Throwback Thursday: The Birth of My First Brick and Mortar Business

It’s been a decade since I’ve gotten involved in #ThrowbackThursday here on my blog, or across the various social networking sites that I enjoy. Ok, maybe it hasn’t been a decade, but it’s definitely been longer then I can remember. If I remember correctly, I believe my last Throwback Thursday contribution was a picture I shared on Instagram.

The Birth of My First Brick and Mortar Business

First Brick and Mortar Business

In late 2003 my wife and I were discussing what our next moves would be, our daughter would be getting ready to start day care, which meant Lisa would now have free time on her hands. At the time I was busy building an online business empire, our online business sales were exploding at the time, which gave us a decent cash base to explore other business opportunities.

At this stage of the game I had already brought in, and trained a few friends and family on the day-to-day operations of the online business. This allowed for me to step away for a period of time and develop a new business, in this case it would be a brick and mortar business. After discussing our options, along with the fact that the indoor tanning salon company that Lisa use to go to closing down, we decided that our next venture would be indoor tanning.

I can’t say that I was ever in love with the concept of owning and operating an indoor tanning business, but I was definitely into trying my hand at a brick and mortar business. Especially with the ten years of experience I have in high-volume retail thanks to my time at Home Depot. The decision was also an easy one because so many people at the time doubted if I would be able to build another successful business. Specifically one that wasn’t solely based online.

Let’s Get Down to Business

In late 2003, Extreme Tan and Smoothies, Inc. was born. The first stages were obviously to secure the business name, and ensure that it was registered as a business in the state of Florida, and ensure that all legal documents were in place. The typical copywriting and Trademarking that one would expect to do in order to protect their business.

After the paperwork was filed, and complete, the next step was finding a location to put our first Extreme Tan and Smoothies location.

Finding a Location for the Business

We found a perfect spot in a busy shopping center located in Largo, Florida. Having a full shopping center with strong anchor tenants like a Kash n’ Karry grocery store, along with strong out parcels like McDonald’s, made this spot an attractive one.

Once the location was scoped out, I contacted the leasing agent for the center to setup a time to meet, and tour the location. Heading into the tour it was important for me to set things up in a way that when I walked away from the meeting, I had as much information as possible. In addition to scheduling a meeting with the lease manager, I also scheduled the contractor that I contracted for the job to meet at the potential location.

By having the contractor meet on scene prior to moving forward with any lease signing allowed me to see any issues, either cost or structure related that might impact the job. It also ensured that the estimate for teardown and buildout that I received would be the most accurate.

What good can a brick and mortar business be if it never actually gets off the ground?

The Buildout

After completing the tour and final lease paperwork it was time to get down to the tanning salon buildout phase. As I’m sure you can imagine, there’s a mind boggling amount of electrical work that needs to be done in order to support the indoor tanning bed equipment. The buildout on our first tanning salon was estimated at $117,000, this didn’t include the ProSun tanning equipment that was purchased for the location.

Going through the first buildout was an interesting experience. The buildout was scheduled to start the first week of January 2004, at the time buildout would begin, I would be away in Las Vegas on business with my entire staff. While sitting at breakfast at the Rio Hotel and Casino, I received a phone call from the builder.

The county clown that handled permitting at the time decided to up and quit, in doing so he left three weeks worth of back logged permitting requests sitting on his desk. This delayed the first stages of the buildout and threw the projected opening date way out of whack.

Grand Opening

Sadly, my mother passed away before we were able to complete the buildout and get the first Extreme Tan and Smoothies open. As a tribute,  we decided to schedule the first Extreme Tan and Smoothies grand opening on April 4, 2004, my mothers birthday.

The marketing campaign I setup leading up to the grand opening was spread across a few mediums with the intention of attacking a specific demographic, right when the indoor tanning season kicked off. The bulk of advertising that I scheduled included two local radio stations, Wild 94.1 and WFLZ 93.3, while print and direct mail campaigns were setup with local newspapers and direct mail companies like Val-Pak.

