ALTHOUGH stunning suits go a long way toward creating a good first impression, savvy businessmen know that it is topnotch grooming—and not just the clothes—that make the man. This was the case for Chicago stockbrokers Tony Montemurro and Greg Savarese, who, while repeatedly traveling on business two or more days a week, enjoyed visiting spas and salons that offered treatments for men in a masculine atmosphere. Although they found male-friendly venues scattered throughout the country, none seemed to meet their needs back home. Starting as a "what-if" conversation and a rough sketch on a napkin in September 2004, the idea for the 316 Club Barber Spa slowly took shape over the next year and a half while the two began to seek out sources of capital, as well as information about the industry itself. "Our goal was to create an environment that was extremely comfortable for men to visit and be given high-end grooming services," says Montemurro. "That was one of the things we really tried to achieve—to be unintimidating and to offer some of the finest services available." Montemurro and Savarese knew they wanted to create a guys club of sorts, where men could hang out before and after receiving services. At the same time, they knew that a lot of businessmen were too busy to spend several hours there, so one of the main concerns was keeping all treatments to less than an hour. For maximum client convenience, the owners chose a location with a large population of male professionals in the financial area of Chicago's Loop, a few blocks from both the Sears Tower and the Chicago Board of Trade.
"We used Tony as our model client," says Savarese. "He's forty-ish, married with kids, a coach, a family guy, and a professional who's constantly juggling responsibilities. That's the guy we want to give a little luxury for the day, so he can say, 'This forty-five minutes is my time.'"
With leather chairs, a fireplace, and a pool table, the entrance to the 316 Club Barber Spa is both masculine and inviting.
With a location and business plan in the works, the owners began searching for a name. Although the club is located in a back corner of the Insurance Exchange Building at 175 West Jackson Boulevard, Montemurro and Savarese noticed on the lease that the suite it occupies was originally called 316 South Financial Place when, decades ago, each side of the building had its own separate address. Because of this, the number 316 was thrown into contention, along with hundreds of other names. In keeping with the players-club ambience, its name was decided by a stroke of gambling luck. "We bet three-one-six at Arlington Park racetrack one day, and it came in as a trifecta," Savarese says. "The amount we won probably didn't even cover the rounds of drinks we bought, but the number three-sixteen was a little good luck charm, I guess."
Opened in March 2006, the club pays homage to the golden age of Las Vegas. "When we thought about a place for guys, old Vegas felt to us like an era that belonged to men," says Montemurro. Clients are greeted by an open reception area that looks like a modern update of a place the Rat Pack may have hung out. A group of sturdy brown leather chairs sits before a fireplace, a barside pool table is available for clients to play a game or two while waiting for their appointments, and a Vegas-style odds board and flat-screen TVs cater to guests who prefer to watch (or wager on) other sports.
A full-service bar serves complimentary beverages.
The welcoming area is completed by a retail display of grooming products and fine leather accessories, as well as a leather-care specialist who offers shoeshines. Although retail has not been a booming part of business yet, the owners feel that it will have a "lag effect," eventually becoming popular with regular customers. One early customer commented that although he may not necessarily buy one of the leather briefcases or wallets the 316 Club offers, he likes that they are available. "We definitely tried to focus on details," says Montemurro. "People like to see special touches that they don't expect."
The attention to detail continues in the salon, which was designed for maximum client comfort. Rather than settling for traditional styling chairs, Montemurro and Savarese scoured interior design stores throughout the Windy City looking for comfortable armchairs instead. The stylists now cut hair while perched on swiveling stools, adjusting their own height rather than the height of their clients. The armchairs also offer a more relaxing way to experience manicures, which are available during haircuts for guys on the go. Although some employees were unsure how the armchairs would work, the subtle detail has been a hit with the club's stylists and customers.
Leather armchairs replace traditional styling chairs in the salon.
Tucked away from the salon, the treatment area includes three private spa "cabanas," each complete with a flat-screen TV. Designed in part by lead esthetician Diana Dawson, one room contains a bed and equipment for facials; another has a brown leather pedicure chair for more private nail services; and another is home to the club's barber chair and shaving station. With an understated decor that features a mix of tropical plants, artwork starring '40s pinup girls, and tastefully framed sports memorabilia, the spa cabanas evoke a sense of retro Vegas without being over the top.
While walk-ins are welcome, all guests are offered the opportunity to purchase an annual membership for $650. Members receive unlimited massaging shampoos, haircuts and neck trims, hairstyling, hot towel treatments, mini-manicures, shoeshines, and beverages for one year. The spa currently offers water, juice, sodas, and coffee, but the owners hope to have a liquor license by fall. Members also receive a 10 percent discount on all other services, products, and merchandise. The club has enrolled almost 200 members since opening, and the owners plan to cap membership at 1,500.
The retail area offers men's leather accessories in addition to grooming products.
For most customers, the hair services and shoeshines are the big draw. However, after trying the spa services, they often become hooked. One of the most popular treatments is the Bellagio Facial ($75, 45 minutes), a deep-cleansing facial that includes exfoliation, a treatment mask, extractions, an SPF moisturizer, and a scalp, arm, shoulder, and neck massage. Another bestseller is the Ultimate Shave ($50, 45 minutes), which includes a pre-shave oil, a shave performed by master barber Carmelo Prieti, and an after-shave balm and mask.
Although middle-aged executives were the original model customers and still comprise a large percentage of the clientele, the club's open and inviting atmosphere has won clients from a variety of demographics. The club has also begun hosting more tourists and business travelers, often referred from nearby hotels such as the W and Four Seasons.
Three spa cabanas offer (clockwise from here) facials, pedicures, and shaves.
With a steady growth of new clients and memberships, the young business seems to be doing well, according to the owners. Future plans include expanded service offerings, a line of private label products, a "Search for the 316 Man" contest, and eventually more Chicago locations. But for now, the owners are keeping the focus on stellar service and attention to detail.
"Old Vegas was nice, but it was also really service driven," says Montemurro. "At the 316 Club, we try to offer what we call Nordstrom or Four Seasons service. It's all about the customers; we are constantly trying to make their experience here better."