A Man’s World
A google search of “men’s spa services” quickly returns results numbering more than six million, and, according to an ISPA survey, 45 percent of spas offer packages tailored to men. In response to a growing target audience segment, services and products tailored to men are on the increase. Additionally, the U.S. has seen a number of spas specifically built for the men’s market, so we spoke with some owners and operators in this special niche to see how business is faring.
Fifteen years ago, men comprised 5 to 10 percent of spa clientele, but today that number has climbed as high as 30 percent in some markets, and even higher outside of the U.S. Because men differ from women, it can be difficult to create their ideal spa experience in a facility that also caters to women. As a place where guests are likely to be sitting in a bathrobe and focusing on personal care issues, spas are not ideal environments for mixing genders. For many years, men went to barbershops and women to the local salon for their regular haircare needs until the ‘60s and ‘70s when men began to let their hair grow, and it became acceptable for men to patronize a salon. In the U.S., spas began as expansions of hair salons, but while there have been upscale men’s salons since the ‘80s, those are very different than the men’s spas of today.
Many resort and day spas have created dedicated areas for male clientele, not only locker rooms but also lounges where men do not encounter female guests. A small number of pioneers have taken the plunge and opened male-only spa salons. Among the first were Gentleman’s Quarters (Denver) and Nickel, currently with three locations in New York City, Paris, and London, which both debuted in 1996. The Grooming Lounge opened its first location in Washington D.C. in 2002, while 2006 saw the introduction of a second location in McLean, VA, and the opening of both Truman’s Gentleman’s Groomers in midtown Manhattan and SIR Spa in Chicago. Because these men’s retreats are still in the minority when compared to the number of day spas in the U.S.—currently estimated to be more than 16,000—this is by no means a slam dunk as a business proposition. Any customer service endeavor presents operational challenges, especially in the last few years, and spa services are certainly not a requisite for either sex. Grooming, though, especially for men in the business world, is as important today as ever, maybe even more so. “In one way, the down economy has helped us,” says Truman’s founder John Esposito. “We emphasize that looking good provides a competitive advantage, and in this tight job market, you need every advantage you can get. We have seen a spike in our haircolor business as older men are working later in life and competing with younger men for jobs.” This lends credence to the theory that, when targeting men, offering hair services is a requirement, and all of the spas we spoke with feature full-service salons.
The emphasis on hair varies by location. “Most of our clients come in for massages, so we have experienced some challenges with building interest in skin and nail services,” says Zack Kovac, operations manager at SIR Spa. Charles Hall, vice president of sales and marketing for Hommage Atelier, which just opened a new branch in Manhattan, says, “We have created a very luxurious and masculine space with a private club ambience, which attracts men who enjoy both the barbering and spa services but also the social aspect.” To appeal to those clients, the spa features a lounge, a signature single-malt scotch selection, TV screens embedded in all of the mirrors, and slippers and a hot towel ritual in the lounge to welcome each guest. “Every detail of the Atelier and service concept was tested with focus groups before we opened. Everything was chosen specifically for a male sensibility,” he adds.
While extra amenities are enticing to guests, effective services are what keep them coming back for more, according to many of our experts. “What really works is having more steak than sizzle,” says Michael Gilman, founder of The Grooming Lounge. “If the guests aren’t getting great technical and customer service, the business model doesn’t work.” Esposito agrees. “You can’t dress up a barbershop with some flat-screen televisions and beautiful women and think you have a lasting business model,” he says. “The service level needs to match expectations.”
Therefore, as with any customer service business, the staff plays a central role. All of the operators with whom we spoke remarked that their recruiting and hiring procedures did not differ from those of a unisex-oriented business. But perhaps this focus on a specific niche market allows a heightened emphasis on the importance of high-quality customer service in all aspects of the operation. Hall says he pays particular attention to seeking the best possible person in each category of service, from estheticians and hairstylists to master barbers, attendants, and a guest experience director. “There is a certain mindset for professionals who will work well in a male-only environment,” adds Gilman. “It’s quite different from the sometimes gossipy nature of some women’s salons and spas. The staff needs to exude a certain confidence.”
The advantages of operating a men’s spa seem to far outweigh the obvious disadvantage of having a smaller number of clients to attract. “Many male guests feel more comfortable in a spa atmosphere that is clearly focused on men, and we attract many clients who are interested in this type of environment,” says Ashley Semerenko, guest services manager at SIR Spa. Esposito says the advantage is the ability to have “a maniacal focus on providing the best in men’s services, so everything we do goes in that single direction. We are not trying to be all things to all people.” When it comes to materials, Gilman reports his spa needs fewer haircolor options and zero round brushes. Plus, the spa has much less dryer noise.
Michael Bruggeman, CEO of Organic Male OM4, advises that when developing a male-oriented marketing plan, men are not as focused on things that may interest women, like product ingredients or brand names. They are interested in results, ease of use, and multipurpose products and services. Even if you offer men’s services in a unisex spa, the men’s menu should be separate and written differently. “Use male-oriented language, such as ‘protect, defend, plan, tools, speed, direct, and solution,’” he says. “Men will also be attracted to concepts such as sports, competition, fitness, health, nutrition, gadgets, and equipment, and spa services for men should offer condensed application times and treatment lengths. Also consider the differences in generational buying patterns. Mature men will want basic, conservative, no-frills services, while millennials prefer an orientation toward socially responsible and eco-conscious business practices.”
The experts agree purpose-built men’s facilities are here to stay. As Esposito says, “I am sure many people thought men’s spas would just be a fad, but we are now open five years and are looking to expand.” The secret to success? Male-specific spas require an intense focus on details and a true sense of mission. “To be successful, you need to be authentic,” says Gilman. “Having a women’s spa with two barber chairs in the corner does not work. While we tend not to be as smart as women, guys are pretty sharp and will see right through that. We want authenticity.”