Brisk business aiding "recession-proof" salon and spa industry

With growth that has outpaced other sectors in the American economy, the salon and spa industry can be a strong lure for entrepreneurs seeking new ventures.

But licensed intradermal cosmetic technician Heather Gauf-Perrin, who in January opened Bella Body & Sol, a tanning salon and spa on Harris Avenue in Fairhaven, said it’s the connections made with clients that truly matter for those in the business.

“I love how rewarding it is,” Gauf-Perrin said. “People really appreciate what you do.”

Even as the economic recession has forced many people to cut back on nearly all but the bare essentials, the $40 billion salon and spa industry has maintained steady growth over the past decade.

Gauf-Perrin offers an array of services in her 1,100-square-foot shop, including “D-Light” therapy tanning, massage, facials, permanent makeup, eyelash extensions and waxing. Bella Body & Sol also carries a variety of natural, organic cosmetic and body products.

A health-centered approach to beauty care is among the more unique aspects to her business, Gauf-Perrin said. Along with that, she emphasizes custom services for clients.

Bella Body & Sol is staffed mainly by independent contractors who provide beauty and personal-appearance services. The contractors pay rent to Gauf-Perrin for the facility and for access to products needed to offer their own specialties.

Independent contractors, those who operate on their own without paid employees, have enjoyed the strongest gains in the salon and spa business in the past 10 years.

The number of salon and spa establishments run by independent contractors has increased 78 percent in the past decade, and their sales have increased 99 percent, according to recent figures compiled by the Professional Beauty Association and the National Cosmetology Association.

Salons and spas with paid employees have also seen growth, though on a smaller scale. They’ve increased 15 percent over the past decade, with sales rising 47 percent.

Job growth in the sector has also outpaced overall employment growth in the U.S. economy, and salon and spa industry experts project that trend will continue. Since 2000, the sector has increased its total employment by more than 18 percent, adding nearly 75,000 new jobs, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Brad Masterson, communications manager for the Professional Beauty Association, which is based in Scottsdale, Ariz., said salons and spas are able to maintain strong business due to a loyal customer base and the fact that they provide a service their customers view as a necessity.

Even when money is tight, people still want to get their hair styled or receive other beauty services, Masterson said. This is particularly true when more people are out looking for work and need to maintain their personal appearance for job interviews, he added.

“The salon business is relatively recession-proof,” Masterson said.

Focusing on the retail side of the salon and spa business, by offering products along with services, will help owners retain customers and grow their shops, Masterson said.

For Gauf-Perrin, business at Bella Body & Sol will rely heavily on tanning services.

Despite controversy linked to tanning beds, indoor tanning businesses are estimated to generate at least $5 billion in annual revenue.

The controversy centers on concerns from health experts who say the regular use of tanning beds can greatly increase the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma. The American Academy of Dermatology Association supports an outright ban on the production and sale of indoor tanning equipment for commercial and cosmetic purposes.

Other anti-tanning groups push for stricter government regulation of the industry. In the U.S., 33 states have some form restriction on tanning-bed use, according to information compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures. The laws vary. States either require users to be 16 years old—some set the age limit at 18—or they require parent permission for younger users.

Washington does not currently enforce such an age limit, although within the past few years several state lawmakers have introduced bills to prohibit teen tanning.

At Bella Body & Sol, Gauf-Perrin is utilizing new tanning technology designed to minimize the more harmful effects of traditional tanning beds and shift the focus to supplying users with vitamin D.

Bella Body & Sol uses custom-built tanning systems that only generate ultraviolet B rays, needed for the body to be able to produce vitamin D, commonly referred to as the “happy vitamin.”

The emphasis on supplying vitamin D to customers is a central component of Bella Body & Sol’s tanning services.

The systems also use electric ballast devices to control the flow of electric current through the machines. These electric ballasts are designed to be energy efficient and to not release electromagnetic radiation, which can be a byproduct of older tanning-bed systems that use magnetic ballasts, Gauf-Perrin said. Electromagnetic radiation is known to play a role in causing a variety of diseases, including cancer.

Gauf-Perrin said she hopes Bella Body & Sol’s tanning systems will be an example of a new direction for the tanning industry, and education  about the difference between her equipment and older, traditional tanning beds is a focal point of her business.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 9, 2013
Statements attributed to Heather Gauf-Perrin referring to negativity surrounding the tanning industry and her staff setting time limits on tanning to minimize potential risks were inaccurate and have been omitted. Additional information about Bella Body & Sol’s tanning equipment has been included. A statistic reporting the number of people who visit tanning salons annually relied on out-of-date information and has been removed.  

Evan Marczynski Photos | The Bellingham Business Journal


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