Where the Boys Aren't
"Grow rich in your niche," goes a business saying. These days, much of the spa industry seems to be taking this advice to heart. As our industry matures, the need to differentiate has grown apace, and companies everywhere are searching for unique customer groups to serve. Last year's ISPA survey reported that more than 30 percent of spa visits in the U.S. are being made by men, and about half of those guys became spa converts during a resort stay. Such news gladdens the hearts of savvy spa entrepreneurs, suggesting a bonanza just waiting to be scooped up by an astutely positioned "niche" spa for men.
H20 The Male Spa at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers in Dubai is a just-for-men relaxation destination.
Let's not get too excited about those guys just yet. Men, despite industry ballyhoo, have not flooded the country's spas like prodigal sons, desperate for that long-denied executive facial or much-coveted male manicure. Indeed, spa services for men are more of a sidebar at this point. And the main story is an old one: hair. Most men's spas, such as Gadabout Man in Tucson, AZ, or Gentlemen's Quarters in Denver, are built on a solid salon foundation. Hair provides the entrée, and that's where a spa's marketing really begins.
The Nickel group owns men-only spas in San Francisco
Of the spa services, massage therapy is the most popular choice for men. In the right hands, under the right conditions, the client can then be persuaded to explore other menu offerings, such as skincare and nailcare. When I worked as an esthetician, my male clients were always a pleasure to work with and a pleasant change of pace. They didn't second-guess my recommendations and would follow my advice with refreshing sobriety. They didn't want to fuss with a lot of products, and they stuck with what I gave them. But as much as I enjoyed working with these guys, there weren't that many of them. For one thing, they wouldn't be caught dead referring a buddy to their facialist, and word-of-mouth is the best, most cost-effective way that our companies grow.
New York City
Ten years later, we do have more male clients at Preston Wynne Spa (Saratoga, CA). But for all the chatter about metrosexuals, the increase has been modest. We're in a suburban market—the famously unglamorous Silicon Valley, where every day is casual Friday. Male appearance does not carry the premium it does in sophisticated urban markets. On the weekends, when you are much more likely to see a man in our spa, the odds are good that he's there with his wife or girlfriend. Spa date night is a popular activity for couples.
The Art of Shaving's popular Barber Spas, including this one in Miami, capitalize on the popularity of straight-razor shaves.
Indeed, spas that create men-only enclaves, such as the Nickel group (San Francisco, New York City, and Paris), report that they are turning away business—from women. Women like being gender interlopers. To wit: a woman happily "steals" her boyfriend's shirt, but it's rare that a guy borrows her duds. Thus, a spa that's tailored to men will still have allure for women, while a spa that's not explicitly man-centric will have an uphill battle getting guys to walk through the door. The decorator who insisted on mint-green mosaic tile in our Preston Wynne Spa Hotel Los Gatos (Los Gatos, CA) and matching panne velvet chairs clearly did not grasp what we meant by gender neutral. For most spas I'm currently designing for clients, we err in favor of masculinity. It's not off-putting to women, but it's critical to winning over men.
Popular men's services at Spa Bellagio at the Bellagio in Las Vegas include manicures
Allocation of space in a conventional spa for men can be tricky. In our traditional Saratoga day spa, we offer a private shower and changing room rather than designate the facility for male-only use, which would reduce the utility of our limited space. The spa is just less than 4,000 square feet, smallish by today's mega-spa standards.
Men who like to spa are often accustomed to the privacy and comforts of the club environment, which means costly space-devouring amenities, including steam, sauna, and whirlpool. Men's spa lounges include the ubiquitous flat-screen TV with sports or business programming and sometimes bars or billiards tables. As with other types of spas, social space is becoming a more important expectation within a men's spa. But understanding how much is enough is crucial. There are many overbuilt and underutilized men's spa facilities.
