Actions Speak Louder than Words

Young salon owner brings political experience, new perspective to ASA board

With nine tanning business locations, a distribution company and more than 100 employees depending on him at the age of 30, Zach Neugebauer has a lot riding on the future of indoor tanning.

So, rather than sitting pat, focusing solely on his business and hoping for the best for the industry, Zach has taken an active role in helping sustain the best possible position for indoor tanning now and decades down the road. He’s been involved in industry politics for basically his entire adult life, and now he’s moving into a key role in fighting for his business and yours as the newest Board Member of the American Suntanning Association.

Zach understands that no matter how well he operates his business, broader issues need to be confronted for the industry to sustain success for decades to come. He also understands that the fight is about much more than business owners like him. Thousands of tanning business employees have lost their jobs since the tan tax went into effect in 2010, and Zach knows he’s fighting for the livelihood of his more than 100 employees and tens of thousands like them around the country.

“My greatest joy, honestly, has been the pride of owning a small business and working with your employees. I have several that have been with for over 15 years. They started as part time and made a career working in our company, making good money, supporting families, and I know their children and spouses, and I’m so proud of those relationships,” Zach says.

“When we go fight every year, that’s part of our message. We’re creating good paying jobs and have good people working, and they depend on us. Every time you create more regulation, it eliminates jobs and you’re eliminating people contributing to society and paying taxes. Not only do I think about them, I update our employees via email. I have employees sending emails back saying ‘Go get ‘em!’ It makes me feel good seeing them supporting our industry, and they’re very happy we’re wiling to fight for our industry and company.”

Actions always speak louder than words, and the message he’s sending to his staff and the industry is clear: There is undoubtedly a future in the indoor tanning industry, but we’ll all be better off if we do our parts to help remove barriers, change the narrative and make our businesses as prosperous as possible. Zach knows where he wants to be years from now, and he’s doing everything he can to make that possible: “I’m 30 years old and would love to see the business be around for 40 more years.”

Wise Beyond His Years

Along with the management of his chain, Zach has made politics a part of his mission for many years. He’s a former Indoor Tanning Association (ITA) board member and has now become the newest board member for the ASA, where he will contribute greatly toward the industry’s state and federal lobbying efforts. Despite his age, Zach has plenty of plenty of practical political relations experience that began when he was just 19 years old.

“I’ve had a tremendous experience and feel very honored to be a part of the industry’s association. Networking with a lot of very smart, successful people, has generated new ideas, vision and sense of energy,” Zach says. “I want to be involved with guiding our industry’s future, to help fight state and federal battles, and work closely with other board members that are successful and have great companies.”

Zach learned the importance of politics from his Dad, the founder of Year Round Brown, who has been involved with state politics for more than 25 years. Since he got involved in the business more than a decade ago, Zach has been attending state hearings to protest proposed under-18 tanning bans and other legislation that would negatively impact tanning businesses in the state. While many states have seen under-18 bans enacted in recent years, Zach and his fellow South Dakota salon owners have been successful in preventing it.

“I’ve testified at the state capital for a long time,” Zach says. “The state legislature said once, ‘We heard your story and learned about your business. That’s why we voted against legislation.’ They told me to keep fighting, because the issue is not going away. Regulation attempts are going to keep coming back, so get involved and stay involved.”

After understanding the importance of sharing his story, Zach moved more to the proactive side of industry activism. He’s developed important relationships with politicians that have a far greater impact than simply testifying at hearings when the time comes around. As he’s noted, the fight isn’t going away, so those relationships will continue to be beneficial for years to come.

“Over the past few years, my efforts evolved to getting involved in political campaigns, cohosting events and volunteering. This process has accomplished a lot for my business by getting us involved in the process and creating relationships with the people that make decisions,” Zach says.

“I don’t have to advocate my business anymore because they know who I am and what I’m about. They know we’re upstanding business people. As time goes on, I’m advocating less and just staying involved. South Dakota is an unregulated state, and it’s no accident because people like us have gotten involved and stayed committed to the process.”

New-Age Perspective

The ASA is constantly searching for more industry involvement, whether it’s membership, sitting with the board to make important decisions, or something as simple as sending emails and making calls to politicians. After working with Zach in state battles, ASA knew they wanted him involved at a higher level. Adding Zach to the ASA board is a major win for the ASA and the industry.

“Zach is one of the brightest young minds in our industry, and he certainly brings some diversity of thought to the table, both from the standpoint of bringing new ideas from his generation and representing a small business in the heart of the country,” says ASA President Melinda Norton. “We need to impact as many politicians representing different areas as we can, and we need them to see the type of driven, caring people we have in this industry.”

Zach’s role as an ASA board member is unique for several reasons, starting most obviously with his age. The size of his business is also a notable difference. Year Round Brown is a successful, nine-location business, but that pales in comparison to the size and scope of some of the industry’s largest franchise organizations. While some independent salon owners have voiced their concern over the ASA board being comprised mostly of some of the industry’s largest chains and franchises, Zach has seen first-hand that everyone on the ASA board is committed to reaching goals that will benefit everyone from 100-plus location businesses to single-location independents.

