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Spray Tanning Takeover: Sunless Acquires Competitor Norvell

The combined entity will be largest force in the American spray-tanning and self-tanner segment.

Sunless Inc. has acquired Norvell Skin Solutions to create the largest force in the American spray-tanning and self-tanner segment.

The deal unites the Macedonia, Ohio-based company that holds approximately 80 percent share of the U.S. automated spray tan booth business with its Alexandria, Tenn.-based competitor responsible for 80 percent of the professionally applied handheld spray tan services in this country, according to Sunless chief executive officer Peter van Niekerk, who declined to disclose terms. The joint enterprise accounted for close to 15 million tans last year.

“Combined, we have the talent, technology, ambition and resources to take the sunless business — both self-tanners and spray tanning — mainstream,” said van Niekerk. “Sunless is now a powerhouse that can really drive tanning in the beauty industry on the back of very powerful brands. It’s been second-tier in the beauty industry and not quite mainstream yet.”

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The brands are Sunless’ spray-tanning stalwarts Mystic Tan and VerspaSpa, and Norvell’s namesake handheld spray-tanning specialty and self-tanner line Dancing with the Stars. The spray-tanning brands have widespread penetration in spas and salons, which van Niekerk noted are increasingly adding spray tanning to diversify their offerings, while Dancing with the Stars gives Sunless the ability to increase its visibility at retail and on television shopping networks.

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“These four brands allow us to run a multichannel strategy with professional, retail and television selling,” he said. “We will have many arrows in the quiver to be able to choose what products are right for each channel and retailer.”

Van Niekerk singled out self-tanners as having enormous potential for Sunless. He estimated the products account for around 20 percent the post-acquisition company’s revenues. VerspaSpa and Mystic Tan feature self-tanning lines with prestige positioning. Dancing with the Stars extends Sunless’ self-tanning reach into the mass market.

“Going forward, that is the segment where we will see by far the fastest growth. Our plan is for the self-tanning business to grow by a factor of two or three over the next two to three years,” said van Niekerk. Talking about Dancing with the Stars, he continued, “People are used to seeing the attractive bronzed looks of different dancers. What once had been a niche application is becoming common as people see their role models do it everyday.”

Sunless is evaluating exactly how it will incorporate Norvell. Established in 1983, Norvell has been owned and operated by members of the Norvell family up until this point. In 2011, private equity firm Riverside Company purchased Sunless, two years after a merger between VersaSpa and Mystic Tan formed the company. Riverside brought in van Niekerk in 2014 to strengthen Sunless’ operations.

Having just finalized the acquisition, van Niekerk said, “We haven’t had the opportunity to really delve into what is the best way to put these two companies together. What we are going to do is have a period of assessment and come up with the best options for integration.”

The deal between Sunless and Norvell comes as consumers are reconsidering UV tanning and prolonged sun exposure. As they search for tanning alternatives, Sunless is confident it can lift sales with its varied suite of products. Already, van Niekerk mentioned it is advancing annually at a rate roughly on par with the sunless-tanning sector that’s been rising 5 to 10 percent during the past several years.

“We have a feeling that there’s a real tipping point. Hollywood has been a huge user of sunless, and it has been growing in the general population, but it hasn’t become high-profile,” said van Niekerk. “There is a breakthrough happening because of the slow and steady build, and because there is a whole slew of Millennials coming through with a very different paradigm of tanning. Unlike older people, many of them haven’t been lying in the sun. Self-tanning is their default option.”