Spotlight on Business: Tiki Tan Salon

  • Tiki Tan Salon owner Donna Cavalier, right, helps a customer with their skincare line. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • A red light table provides customers a wide range of benefits at Tiki Tan Salon in Kapiko Plaza. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Customers can enjoy a relaxing massage at Tiki Tan Salon in Kopiko Plaza. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Customers can enjoy a quick tanning session at Tiki Tan Salon in Kopiko Plaza. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Private rooms for tanning, red light therapy and massage at Tiki Tan Salon in Kopiko Plaza. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • A line of skincare is on display at Tiki Tan Salon in Kopiko Plaza. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Tiki Tan Salon massage therapist Jade Thomas books an appointment at the Kopiko Plaza location. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Customers are welcomed by a peaceful waterfall and watermellon water in the loby of Tiki Tan Salon in Kopiko Plaza. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Tiki Tan Salon owner Donna Cavalier, right, consults with potential customer Roxy Costa at the Kopiko Plaza location. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Tiki Tan Salon owners Donna Cavalier and Brian Morris at their Kopiko Plaza location. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — A tanning salon in Hawaii? Really?

At first glance, this sounds sort of like selling ice cubes to Eskimos, but apparently, Eskimos need ice cubes, and Kona needs a tanning salon. Donna Cavalier recently opened Tiki Tan Salon at 75-5660 Kopiko St. in Kopiko Plaza in Kona. She was helped by her partner, Brian Morris, who provided a lot of the manpower needed to turn a shell space into a truly beautiful and welcoming environment.

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I recently caught up with Donna to ask her about her experiences opening her business.

Why a tanning salon, and why here?

“There seemed to be a void in Kona that needed to be filled,” Donna said. “Here in Hawaii, everybody works two or maybe even three jobs just to survive. People just don’t have the time to go to the beach as often as they would like, and they live in a locale where even standing under a tree in the shade subjects them to a high level of UVA and UVB rays due to reflected light. Those natural sun rays are at a significantly higher strength than what you get in our tanning beds. Tanning sessions in our tanning beds, with their lower UVA and UVB strengths, are a safe way to go for working people who can only occasionally get to the beach to get a tan. They can build up a tan base that can protect them from the sun’s stronger rays.”

“Our other target customers are wedding parties. People come to Hawaii for a destination wedding and they want to look nice and tanned and healthy for their wedding pictures. The weather may or may not cooperate with that, and with the numerous details a soon-to-be bride needs to handle, she, or her wedding party, may not have set aside enough time to turn pale mainland skin into a Hawaiian glow. The last thing you want is a sunburned bride.”

People go into business for themselves for a range of reasons. What were those reasons for you?

“The main reason is because I wanted to work for myself,” Donna explained. “And I wanted to create a place where people could feel good and where they could relax, with the goal of being at their best from the inside out. I wanted to create a space that provided a true customer service environment, where people could feel coddled and taken care of. Here everything is provided for my customers, from mints and flowers on the pillows to towels. They don’t have to bring anything, I’m here for them.”

The other interesting service Tiki Tan provides is an innovative Red Light Treatment product.

“This is a noninvasive system that reverses aging and sun damage,” Donna said. “It was designed by NASA and was used on the space shuttle to help grow plants. People discovered they just felt better standing around this device, and the uses for it developed from plants to people. It heals skin cells faster than they can be healed naturally, and people not only look better, but just like the astronauts, they feel better after a Red Light Treatment.”

An issue of interest to other would-be entrepreneurs and to the business community generally is the experience of going into business here in paradise with its unique challenges. How did that go for Tiki Tan?

It wasn’t so easy, it turns out.

“It took 14 months total for us to get opened,” Donna said. “The hardest part was that nobody could give us all the permitting information we needed upfront to do things the right way with our tenant finish. We really wanted to follow the proper protocols and rules, but we just couldn’t get the information. It seemed like I got different answers to almost every question I asked. If the Building Department could just come up with a list of requirements it would make life so much easier. As it was it was really a full-time job working with the Building Department, and for a while, I was there every other day to find out about one thing or another.”

But has it been worth it?

“It’s been amazing how many people have told us they truly value and appreciate what we’ve built here and what we have to offer,” she said. “I hear all the time, ‘Thank you so much, we really needed this. Oh my God, I love you!’ Our customers really appreciate having a welcoming place they can stop into for 15 minutes or so every few days to relax, rejuvenate, and improve their appearance.”

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You can’t get much more positive customer feedback than that, and Tiki Tan’s sales since they opened March 14, which have exceeded expectations, demonstrate that. It looks like there’s something new under the sun with Tiki Tan Salon in Kona.

Dennis Boyd is the director of the West Hawaii Small Business Development Center. The SBDC Network is funded in part with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the University of Hawaii at Hilo.