Steven Wooke takes a swig from a bottle of Heineken as his left hand rests on a small table, his fingers spread out like a fan of playing cards.
He’s getting a manicure — or hand detailing, as the salon calls it — and it’s a form of pampering the 24-year-old information technology manager has learned to enjoy.
”My girlfriend notices it,” said Wooke during a recent visit to an American Male salon for nail grooming sans polish. ”I try to come in every two weeks.”
American Male — which is opening its 15th salon, in Las Vegas, in February — is one of a growing number of salons devoted to men who want more than just a barbershop haircut but don’t feel comfortable sitting in women’s beauty salons and wouldn’t be caught dead entering a froufrou day spa.
The salons are catering to an apparently growing interest by men in grooming. Sales of men’s skin-care products sold through department stores rose by 13% last year, more than double the growth for the women’s market, according to NPD Group, a marketing-research firm in Port Washington, New York.
Retail sales in the United States men’s grooming market are expected to reach $10-billion by 2008, up 25% from last year, according to Packaged Facts, a unit of MarketResearch.com in New York.
‘Men don’t like going to salons’
From the decor to the terminology they use, men’s salons are seeking to put some distance between themselves and beauty salons.
Some have strong sports themes, including TVs tuned to sports channels. Some offer free beer. And at least one lets clients light up cigars. Prices for haircuts, waxing, manicures, pedicures, facials, shaving and massages start at about $20 and go up from there.
”Men don’t really like going to salons. They don’t like being with women in there and they don’t like the smell of the salons,” said Howard Hafetz, chief executive of Raylon, American Male Salons’ parent company. ”They don’t want to look across the aisle and see their buddy’s wife over there.”
Raylon, based in Reading, 80km north-west of Philadelphia, now operates or licenses salons in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, California, Illinois, Oklahoma and Colorado.
Other chains catering to men’s grooming include Miami-based The Art of Shaving, which has eight locations in four states and is opening 10 more by the end of 2006; Sport Clips of Georgetown, Texas, with 300 franchised locations; and Roosters Men’s Grooming Centres of Round Rock, Texas, with 13 salons open with five more under construction.
”Men are getting more vain,” said Marian Salzman, author of The Future of Men and director of strategic content at ad agency JWT in New York. ”There’s more pressure to look young and sexy. Even young boys are waxing their bodies to be hairless.”
But is male grooming a lasting trend or will it dissipate as quickly as nail-polish remover?
”I do think it’s viable,” said Michael Flocker, author of The Metrosexual Guide to Style: A Handbook for the Modern Man. ”I think the presentation of the concept is very important. If it looks at all girlie, it will be intimidating to men. If it looks sleek, men will respond to it.”
Joe Grondin, a barber and founder of Roosters, understands that many men won’t go to a business that could expose them to ridicule from their poker buddies.
What Roosters does is get rid of hair that men don’t want, wherever it is, Grondin said.
”We do a lot of eyebrows, you know, to get rid of the unibrow thing,” he said.
American Male salons take care to avoid flowery accents, pink or red hues and whiffs of hairspray or nail polish. At the Philadelphia location, sports memorabilia — including black-and-white pictures of baseball greats Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Robinson — adorn one wall.
Steering clear of feminine terms, American Male has dubbed manicures and pedicures hand and foot detailing; covering one’s grey is called camouflage. The salons also offer eyebrow, chest and back waxing and massages.
Hafetz said male salons are trying to fill a need traditional barbershops did not.
”The barbershop was part of the American fabric in the Forties, Fifties and Sixties,” he said. ”The barbers lost touch with what their clients really wanted.”
Last month, Mac Morgan went to a male salon for the first time.
Before the stylist started his haircut, Morgan was led to a corner of the salon where a vat of orange-hued wax awaited. As part of the hand paraffin-wax treatment, the stylist dipped his hand into the wax until it formed a second skin that moisturises. Plastic gloves go on and then fluffy cotton mitts.
The 25-year-old software engineer from suburban Philadelphia then reclined by the shampooing station where his feet were propped up on a taupe leather ottoman and a warm towel spread over his face.
Morgan booked the ”Quality Grooming Experience” package: a $38 treatment that comes with a mini facial, scalp massage, haircut, shampoo, conditioning and styling.
As the stylist alternatively washed his hair and massaged his scalp, she asked how it felt.
”It feels good,” Morgan said. ”I’ve been to women’s salons. But I feel comfortable here.” — Sapa-AP