Below is an article from the April 2011 issue of Island Sun Times featuring Ultratan, Inc… Success, Defined.
After 21 years and 65 salons, UltraTan, Inc. continues to remain on the cutting edge of all things indoor tanning… and more!
More than 20 years ago, James Mastronardi had a dream – he wanted to be in business for himself. To pursue that dream, he purchased a small, five-sunbed salon in Greenville, SC which he re-named UltraTan, and which soon grew to three salons in the area. The chain was going along slowly and steadily until two pivotal developments in sunlamp technology caught James’ attention, and provided the inspiration for him to step up his goal of expansion. He achieved that goal, making UltraTan, Inc. a veritable indoor tanning empire of 65 corporate-owned stores in South and North Carolina, while simultaneously starting ventures in other industries. Only then did James put UltraTan back on the slow ans steady, although it looks as thought that is about to change, once again.
“ENGINEERING” A FUTURE
The tanning business has certainly attracted people from various lines of work, but few might be as unique or interesting as the one from which James came. A mechanical engineer by education and trade, he was one employed by the U.S. Department of Defense. “The biggest project I ever worked on was engineering and developing the engines used in cruise missiles, ” said James. “By 1998, the government began cutting its budget, and military spending was on of the first things to go, so I decide to change my like of work that year.” A fitness enthusiast and budding entrepreneur, James thought the most logical venture to pursue would be a fitness center. “I read a statistic that only one percent of all new businesses succeed, and I found myself in the other 99 percent!” he laughed. “It was simply a case of someone who thought they knew more thank they really did, and the business didn’t operate the way I thought it should. While the gym was a failure, I really learned a lot from that experience, and I knew that whatever my next business was, it would be much more successful.”
In 1991, James recognized a developing trend in the market that would change his professional life forever. “When indoor tanning first started becoming popular, it was usually an add-0n service in beauty salons and video stores, ” he said. “Then as time went on, the trend of tanning as a separate business entity began to emerge, and I saw an opportunity to get involved. At the time, a friend of mine owned three tanning salons in the Greenville area and was looking to sell one of the when his daughter, who ran the business, decided to get married and move away.” After purchasing the salon, James renamed the business UltraTan and admits to some initial success, enough to eventually ope two more Greenville facilities. A large part of that success he attributes to being the first in his area to offer “bank drafts, ” which are now commonly referred to as EFT programs. “That’s one of the good things that I was able to bring from my time in the fitness industry!” he laughed.
In 2003, James relocated his first UltraTan salon less than a half-mile up the road from the original address, and it’s still going strong. Today, it offers six levels of UV tanning with 14 units, and a Mystic Tan sunless booth. UltraTan utilizes SalonExpert software and sells products by Australian Gold, California Tan, Designer Skin and Swedish Beauty. “I first became acquainted with the New Sunshine Corporation in 1998 when I was helping lead the fight against regulations and fines proposed by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), ” James said. “This lead to the creation of the South Carolina Tanning Association, and (ETS founder) Trevor Gray become interested in what we were doing and decided to contact us. Needless to say, we developed a friendship that also resulted in the fantastic business partnership we continue to have with New Sunshine, LLC. They’be been absolutely wonderful, and we look forward to many more years in the business with them as our partner.”
Indoor tanning began as an industry based upon innovation, and each year’s advancements allow salon owners to ply the trade a little better. As a former engineer, James was one early salon pro who recognized the significance of two developments in sunlamp technology, and planned accordingly. “In my opinion, there were two major developments in our industry that allowed us to grow our business the way we did – the 160-watt reflector sunlamp, and the filter glass for high pressure lamps,” James said. “When these two things hit the market, I could see right away that indoor tanning would become even more popular because salon owners would be able to tan more people each day, thus earn more revenue. This is when I decided to go full force with expanding UltraTan.” And his salons started popping up, one right after the other, throughout Greenville and surrounding areas in South Carolina.
To enable UltraTan’s growth in the quickest, most profitable way possible, James needed to start another business, which he did in 1998 – JPM Construction, Inc. “Dealing with various construction companies, plumbers and electricians over the years stared to become a major obstacle, so it became obvious that I would have to become my own contractor in order to grow the business the way I wanted to,” he said. Doing this allowed me to build each store for at least 25 percent less than what it cost working with contractor, which in turn gave us a bigger ROI at each store. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.” With the help of JPM COntruction, UltraTan opened roughly six to seven salons each year – one year James and company build 13 stores – over a 10-year period. From its base in Greenville, SC UltraTan’s expansion spread out in a radius that eventually placed several stores just across the border into North Carolina, as well. Today, the UltraTan chain includes 65 salons.
BIG PLANS AHEAD
For the past two years, James has held back for a bit on UltraTan’s growth and this should come as no surprise. He, like many in the tanning industry, decided to take a “wait-and-see approach” due to the uncertain economy. This, however, is about to end. “This year, we’re planning an all-out blitz in terms of marketing and expansion, ” James said. “For the second time in 20 years, we’ve radically changed our package structure, and we plan to launch the biggest advertising campaign in our history, utilizing billboards, radio and social media promotions. We’re all very excited about this.” While future UltraTan growth will be limited to two or three salons a year, James plans to be more bullish with his new business concept, a hair removal and skincare center patterned after his tanning business model. “Indoor tanning became a success when it became a business entity separate from the video and beauty industries, and now I think the time is right for spa services to break out, as well, ” he said. “By offering these services conveniently and at a good price point, we know it will succeed.”
James Mastronardi has been selling sunshine for 21 years, which is enough time for someone to change their focus on what they lobe most about it. “If asked what I loved most about my job 10 or 15 years ago, I would easily have said that was was growing my salon chain,” he said. “After the massive expansion phase we completed, however, I have to say that my focus has definitely changed. Now, at this point in my career, I can honestly say that what I love most is providing opportunities for other people to grown within our company and become more successful people as a result. I can honestly say that aspect is much more rewarding.”