‘We’re agile and quick’: How Bondi Sands is successfully selling an Aussie tan

Self-tanning business Bondi Sands is a global success but the business got off to a rocky beginning when its first batch of products turned customers green.

“It was not the greatest start,” co-founder Shaun Wilson says. “The quality control of one of the ingredients was not up to scratch and we had to do a recall. We faced up to it and were honest with our wholesaler Priceline and they gave us another chance.”

Bondi Sands founders Blair James and Shaun Wilson  at Port Melbourne beach.
Bondi Sands founders Blair James and Shaun Wilson at Port Melbourne beach. Credit:Chris Hopkins

It was a rare misstep for the Melbourne-based business founded by Wilson and Blair James in 2012 which turned over more than $100 million last year.

Bondi Sands products, which include tanning foams, sunscreens and body wash, are sold in 4500 stores across Australia and stocked in 20,000 stores globally.


Changing attitudes

It is one of a number of businesses tapping into changing attitudes towards tanning and skin health which has seen the self-tanning industry valued at $US1.47 billion ($2.10 billion) by business consulting firm Grand View Research. The firm predicts further growth with a compound annual growth rate of 5.9 per cent from 2019 to 2025.

“Rising concerns about skin diseases and other health risks associated with sun exposure will boost the demand for self-tanning products,” Grand View Research found.

‘Bondi from a positioning point of view was fantastic, Port Melbourne or St Kilda was not quite the same.’

Shaun Wilson

The pair started the business after meeting through James’ beauty and tanning salon in Port Melbourne where they spotted an opportunity for self-tanning after solariums were banned in Australia, due to the heightened risk of skin cancer.

Bondi Sands' founders have tapped into demand for Australia's beach lifestyle overseas.
Bondi Sands’ founders have tapped into demand for Australia’s beach lifestyle overseas. Credit:Chris Hopkins

Bondi Sands unashamedly trades off the global reputation of the world’s most iconic beaches and an aspirational Australian beach lifestyle.

“Bondi is one of the most famous beaches in the world and is known for its beach culture,” Wilson says. “We were looking at brand names and Bondi from a positioning point of view was fantastic, Port Melbourne or St Kilda was not quite the same.”

Bondi Sands’ point of difference is its affordable price point and products manufactured in Australia.

Wilson says turning customers green was “not the greatest start” but the pair had persistence and belief in themselves.

They have funded the business themselves along with the help of Wilson’s father, Darren Wilson. They mortgaged their homes to fund the early days and built Bondi Sands from a startup to multinational business with 50 staff.

“We feel like we are agile and quick to market and that shows we can compete against L’Oreals and Unilevers of the world,” Wilson says.

The pair are continuing to expand the business with plans to launch more than 40 new products across four different categories including sunscreen in the next 12 months.

Instagram inspiration

Drawing inspiration from Bondi Sands’ global success, local business Spray Aus is also focusing on the self-tanning market.

Friends Ellie Pearson and Emily McKay launched the business in 2014 once they realised the solariums they used to visit were on the way out.

“We did a tanning course and then we tanned all our friends and they put it on Instagram,” Pearson says.

The pair are well connected, with Pearson the former partner of footballer Josh Hunt, McKay the partner of AFL star Majak Daw and their friends including influencers and entrepreneurs Rebecca Judd and Nadia Bartel.

Spray Aus founders Nadia Bartel, Emily McKay, Rebecca Judd and Ellie Pearson.
Spray Aus founders Nadia Bartel, Emily McKay, Rebecca Judd and Ellie Pearson.

Judd and Bartel joined the business as co-owners after they “blasted it onto the map” through social media.

“Bec and Nardia were advertising for us as friends and we thought it was only fair to bring them on in the long-term,” Pearson says. “We all bring different things to the table, the girls are so powerful with social media and marketing .”

Spray Aus has expanded to four studios across Melbourne and launched its own self-tanning products which are sold online and in salons with turnover of more than $1 million.

Pearson says growing demand for self-tanning products has meant the quality has increased with customers opting for natural ingredients which are quick-drying.

“Back five years ago you had to marinate in it for so long,” she says. “Women now are very busy.”

It’s been a steep learning curve for the four women.

“Not having any knowledge in the industry and no business background, little things like you have to save for tax, we had no idea we were so fresh,” Pearson says. “We have made very many mistakes and issues and things happen along the way.”

Building business acumen and capitalising on changing attitudes to tanning have helped drive the business’ growth with Spray Aus preparing to launch into retail stores early next year.

“Back when I was using solariums quite a lot there was not really awareness of looking after your skin,” she says. “Now people are a lot more health-conscious and skin-conscious I look back now and think ‘I can’t believe I did that’.”

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