This College Student Built a Spray Tan Business for $300. Here’s How

A woman stands in a tent with a sun tan machine in a yard. This college student made extra money by selling sunless sun tans to college students for $15.
Hunter Skidmore, 21, a senior at Vanderbilt University, made extra money during the fall semester by selling sunless spray tans for $15 to friends. Skidmore was photographed at her family's St. Petersburg, Fla., home with the machine and popup tent she uses. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Vanderbilt University senior Hunter Skidmore has gone from being a part-time lifeguard to a spray tanning entrepreneur profiting $125 to $275 a week with a steady hand and a machine she bought for $300.

When she learned in August that her job at the Nashville college’s recreation center was over because COVID-19 closed the pool, Skidmore thought of a friend of a friend she’d met a year earlier.

“She had a spray tanning business. I texted her and she told me everything I needed to do,” Skidmore said.

She ordered the Aura Allure Spray Tan Machine, which is available on Amazon.

“The starter pack comes with the machine and trial sizes for three different solutions. That cost $300,” she said.

Each full-sized bottle of solution is $50. “Normally I can get about 35 to 40 tans out of one of those bottles,” she added.

So, with an average of 10 to 20 tans a week at $15 each, she’s making $150 to $300 weekly minus the cost of the solution.

“During COVID it’s been especially good because I think people don’t want to go to a public place and wait around with a lot of other people,” Skidmore said.

Pricing and Publicity

With a full name of Janet Hunter Skidmore, her friends sometimes call her “Jan” or “Janny,” as a nickname. When they were helping her think of a name for the business someone came up with Janny Tans.

She started an Instagram account, @Jannytans, to post photos of tanned clients and asked them to tag her in their photos to spread the word about her $15 tans. Some clients direct message her on Instagram to book appointments, while others text.

Many students live in Wesley Place apartments near Vanderbilt, so Skidmore created Wesley Wednesdays. It’s her lightest day of classes, so she can spend several hours at a friend’s apartment tanning one client after another. On other days, she books most appointments after 8 p.m. when classes are over.

While many people think of spray tans as something for formal occasions with bared shoulders such as a prom or wedding, a lot of college students want a splash of color on a regular basis, especially in colder climates. Knowing this, Skidmore priced her tans to bring repeat business.

“I was going to charge $20, if I had to come to them and $15 if they came to me. But I ended up doing $15 for everybody,” she said. She has about 40 regular customers as well as others who are less frequent.

“I get some people every week. I get a lot of people every other week,” she said. “A tan usually lasts a week to probably 10 days if you use moisturizer and don’t exfoliate too much.”

Tricks of the Tan

There is a learning curve to spray tanning. (Remember the mistakes Ross Geller made on “Friends” when they asked if he got his spray tan on the sun?)

“It definitely took a little bit of practice. I watched a lot of YouTube tutorials,” Skidmore said. “My roommates were kind enough to be the first guinea pigs. But they looked a lot better than I thought they were going to look.”

It takes a steady hand, practice at how fast to move the spray and knowing different poses for clients to make the color go on evenly.

“There are a million YouTube videos out there that show you everything,” Skidmore said.

Here are a few tips she’s learned along the way.

  • The spray tan solution can stick to polished nails, so bring along baby wipes to clean those after the tan.
  • Baby wipes also work to touch up any drips.
  • The machine, and a folding tent to shield the rest of the room, fit easily into a reusable grocery bag and weigh about 5 pounds.
  • Skidmore brings a towel also for clients to stand on once inside the tent.

“I’ve had people who have never had a spray tan before and they were really nervous, but they were happy with it. The solution I use looks really natural, not orangey fake,” she said. “Nobody has gotten mad at me yet.”

Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance reporter and editor in St. Petersburg, Fla., and author of Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker: Missteps and Lessons Learned.