Ray of Light

With the advent of summer, you're probably thinking about marketing and retailing promotions for the season. This is the time of year when suncare products take center stage. But then what happens? If you're like most spa owners, you probably hope they'll sell themselves.

Thanks in part to the information age, numerous baby boomers, and the current preoccupation with maintaining our good looks, suncare has gone mainstream. This is both good and bad for spa retailing—while it once made sense for clients to purchase suncare from a skincare professional, suncare marketers have done such a good job that these products have become hot commodities, readily available at any drugstore, grocery store, specialty store, and mass marketer. The U.S. market currently offers more than 700 different sun protection products, so how do you plan to convince your clients that they need to purchase suncare items from your spa rather than from a big retail chain?

The Importance of Education

As skincare professionals, we know the basic facts about sunscreens, sunblocks, and SPFs. But do we know how to convince a client that an SPF 30 product from a professional skincare company is more beneficial than one they can purchase elsewhere for less?

 Here Comes the Sun
Here Comes the Sun

An educated consumer is our responsibility. When comparing the relative merits of suncare products sold through mass-market outlets to those available from skincare professionals, we can't rely on the personal-care conglomerates who are supplying the mass marketers to educate our clients. Assuming a client will understand why he or she should pay twice as much for a product from a spa as for one that makes the same claims at the drugstore will not likely result in a sale. First and foremost, it is our responsibility to explain the science behind the numbers and ingredients. "Sunscreens purchased in spas guarantee that the products contain the finest ingredients in the correct molecular weight for maximum absorption," says Cathi Castillo, Pevonia Botanica's east coast regional sales manager. "These products keep the skin hydrated, protect it from free radical damage, and calm and soothe the skin." Adds Alex Shrewsbury, national account manager for SkinCeuticals, "Effective sunscreen protection includes having the right concentration of active ingredients that are stabilized and effective at covering fully across both UVA and UVB spectrums to protect the skin against photoaging and skin cancer." This kind of explanation takes a consumer beyond the simple SPF numbers and into the realm of "why?" Once these differences have been explained to them, most clients are willing to invest more for a product that can differentiate itself and deliver a desired benefit—younger looking skin.

You must ensure that whoever is in your retail area, and in fact your entire customer service and skincare staff, is able to converse easily and convincingly about the underlying value of spa products. In evaluating what suncare products you'll carry at your spa, the willingness and ability of a vendor to educate your staff has to be a factor. And, as with all education, once is never enough. Make your own study of the pros and cons of the suncare products you carry, and then supplement any vendor training with your own information. Develop pop quizzes and contests, and even train your mystery shoppers to evaluate the presentations made to them regarding suncare. A few years ago, a class-action suit was filed against five major manufacturers of suncare products whose products comprise 70 percent of the American suncare market because of misleading label claims. No spa skincare provider was among them. Do your clients know that?

Shedding Light on Suncare Services

Suncare education should begin in the treatment room. Summer is the time to wake up winter skin and to add treatments to your menu that address the need for smooth skin. Polishes, peels, and scrubs, either on their own or as an add-on to face or body services, should always be concluded with a slathering of sunscreen. Carrie Gross, CEO of MD Skincare, reports that all of her company's service protocols conclude with an application of sunscreen, while Tara Grodjesk, president of Tara Spa Therapy, adds that, "Especially in ski country and sunbelt spas, I recommend applying a finish of sunscreen to each treatment." During the application of these products is the ideal time to revisit the basics with your clients. Make sure they understand the dangers of both UVA and UVB light and that they are using the appropriate amount of product. Be sure to remind them that the recommended amount of sun protection for typical exposed areas, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, is 1 ounce, which is enough to fill a shot glass. Using the product by that guideline would mean that an 8-ounce bottle of sunscreen would last little more than one week, which is probably not typical among your clients.

Your menu should also include post-sun treatments, especially if your spa is in a resort area. Soothing masks and wraps, plenty of hydration, and an application of sunscreen will send clients on their way feeling both renewed and educated.

Follow up at Retail

Let's not forget that one of the primary reasons clients visit spas is for age management. Done properly, an effective suncare sales presentation can open the door to the sale of other products. "Research shows that ninety percent of wrinkles are caused by UVA damage, making it the number-one cause of premature aging of the skin," says Castillo. "It's important customers understand that just wearing a moisturizer is not enough to combat the formation of wrinkles." So clients should be taught that sunscreen and moisturizer are partners—they need to have both. Adds Shrewsbury, "Even the best broad-spectrum sunscreen can only block up to 55 percent of damaging free radicals caused by UV exposure, so it is vital to use an effective topical antioxidant to help neutralize remaining free radicals." Train your staff to speak this way, and they can link sales of suncare products to sales of other anti-aging and skincare products, fulfilling our client's desire for a more youthful appearance year-round. For retail clients who may not have had a treatment, these statements are a great way to enter into a discussion about general skincare.

The advent of summer provides an easy marketing opportunity for suncare retailing. You might consider creating a suncare area within your retail space and grouping all of your sun-related products together in an easy-to-navigate area. Shelves, risers, or a table with hats, sunglasses, and sandals with suncare products and lip balms create eye-catching displays that draw customers in and remind them of their needs. This summer, MD Skincare is offering a "Made for Shade" beauty bag available exclusively in spas, with a portion of every sale going to a non-profit committed to educating children and the community about skin cancer prevention. This is a perfect promotion to solve a personal need and simultaneously contribute to the greater good. "Make suncare products part of all of your summer promotions, such as offering a savings on suncare products with a purchase of other retail products, or including a sunscreen sample as a free gift with a high-end treatment or series of treatments," adds Shrewsbury. "Make sure that testers and literature are available in treatment rooms and lounges as well as in the retail area." Grodjesk also suggests that spas in hotel and resort locations coordinate marketing activities with in-room, poolside, golf, and boutique outlets, pointing out that, "Otherwise, you end up with different brands being offered for sale in different areas." —Lisa M. Starr

Lisa M. Starr has more than 28 years of experience in the beauty industry. She is currently the senior east coast business consultant to new and existing spas and salons for Wynne Business. Her expertise includes business operations and finances, marketing and advertising, inventory management, human resource development, sales, and public relations. Email her at [email protected].