[Insight] Male Spas Go Mainstream
The number of male spa-goers has exploded in the past 12 years, creating a niche but thriving industry.
The space is dark. The lights are dark, the wood flooring is dark, and the leather chairs are dark. Keep walking and you’ll find a bar serving complimentary wine. Jazz is playing. Scattered around are succulents and candles, neutral in both scent and appearance. In the next room is a desk where a man with headphones is receiving a manicure, and a row of plush chairs with sinks at the foot of each. Because this isn’t your garden-variety man cave. It’s a spa—for men.
Living Fresh Men’s Spa in New York, specifically. It is just one of the several men’s-specific spas that have popped up across the country, mostly in big cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Miami, but also in Columbus, Ohio, and Minneapolis. This is not a contained phenomenon. The spa industry is growing—it’s worth $16.8 billion today, compared to only $4.2 billion just over a decade ago—which means the spas-for-men industry is growing, and everyone wants to dip their pedicured toes into the business.
The International SPA Association, or ISPA, has been tracking the industry in partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers for over a decade. In 2005, it found that only 29 percent of spa-goers were male. Today that figure has rocketed to 49 percent, thanks in large part to changing attitudes men have toward grooming.
This is a new phenomenon. A 2013 ISPA survey listed the following reasons men didn’t go to spas: 11 percent said it’s “too indulgent,” 14 percent said because “none of my friends go,” 17 percent said they were embarrassed to go, and 19 percent said “spas are for women.” “[Guys] have that masculinity hangup, and that's something that helps us exist,” says Jose Girona, Living Fresh’s general manager. The male spa business is built on these concerns, worries, and anxieties.
Apparently, men need safe spaces in the year of our lord 2017—at least when it comes to spas. The idea for Hammer & Nails came to its founder, Michael Elliot, when he walked into a salon and felt everyone staring at him. He was struck, he says, by “this notion that if I open the door to a nail salon, I gotta be gay because I’m getting a manicure or a pedicure.”
It gets back to that stat: 19 percent of men believe spas are for women. Imagine converting that group: the guys who are too embarrassed to show up, plus the ones who are still on the buddy system, plus the ones who just need a little extra attention, or maybe a Groupon. Suddenly you have a pretty sizable audience. The owners of traditional spas I spoke to noticed more and more guys coming in. Giving them their own spot was a natural next step. So these joints do the obvious: slap the word “men” on the name, serve complimentary Macallan, and swap out the magazines in the waiting room.
The coddling starts before men even make an appointment—except it’s very proudly non-coddly. The Shays Lounge Men’s Spa in Los Angeles has torched “any girlie sh*t.” “We’ve built a man cave,” reads the site for Hammer & Nails. And those efforts are ramped up when a dude actually makes it into the spa.
In the experience of the several men’s spa owners I spoke with, getting men comfortable enough to just come in is the biggest hurdle, so there’s a lot of thought that goes into making spas men-friendly without making them corny—you can easily imagine neon beer signs on the wall and posters borrowed from a high school boy’s room. The magazines, products and scents, and relaxing beverages are manly but understated. A partition, like the curtain at Living Fresh, is critical, closing off the space where men get their backs waxed, hands manicured, and feet pampered. Places like The Shays Lounge are designed with discretion in mind. “There's lots of little dark nooks,” says The Shays Lounge founder Jodi Shays, ”where they can sit and pour themselves a bourbon or read a magazine.” Your body is a temple, the male spa says, but also here’s a glass of liquid poison.
Hammer & Nails’ Elliot insists on breathing room between chairs so guys don’t have to expose their feet within eyeshot of another man. A customer on Yelp refers to this as ”the unwritten rule of ‘man-space.’” Jim Price, who runs Well Groomed Male Spa in Columbus, Ohio, goes one step further: He’ll greet a customer and then give him his massage, hair cut, manicure, wax, facial, whatever. He does every treatment one-on-one. While this may limit the amount of customers Price gets to see, he’s worried doing it any other way would stall out his customer base. “I don’t want to get to that point where men are still uncomfortable to come through the door,” he says.