At the time I was working closely with a gentleman, Mike Barbaro, I’ve written about him a few times throughout the years. When it came to radio advertising, Mike was the man, he worked for CBS Radio at the time, and has since moved on to Clear Channel outdoor. I’ve also written about the work I’ve done with Mike on guerrilla marketing campaigns on billboards. Mike gave me a simple tip when it came time to purchase radio spots, “If you’re not going to spend at least $1,000, I won’t waste your time or money.”

I went on to spend $10,000 monthly with Mike while he was at Wild 94.1 (Wild 98.7 at the time). I still see residual from those campaigns now.


Unsuspected Success

We truly had no idea what to expect when we opened. I mean, obviously we were hoping for big things. Every advertisement that we placed featured the same, basic special, “1 Month of Unlimited Tanning ONLY $19”. It truly was an incredible deal at the time because most salons forced customers into long-term committed contracts, and individual monthly packages were typically in the $79 monthly range.

We soft opened on a Thursday to test how things would go before our big event on Saturday. That Saturday we ended up with 204 tanners, much, much more than we had anticipated. Initially we were hoping for somewhere in the area of 75 customers on opening day.

Needless to say, we did a lot of hiring, and FAST!

Construction, Construction, Construction

The first three years in our Largo location were incredible. We ended up remodeling that location three times in the first three years in order to handle the additional daily foot traffic. This all came to a screeching halt when the road directly in front of the shopping center we were located in went under construction for two years.

The road construction in addition to anchor tenants, Kash n Karry, and Blockbuster closing their doors, instantly impacted foot traffic. When the foot traffic dropped, so did the sales.

Ending a Lease Term

In 2009 when our lease came up for renewal I made the decision to end our lease at that location. It didn’t make sense to hang on to a location that was now surrounded by vacancies.

On the Way Out

I hope you enjoyed reading through the journey of my first brick and mortar business. The experience and connections that I’ve made throughout the journey of opening, acquiring, marketing, expanding, and ultimately closing brick and mortar businesses is truly amazing. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Have an awesome Thursday!

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This was a really interesting read!

Thank you :) I appreciate you stopping by and taking the time to comment.

Hey John!

Great Post! Starting a new business of your own is a challenging project. You need to make sure you make smart investment decisions, and take care of ensuring the smooth running of every aspect of your business to ensure long term sustainability. Also developing a sound and fool proof business plan is just not easy.

I was just discussing this with a friend. At the risk of sounding like a snob – I am often turned off by blogs with too many guest posts.
I read a blog because I trust the author and I want to hear their opinion or “take” on a particular subject.


Hi John,

Great write-up on your business. By the way the setup looked really awesome, I enjoyed reading !

Cool article. Did you research the tanning business to see the return you could potentially get or did you kind of just jump into knowing or maybe hoping it would work? I love hearing self-employed success stories. All the respect to you here.

Thank you Cooper. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

The majority of research that I did at the time revolved around buying, merchandising setup, salon layout, software management, and back office safety. My wife did more of the “tanning” related research, specifically in regards to certifications and local laws.

Hi John,

Long time no chat! Congrats dude! You’ve seen amazing growth online and offline due to your persistence. I’ve seen you everywhere, for years, and this approach has paid off mightily.

Thanks for sharing,


Cool article. Did you explore the tanning business to see the return you could possibly get or did you sort of simply bounce into knowing or perhaps trusting it might work? I adore listening to independently employed examples of overcoming adversity. All the appreciation to you here.. Thank for composing and imparting your own particular encounters! Presently we recognize what work and what doesn’t work :-)

Nice Article Cool article. Did you research the tanning business to see the return you could potentially get or did you kind of just jump into knowing or maybe hoping it would work? I love hearing self-employed success stories. Great write-up on your business. By the way the setup looked really awesome, I enjoyed reading.
Thanks For The Article john…!!!

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