Port tanning salon finds plenty of clients trying to get through dreary winter
Bob Wieland can see a direct correlation between the weather outside and the volume of business he sees at his Port Washington tanning salon, the Beach Tan.
“At this time of year, everyone who walks in the door says how sick and tired they are of winter. This winter, I have been hearing it even more than last year, which everyone agrees was horrible,” Wieland said.
“Winter is by far our busiest season with customers coming in pretty steady from February until mid-April, or later if spring is late in arriving.”
Then, he said, there is another surge in customers — Wieland calls them tanners — as summer gets closer.
“There comes a point where tanners are thinking about how they are going to look in swimming suits and shorts,” he said.
“That is especially true for those who don’t want to look like they spent the last four months living in the basement.”
One tanning session provides the equivalent of being out in the sun for about three hours, he said.
Wieland said 90% of his clients are women looking for “a healthy glow,” although many regulars of either gender say the tanning sessions provide more than a cosmetic browning.
The demand for tanning sessions soars with the high-school set when prom and homecoming seasons roll around and young women want to look their best in their dresses.
Wieland said pre-vacation tanning sessions are also popular with people planning trips to sunnier climes.
“There are guys who come in before they head off to Jamaica or Mexico and want to spend as much time as they can in the sun. They’ll come back and say, ‘I’ve never been on a vacation like that where I didn’t get really burned,’” he said.
Each tanning room has a locked door so there is no way of telling, but Wieland said he would guess most of those who are tanning take all of their clothes off during their sessions.
“It is the whole thing about tan lines,” he said.
Wieland said about 20% of his clients come in year ’round, some as often as once a week to maintain their tan.
The tanning industry is now tightly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and Wieland said operators have to be careful to avoid making claims about the health benefits of tanning — such as boosts in Vitamin D levels — but he said tanners regularly say there is a noticeable difference in the way they feel after a session.
“In years past, the industry didn’t do a very good job of self-policing, so now we have the FDA,” he said.
The medical community is willing to concede moderate tanning can improve certain types of skin conditions.
In the wake of countless horror stories and even urban legends about customers falling asleep while tanning, Wieland said, all his tanning beds are controlled from a central computer panel.
“When someone comes in for the first time, I won’t let them on the bed for more than six minutes,” Wieland said.
“Some people may argue that they want to be on the bed longer, but I have the final say. There are three basic skin types, and I can pretty much tell what the starting point for a person should be when they walk in. If they are fair-skinned and burn easily in the sun, they are just as likely to burn on a tanning bed.”
The Beach has three styles of clam shell-style tanning beds, ranging from 20-minute beds with 32 100-watt ultraviolet tubes to 12-minute beds with 42 160-watt tubes.
There are also two stand-up tanning booths for those who want to be evenly tanned.
The systems are calibrated so the 12-minute beds offer the same level of exposure as the 20-minute beds.
Each bed is equipped with radios and CD players to entertain lounging tanners, as well as cooling fans to keep them comfortable.
Single tanning sessions cost as little as $8 at the Beach, with volume discounts offered to repeat customers. Unlimited three-month access costs between $100 and $150, depending on the strength of the tanning bed used.
Wieland said the tanning beds “last forever” but need regular maintenance — including replacement of the florescent tubes and ballasts.
New tanning beds cost about $6,500, but can cost as much as $55,000 for high-end models.
Wieland said he is meticulous in keeping the tanning beds clean, with the computer console alerting him when a bed needs to be sanitized.
He started his first tanning business near the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee about a decade ago. That salon had 35 tanning beds and averaged 600 customers a day.
“That was our target demographic, twenty-somethings who wanted a quick tan,” Wieland said.
After moving to California for a couple of years, he decided to return to Wisconsin, hoping to open a studio in Madison.
The lease for the building he was looking at in Madison fell through, and Wieland ended up opening the Beach Tan in Port Washington in 2010.
He stored his tanning beds in Port during his West Coast hiatus. Then, a space opened on South Spring Street.
“Port Washington isn’t Madison, but it has worked out pretty well,” he said.
Image information: THE BEACH TAN in Port Washington offers a brief respite for winter-weary customers. Owner Bob Wieland (above) showed one of his salon’s 12-minute tanning beds. The operation of each tanning bed and booth is controlled from a central console so clients can’t get overexposed to ultraviolet light. Photo by Mark Jaeger