Dickens Had it Right

by | Farr Factor

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …”

Charles Dickens could have been speaking of the indoor tanning industry when he penned his famous first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities in 1859. Maybe he had a time machine to travel 155 years into the future and saw where the retail tanning business is today.

Over the last 24 years, I’ve been to every kind of tanning trade show, and nothing could have prepared me for 2014 and its deflating effect on the aspirations of salon owners. And yet, there are many on the supply side who seem to have copied the calloused naïveté from the pages of a Dickens novel.

Legend has it that when Marie Antoinette, last Queen of France, was told that the poor didn’t have any bread to eat, she responded, “Let them eat cake.”

The truth is that there will be no business or cake if we continue to allow the segment of failing dealers to grow. The burgeoning regional and national chains (heretofore referred to as the “Bourgeoisie”) will never replace the loss of thousands of independent owners, or shall we say, the “Proletariats” of the industry. And yet, that seems to be what some of the so-called “leaders” of our industry want. It seems like the ghost of Queen Marie is whispering in our leaders’ ears, “Let them eat cake,” them being the thousands of so-called Mom & Pops, the backbone and pioneers of our “look good, feel great” industry. Those folks are struggling for answers in a year that has considerably lowered their expectations of success.

There are times I feel like I am one of only a few who give a damn about a two-salon chain surviving in Wind Rock, Idaho. The big boys want to ban under-18 tanning all over the country, not for altruistic reasons, and not to satisfy the theory that this concession will quiet the industry’s bad press. No, the bourgeoisie wants to put the small operator out of business. I’ve read this novel before, back in the video rental industry. Yes, video stores would have eventually gone the way of the dinosaur as Netflix, Red Box and mostly digital downloads took over. But that does not obscure what happened to that industry in the late 90s. Independently owned video stores became complacent with earlier successes! And the bourgeoisie of that industry sent their independent competition metaphorically to the gallows by engaging in “sweetheart deals” with major studios, something few “Proletariat” businesses could get. Sound like the tanning industry today?

So how do our indie’s keep their heads? To start with, stand up to the movement of banning under-age tanning, and in the meantime, get aggressive with the revolution of your own businesses to keep it in power and relevance in your market. Don’t trust the “kings and queens” of this industry. They want your tanning business heads in a basket!

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