Organic Bronze Bar offers spray-on tanning by licensed aestheticians. Van Auken spent several years and thousands of dollars to develop the private label spray-on formula her company uses – a formula that does not involve parabens or other chemicals that concern organic-minded clients. Most customers buy memberships for every week or every-other-week treatments, which take about 10 minutes to apply and then fade gradually over the next seven to 10 days.
Sales lagged in Vancouver when Van Auken first set up shop in Clark County in 2010, she says.
“It’s a different demographic, so we had to tweak our prices,” Van Auken says. “We offered options other than memberships and introduced different pricing structures.”
That did the trick. Sales in Vancouver grew 40 percent last year, according to Van Auken.
“I don’t come from money, I’ve been doing this just with brains and strategy,” she says.
Before getting into the beauty business, Van Auken worked as a banker for 17 years.
“I was not fulfilled,” she says. “I made a lot of money, I went to day spas quite a bit, and would say: Is this what it feels like to relax? I want to do that someday. I said that for probably eight years, until eventually I took my savings, my 401(k), I took an online business course, and I started to look into starting my own business.”
Van Auken declined to provide specific revenue figures for the business, but says that companywide growth has been as high as 20 percent per year since the first Organic Bronze Bar opened its doors four years ago.
“We’re going nationwide,” she says. “My goal is to directly compete with the UV tanning industry.”
Because she’s self-funding her growth out of business profits, that expansion will come one store at the time. Van Auken says she’ll probably open another four or five stores in the Vancouver-Portland area before branching further afield. But she’s already exploring expanding into Arizona or California, and possibly opening a branch in Boston.
“I’ve been taking my money from one location to start the next and I’m pleasantly surprised, but at this point I feel urgency to push faster and put a different strategy in place,” she says. “Each summer we grow significantly through word of mouth. Not too far in the future, we’re going to have an actual marketing budget. And then just watch us grow.”