The Macho Salon

More businessmen want to pamper themselves, and male-only salons are meeting this growing need.

When Ray Millers, president of Better Food Development Corp. in Aurora, Colo., needs a haircut, the last place he wants to go is one of those trendy hair salons that cater to women. "I feel silly wearing a pink smock surrounded by a bunch of ladies who just want to gossip," he says. Millers is hardly unique. With the demise of neighborhood barbershops, men have had few choices when it comes to their personal grooming. They could grin and bear it at a woman's salon, spend 10 bucks and hope for the best at a quick-cut franchise, or take their chances with their wives and a pair of scissors. For men such as Millers who care about their appearance, there simply has been no place that provides quality service and a comfortable environment. Until recently, that is. There's a quiet revolution underway in the men's personal-care market with entrepreneurs realizing that guys -- as much as they hate to admit it -- need pampering, too. In an effort to fulfill this unmet need, these businesspeople are starting to open male-only salons where even strapping macho men can feel comfortable asking for the once-over. Among the services typically offered: hair cuts, coloring, and removal; massage; facials; and nail care -- without the polish, of course. Millers, for example, is now a regular at Gentleman's Quarters, Denver's first male-only hair salon. Every six weeks, he trots in for a haircut, massage, and -- if there's time -- a manicure and pedicure. "When I walk out of there after a pedicure with my feet feeling all tingly, I just feel better about myself," he says. This, mind you, comes from a guy who manufactures and sells machinery for a living. On a recent weekday afternoon at Gentleman's Quarters, a tired businessman in a pinstriped suit sat with his tie undone in the salon's dark green waiting area. Looking more like an English pub than a beauty salon, Gentleman's Quarters is filled with stuff that appeals to the average male: an antique brass ship, golf memorabilia, a TV tuned to ESPN, and a coffee table that features Sports Illustrated, Esquire, and Playboy. Gentleman's Quarters, which serves 1,500 men a month, has been so successful that its owner is looking to expand into other markets. She'll have to hurry, though. Not only are small salons such as hers springing up in metro areas across the country, but a franchise of male-only salons called American Male is about to roll out nationwide. Founder Howard Hafetz says that by the end of 1999 as many as 28 American Male salons will be open from coast to coast -- with more on track for next year. Hafetz describes American Male as "the new barbering experience," designed to appeal to men who know that looking good strongly correlates with feeling good. "Men are coming out of the closet about their vanity," he explains. Not only are they working out at the club and spending more money on clothes, but they also are realizing that proper hair and nail care contribute to a good image. Because of the stigma associated with those who fuss over their appearance -- Millers' son called him a "sissy" for getting a manicure, that is, until his son got one himself -- men want to obtain these services in a place where they can feel and be treated like men. The new vanity has not gone unnoticed by product marketers who have rushed to fill the void in male hair-care products. Years ago, men secretly used their wives' shampoos and hair sprays. Now, thanks to companies such as American Crew and Icon, men have their own product lines. In fact, Hafetz says the market for men's hair-care products is worth about $650 million annually, and market research suggests that almost 33.7 million American men use hairspray on a regular basis. Is this trend toward good grooming reserved for a certain age, class, or income level? Hafetz doesn't think so. "Our research shows the business is evenly split between blue- and white-collar workers, [between] Generation Xers and Baby Boomers," he says. "The only common denominator is that these are guys who want to look good." But manicures? Pedicures? Isn't this going a bit too far? Millers doesn't think so. "I make presentations to corporate boards all the time," he says. "I don't want to stand in front of bunch of executives in an expensive suit with hands that look like they came out of a rock quarry. It would diminish my whole appearance." Bill Caldwell, general manager of Hydraulic Consulting Ltd., Denver, agrees. As another Gentleman's Quarters regular he, too, believes it's important for businesspeople to look their best. Besides, pedicures and massages just feel good, he says. "Men need a treat every once in a while, too. If we can fit these services into our schedules, why not take advantage of them?"

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