tammy and a probation period.
“We like to call it our family,” Don said. “If you can keep the right staff you can have a very fun, successful business.”
A key part of that training involves helping new customers learn a gradual way to tan that avoids overexposure.
“I’ve got customers that say, ‘I burn first, then I tan,’” Don said. “Not here you won’t.”
“The object of the game is sensible sun exposure,” he added.
That exposure is provided by cutting-edge tanning and bronzing beds, some of which are so large and elaborate they look like something out of Star Wars. Club Sun’s flagship bed, a “Mastersun 360,” is manufactured by the Italian company Sportarredo and features air-cooled acrylic pads, venting and individual stereos.
“I’ve got some beds in here that you won’t find this side of Seattle,” Don said.
While one session in the Mastersun runs $32, more basic beds are priced at about $7 per session. Club Sun also offers tanning chambers where customers can stand, which Betthauser said tend to be more popular with men.
At the downtown location, spray tanning is available for those not interested in getting under the lights, and at the uptown location, Tammy, who previously worked as a licensed cosmetologist, will apply the spray tan.
While the high-powered beds allow customers on their lunch breaks to get in and out in a hurry, Tammy said the goal is also to have Club Sun be a place where people feel like they can linger. A smoothie bar, swimsuit selection, and a leather couch at the downtown location invite customers to lounge – before or after the tanning session.
“The experience is more than just a tan for a lot of customers,” Tammy said. “It’s about the atmosphere.”
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