As a single mom on social assistance, Nicole Hyatt faced a number of obstacles in trying to launch her mobile tanning business, the least of which was being told by Dragons’ Den judge Kevin O’Leary that her concept was untenable.
“He told me to stop this and go find something else to do,” says Hyatt of her 2009 appearance on the CBC reality show. She persisted, and was even offered a deal from Jim Treliving when she returned to the show in 2013. Today, Tan on the Run has 40 units across Canada, plus nine abroad.
Hyatt attributes her success to her persistence. “There were many times when I questioned, ‘is this a good idea?’ It’s so much work, and so time consuming,’” she says. “I just had to stick to it.”
Hyatt came up with her concept when she was a new mom struggling to find time for herself. “I had just gotten a spray tan and realized how hard it was to bring a six-month-old to the tanning salon,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘this would be cool to have in my house.’”
Hyatt enrolled in a one-year business program, where she learned the ins and outs of starting a business, and launched Tan on the Run in 2007. Looking back at her first year in business, Hyatt says it involved a lot of trial and error. “My model of business didn’t exist before, so marketing it was a challenge.”
Within a year, however, the concept had taken off, and she began to receive inquiries from others looking to open their own mobile tanning spas. She considered licensing the equipment and product, but ultimately decided to franchise in order to ensure consistency across locations. “We have a lot of musicians and actors who come into town and get a spray tan here in Toronto, and then they’re on tour in Vancouver. It’s important that they get the same service wherever they go.”
When looking for franchisees, Hyatt says enthusiasm trumps business experience. “When I hear excitement in their voices and they’re dedicated and motivated, that’s huge.” Franchisees come from a range of backgrounds, including a former police officer, a dirt bike model, and a former waitress.
Due to its flexible hours, the concept is especially appealing to moms. “I started when my son was a baby. I was able to set my schedule, take my son to school, and then do my first appointment.” It also requires little to no overhead and offers high profit margins. “For someone in a position like I was in, they can get into business for $10,000 to $25,000 and start making money right away,” she says. “You’re not burying yourself in rent.”
New franchisees receive initial training, as well as ongoing support via an online forum. “If someone has a question, it will be answered within five minutes by 10 different people,” she says. She also makes herself available to speak to franchisees whenever they need support. “They can call me whenever they want. I want to keep things personal and grassroots, which is how I started it.”
For Hyatt, the most rewarding part of being a franchisor is being able to help other women succeed in business. “It’s a good feeling seeing my franchisees make money and have time for their kids.”
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