“I was really impressed by the way everybody puts their individual business hats aside. Nobody represents their own special interests,” Zach says. “Everybody’s doing their best to help the industry. We have to do what’s best for the greater good if we’re going to win this fight. Everybody has to be selfless, and that’s what I saw at ASA meetings and that’s what I want to be a part of.”

Zach’s age and personal skillset also lend themselves well to his position on the ASA board. Not only is he well versed in politics, but he’s also a skilled businessman with multiple companies. That’s why he hopes to bring more than his political savvy and connections to the table.

“First, I’m younger. Also, I have a huge passion for marketing. I have a digital billboard company. I would love to continue to help the ASA market what they’re doing to salons around the country, because every salon business needs to appreciate what ASA is doing for the industry,” Zach says.

“I can help bring a younger marketing perspective. A lot of consumers and owners are the same demographic. I want to share my experience with being successful with state battles. We don’t have a ton of resources to fund state battles, so the best way we can continue to win is with the support of salon advocates. If somebody wants to be an advocate, I’d love to help them. I’ve been doing this for 11 years.  Then there’s the size of my salon operation: I have nine stores, and I’m relatable to the average salon owner who has one to a handful of stores. That’s typically what our industry is – a smaller, independent mom and pop industry – so I can advocate that perspective in the board room.”

As someone who relates to the younger generations, Zach also has an interesting take on how younger consumers will view the industry in the future and how to better connect with them moving forward. He can see the differences between millennials and their parents, and believes that he can help the industry better communicate with the younger demographic in the proper venues.

“I think the future is bright. The current administration is friendly to our industry and business in general. I think the millennials might be the best thing for us,” Zach says. “Millennials eat healthy, question GMO, question junk science and government. That self-educating quality of the millennial is tremendous for an industry like ours. Chances are, they’re going to form their own opinions, like sunlight isn’t just bad for us – bunking conventional wisdom. I’m optimistic the next generation is going to be very influential on where our industry goes.

Work to Do

The ASA’s goals and areas of focus have been widely discussed around the industry, and you’re probably familiar with the main issues.

Of course, there’s the tan tax. The ASA has been battling the onerous tax since the organization’s inception in 2012. After the tan tax repeal came very close to passing several times, ASA staff and consultant’s have continued to fight tirelessly to get the repeal into other pieces of legislation.

State and federal regulations are also critical to the industry’s sustained health. We’ve experienced the attacks coming from Obama’s anti-business administration where industries like ours were targeted with unfair and unjustified regulations. We have a strong presence in Washington and in the states today thanks to ASA’s team of staff members, volunteers and consultants. We will not get caught off guard again.

Then, there’s the battle with public opinion, the front lines of which is being fought in Nebraska courtrooms. The impact of success in that lawsuit, and the continued fight to change negative opinions about tanning are the most important fight in Zach’s mind.

All Hands on Deck

Zach certainly provides an important presence to the ASA board on multiple levels, but that doesn’t lessen the need for more of the industry to get involved to whatever degree they can. Zach’s personal experience lobbying at the state level provided him some valuable perspective on the importance of strength in numbers.

“I’ll never forget, four years ago I was fighting a state battle and testified in the house committee hearing. The bill passed committee and went to the floor. Someone came up to me and said ‘Hey, I appreciate you testifying, but one of the problems is you’re the only salon owner showing up. If it’s such a big problem, why aren’t more salons here? I worked to get more people involved, and when we had 10 to 15 salons testifying, we would win,” Zach says.

“If you cant give money, give time. I think time is more valuable than money. If you can’t contribute money, you have to go to the capital, volunteer, advocate for our industry and help politicians at least know you and your story. You can’t expect the big guys to win every battle. The state legislature cares about small business owners and first time business owners and people signing leases. They want to show growth in your area and hear form the small business owner. We need to band together and have strength in numbers. Think about if you have money or time to give or both. But you have to contribute somehow.”

Now or Never

Zach’s motivation to increase his industry involvement today stems from is view that the industry has reached a turning point. We now have a federal administration that’s favorable to our cause, new, more open-minded consumers will continue to flood the market, and some big political wins appear to be on the horizon. For Zach, it’s now or never.

“If there was ever a time for people to get involved with the ASA, it’s now,” he says. “I recommend you do some research, learn more and really strongly consider contributing and giving time and resources to the ASA, We have the best opportunity to make some headway right now, with this business-friendly administration, and the more people that jump in the better chance we have. I really encourage everyone to do some research, and if they are impressed, to get involved, because right now is our window of opportunity.”

For more information about how you can get involved with the ASA’s efforts to protect and push the industry forward, email dalep@americansuntanning.org, or call 855-879-7678.