A Suntan Can Be a Fun Tan with This New Way to Change Your Oil

updated 05/29/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/29/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Tired of doing a slow burn because your bottle of suntan lotion is caked with last year's sand? Are there parts of your body that you cannot reach to daub on your No. 15? Do you simply no longer have the solar energy to smear the stuff on? Well, lighten up, sun worshipers, there's relief in sight this summer. Memphis businessman Charles C. King III has come up with a simple vending machine, a first cousin to the car wash, that could transform the boardwalks of America. At King's kiosk-shaped Sun Centers, for just 50 cents, you can spray yourself with a mist of sunscreen lotion or oil.

King, 43, came up with the idea in 1985. Watching his wife, Barbara, also 43, pack up half-empty, sandy bottles of suntan oil at the end of a family vacation in Florida, he decided there must be a less messy and more economical way to oil up. "I got to thinking there should be something out there on the beach," says King. "Something for which you could give the kids 50 cents and say, 'Go use the machine.' "

A onetime Dumpster salesman and former job placement counselor, King lacked the technical know-how to design such a machine, so he hired mechanical engineer Dr. Ray Brown. It took four years of development, a $2 million investment and extensive test marketing, but now some 350 straw-roofed Sun Centers have sprouted up in places like Daytona Beach, Galveston and Palm Springs. Public response has been enthusiastic. "People love using the wand," says Barbara King. "Children are just hysterical putting the oil on themselves."

The machine is, in fact, easy enough for a child to operate. Using a hand-held nozzle, a sunbather gets 40 seconds to apply three-fifths of an ounce of suntan oil or lotion. There are three selections to choose from, plus a pick of three sunscreen protection factors—4, 8 and 15. King claims his device covers hard-to-reach places and allows for a more even application, making for a smoother tan.

King boldly predicts he will do $5 million in business this year and hopes to at least double that figure next year. Talk about a magic wand!

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