Home Delivery: Iowa City Business Brings Tans to the Home

By Dave DeWitte, Reporter

Jill Williams (left) co-owner of Lutra Tanning, prepares to apply a spray tan to a client on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. The mobile tanning service opened in Iowa City in September with no walk-in location. It emphasizes "tanning parties" and individual tanning appointments in homes and business locations. (photo by Michael Ott courtesy of Lutra Tanning)

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By Ellen Kurt

IOWA CITY, Iowa - A new Iowa City business is taking the mobile tanning concept a step further by skipping the physical location.

Lutra Tanning of Iowa City focuses exclusively on the mobile tanning market, traveling to client locations to offer spray tanning.

The hot market for mobile tanning is young adult women who like to be tan all the time, winter or summer, explained co-owners Michael Ott and Jill Williams.

Williams goes to the client location and sets up a small pop-up tent. The client disrobes to their "level of comfort," and the technician sprays on the tanning solution. The tent contains the spray so that nothing around it is stained, and provides privacy for the client.

Williams and Ott expect most of their business to be serving groups in a tanning party format. Lutra Tanning offers group rates for tanning parties and offers a free tan for the party host.

The group rates can be as low as $20 or $25 depending on the size of the group, compared to a standard rate of $35 for mobile tanning.

The tanning party concept isn't new to the area. Aloha Tan 2 U in North Liberty, also advertises mobile spray tanning parties and group rates, and offers a walk-in tanning studio as well.

Key markets for mobile tanning include bridal parties, sororities, and groups of friends.

Spray tanning is often done in tanning studios, salons or spas using machines designed to apply a uniform spray. The spray tan does not last as long as a light-induced tan from a tanning bed, but avoids any of the skin cancer risks associated with ultraviolet light rays.

A spray tan can last about two weeks with proper aftercare, Ott said. Tanning has a more natural appearance than the early spray-on products that tended to lend an orange cast to the skin.

The mobile tanning approach relies on a human spray technician. Williams serves that role at Lutra Tanning. She says a good manual spray can be better than a machine spray if performed correctly because the technician can ensure the spray is directed to all the areas that need it, and adjust for skin tone.

Both of the owners are "serial entrepreneurs" who've had experience operating other businesses, and Ott has been the first employee at six start-ups focused mainly on sustainable products or services.

Williams is a co-founder of Sassi Bands, a fashion accessory company. Her fashion products are available for purchase at the tanning parties.

Ott has two other companies. One of them, Terra Biologics, works in algae-based soil reclamation systems. The other, Lutra Power, is a developmental biomass power company.

"Lutra Tanning is quite a stretch from my normal business," Ott said. "I saw this as an untapped market that is ready for a sustainable solution."

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