A lot of these spas recognized that men probably wouldn’t just waltz into a room of—gasp—women. Shays says part of the appeal of her spa is that “[men] have this area where they're not going into this gaggle of giggling women, who are going to make fun of me,” she says. Before her men’s room, Shays says guys most frequently requested the very first or the very last appointment of the day.
Beyond the decor elements, there are also subtle shifts in treatment. The most popular regimens, besides waxing, are Thai and sports massage--like a friggin’ ripped athlete might get—and businesses like Hammer & Nails position their messaging around “health and wellness” rather than the more effeminate “pampering.” For men it’s “not as much the pampering or the time out,” says Lynne McNees, the president of ISPA. “It's more about, I want to be better, I want to make something better, I want results, I want to improve something, and really being able to see a difference.”
Paul Johnson, a 47-year-old senior specialist acquisitions analyst with AT&T and a retired U.S. Air Force member, has gone to Hammer & Nails for almost a year. The health message clicks for him. Johnson first started getting pedicures to take care of his feet while working in Afghanistan. After moving back to Los Angeles, Johnson says finding Hammer & Nails was a revelation after trying traditional salons. “I felt awkward and really weird about going, ’cause there wasn't that many guys,” he says, adding that he sometimes felt labeled as a “metrosexual.” Johnson felt like he was an afterthought at these other spas, but not at Hammer & Nails. “The comfortable chairs, the decor, everything about it really says this is our thing.” Men’s spas are required to put together the whole experience; a fantasy almost. “It feels like a speakeasy,” Johnson says.
At this point, the only guys who are resistant to spas are the guys who haven’t been to just-for-men spas yet. Elliot says 35 percent of his business still comes from women buying men treatments or gift cards, but he finds that most are converted instantly to repeat customers. He also says he gets a lot of first-timers who have never gotten a manicure or pedicure before. “When I first started doing my market research, it didn't take a rocket scientist to know there were far more men that had never had a pedicure than men that had,” says Elliot. Shays estimates The Shays Lounge sees eight new male customers daily. Price says his business is so popular he’s fully booked two weeks out. Meanwhile, Hammer & Nails is pedicuring its way to global domination. Revenues have grown 20 percent year-over-year at the Los Angeles location (which made $350,000 doing only $23-and-up manis and $33-and-up pedis last year). Elliot expects to have six locations open by the end of this year, and over 200 by 2022. Lots of guys are going to spas now.
I cannot count myself among those men, because I got a pedicure, just once, a couple years ago. But that was at a spa-spa; what I needed was something charged with 100 volts of testosterone. So I went to Living Fresh in New York City.
I settled into the plush leather seat with a heavy pour of red wine. Netflix’s new moody-man drama Ozark played on silent while Solange, Bon Iver, and jazz played over the speakers. My technician, who told me she also works at a traditional nail salon near Grand Central Station, says she much prefers the men’s spa. For both practical reasons— “No polish!” she said—but also because the environment is much more relaxed. That part surprised me. After all this talk about how men don’t want or need to be pampered, here I was, getting a pedicure for two or three times as long as it takes for my technician to do a woman’s nails. No part of the experience made me feel like a man, necessarily, but I was overwhelmed by guilt that someone should be forced to flay off my calluses, even if it is for money. ($70 including tip, for mine.)
As I gathered my things to leave, the place was practically bustling. Nearby (but not too nearby), there was a man much older than me in a red button-up short-sleeve shirt and khakis downing complimentary candies. There was a man much cooler than me in Nike shorts and shoes and an Adidas sleeveless hoodie. There was a man presumably much wealthier than me carrying a fine leather bag. My chair was promptly filled by the next appointment while others waited in the lobby, behind the partition. Maybe these guys had hangups about going to a traditional spa. Maybe this place was just close to their office. Either way, here they were in a space where every single product, chair, song, treatment, candle, plant, and neon blue shower light was hand-selected with them in mind. These were men, in their man spa. They seemed happy.
via PSFK http://www.psfk.com/
August 31, 2017 at 06:05AM