Capitalizing on the student body

Image-conscious campus means big sales for tanning entrepreneur

Beach employee Anja Polisak, a fourth-year enviromental science student, gets baked at work.
Beach employee Anja Polisak, a fourth-year enviromental science student, gets baked at work.

The right time. The right place. The right product. Opportunities seem so obvious after they’ve been seized.

For most of us, at least.

Entrepreneurs are different. To be successful they must be capable of seeing trends before anyone else, and of knowing just when to go for it when others would hesitate.

Stuart Coristine, a Queen’s student and the owner of The Beach tanning salon, has dived head-on into the world of small business, and by his account it appears to be going swimmingly.

Opened last September, the salon, located at Princess and Division streets, now pulls in up to 120 customers a day; Coristine already plans to open up another locale in Kingston’s west end. Having caught the tanning wave early, he’s riding from The Beach to the bank.

“Tanning is such a big part of the culture at Western,” said Coristine, explaining where he got the idea. “When I transferred here I was surprised to find their weren’t really any tanning salons catering to the student’s here at Queen’s. At Western there were three or four near campus.” Queen’s students comprise almost all of The Beach’s customers, and Coristine, a fourth-year economics student, keeps his marketing focus tightly aimed towards them. Discussing the make-up of his customer base he says, “probably 70-80 per cent are women, the remaining 20-30 per cent being guys, of whom I’d say a fair number are gay.”

“Basically we get clients who are concerned about their image, people who are ‘body beautiful,’ weight lifters, bar staff, etc.,” he said.

Responding to research that shows tanning, like any other heavy to moderate exposure to ultra violet rays, can cause skin cancer, Coristine is dismissive.

“People get nervous about the sun scare, but abstaining from the sun isn’t good. Take seasonal affective disorder— people get down because of a lack of ultra-violet light.” Coristine was struck by what he saw as similar levels of affluence and a similar concern about image among students at Queen’s and Western; he saw a large market for tanning services. Excited about the idea of opening a business, he began to do research, visiting dozens of tanning shops around Ontario.

Along the way, he picked up what he wryly calls “a few tricks.” For instance, the walls and floors feature earth tones designed to provide ambient light that makes skin appear darker than it really is.

The initial investment for the business was one-third Coristine’s money, with two-thirds a result of pounding the pavement for banks loans.

Most banks were extremely unreceptive, Coristine said, but somehow he found a way.

“I didn’t realize how much work it would involve, but it’s been amazing,” he says, before adding that anyone considering opening a business in Kingston should make sure it caters to students or tourists.

“No one else has money to spend. Incomes here are low.”

While he waits out the summer for students to get back, Coristine, who will be attending as a part-time student this year to make time for The Beach, is blaisé about the difficulties of competing with the sun for business.

“Mother nature is a little cheaper than a tanning bed. Well, I’m sure air conditioners don’t sell well in the winter.”

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