As much as we'd like to expand the amenities for men at our spa, when it comes to allocating our precious square footage, we can't currently make it work. There's always a point when it becomes a chicken-and-egg question, but in our case, we have a second venue that's better suited to the guys, within the same market area, where we can direct the demand. Our Preston Wynne Spa Hotel Los Gatos caters to the Valley's high-tech business travelers as well as social groups, and despite those slinky green velvet chairs, we have more male clients there. Still, men comprise just 20 percent of our clientele. Our locker room is nicely designed for male guests at Hotel Los Gatos, with a dry sauna and steam shower. There's a discreet entrance from our parking area, and the spa is tucked away in the hotel's lower level. The service of choice there for men is overwhelmingly massage therapy.
A number of men's spas are shaving-based, a trend that capitalizes on the retro and real appeal of a traditional straight-razor shave. The Art of Shaving, perhaps best known for its Barber Spas, has several locations around the country and more than 20 dedicated shops selling its retail line. It's instructive that even a large company with a core competency in shaving is using barber spas primarily to build the retail brand. One of the challenges of this concept is the fact that shaving is a rare skill among barbers today, and a bad shave with a straight razor is substantially worse than a bad manicure or a lousy massage. This is a finesse service whose great practitioners are a dying breed. Adding shaving services onto a men's spa menu without a great deal of forethought and a good supply of highly skilled personnel is a recipe for a customer service disaster. Shaving, when performed skillfully, is an outstanding entrée into a good skincare conversation and both a retail and service upsell.
As we know, massage, the top non-hair pick, is not a powerful retail platform. Migrating the male guest from the familiar comfort of hair or massage services into the esthetics room or pedicure chair is a constant marketing challenge. Wives and girlfriends exert far more influence than we do. So not only is it hard to expand our share of the gentleman's service dollar, the retail opportunities are more limited as well. It's not surprising to me that most of the products sold for men in our spa are purchased by women—women who want their husbands to stop stealing their products.
The current profusion of men's skincare lines would certainly suggest that men are consuming more products. Men's skincare sells best in markets like Los Angeles, New York City, and Miami, where appearance is at a premium. Specialized products are important for shaving-related skincare issues. Beyond shaving issues, most of the guys having facial treatments in our spa are willing to use whatever their esthetician recommends—once they've had a facial treatment, most seem to be past worrying what the container looks like or if the product name sounds manly. Men-only lines make a bigger impact in the retail store environment, where men are shopping independently—and publicly. But survey the gender of the folks at the cash and wrap, and you'll see lots of women buying for their notably absent guys. They may be his products, but he's still not quite able to hunt and gather them on his own. That stems from both disinterest (the mate has frequently taken on this mission of her own accord) and self-consciousness. Having privacy for the in-spa retail checkout is a tremendous boon; in our spa designs, we're creating checkout lounges whenever space allows.
Yet another challenge of operating a men's spa is understanding male appointment behavior. Rescheduling any customer has become substantially more difficult in a culture that is increasingly non-committal, but male clients appear to be particularly reluctant to book ahead. "I have clients who visit the spa at the same time each week, but they won't commit to that time in advance," observed one men's spa owner who appeals to a sophisticated, fast-paced urban market and has a massage-driven menu. Frustrated, he conducted an informal experiment to see just what it would take to get guys to reschedule.
He decided to see if he could increase future bookings by offering a 50 percent discount when a guest rescheduled before leaving. Mind you, this was purely to see what it would take to overcome rescheduling reluctance—it was not intended to be an ongoing promotion. The result was no takers. Startled by this finding, he upped the ante. The next day, he offered men a chance to receive a free treatment if they rescheduled after their appointment. The result? The promotion was a bust. His satisfied, repeat customers left without committing, even though it meant paying full price for their next treatment when they could have had it for free. His story sounded eerily familiar. Perhaps we spa marketers need to take a page from The Rules: Time Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right (Warner Books, 1995), the infamous man-trapping manual. Maybe spas will succeed in the men's market by playing hard to get.—Peggy Wynne Borgman
Peggy Wynne Borgman is the CEO of Wynne Business and the director of two Preston Wynne spas. Borgman is a principal consultant and seminar leader for Wynne Business and author of Four Seasons of Inner and Outer Beauty: Spa Rituals for Well-Being Throughout the Year (Broadway Books, 2003). She is also a member of the Day Spa Association's advisory board. You can reach her at email@example.com.