Expert Advice

Calling All Men

Victoria Wurdinger | July 10, 2011 | 6:22 PM

A lot has changed since the beginnings of the male grooming market boom. After the "metrosexual" era (most men hated the term), we now have a wide variety of men from every background flexing their spending muscles in mixed-clientele salons. This signals the start of a migration to any convenient grooming
center, in which the real niche is you. Here's what's happening:

Marketers, who have long been chasing men, are undergoing an attitude adjustment. For starters, they're abandoning the disconnect of too many products (pared-down routines are where it's at), and recognizing that meeting men's needs is moving from tapping the women in their lives to making a direct appeal to guys themselves.

Salons that are boosting their male business have long ditched the frou-frou decor and they, too, are amending their "male calls." Their newest tactic: Skip the guy gimmicks and go straight to the "comfortable for all" approach. As a result, that familiar given-consistency-is sometimes altered, and national branding is giving way to localization (even Wal-Mart is doing it). In salons and spas, the translation is individualization and personalization, and even when the operation is a guys-only business, it's got lots more local flavor.

Calling All Men

Homme Alone?

John Allan launched his men's full service and club membership concept in 1988, and a slew of male-only operations followed. By the late ‘90s, many of the free-standing operations had disappeared because men stopped traveling very far just for the "exclusive" factor. Men's chains began fine-tuning their acts.

Gordon Logan, who founded the Austin, Texas-based Sports Clips franchise in 1993, says, "What's changed over the years is that men want more than a good cut; they want an experience."

To accommodate them, Sports Clips recently refined its MVP package to include a massaging shampoo, steam towel, facial massage, leave-in conditioning treatment, and neck and shoulder massage at the style station before a cut. The all-inclusive cost: $25.

"There's been a gradual shift away from the efficiency model of inexpensive men's cuts to the ‘Third Place' theory," says Logan.  "After work and home, there has to be another place for escape."

With 565 locations and 150 more to open this year, Sports Clips meets the modern need for convenience and marries it to the "staycation" trend--relaxing close to home. Solo operations, like BBraxton, New York's first all-male salon for African-American and Latino men, are filling explicitly local needs.

Founded by Tony-nominated actress Brenda Braxton and her personal trainer/martial artist husband, the salon/spa offers "world-class service and a relaxing atmosphere at an acceptable price." The salon has a full-time loctician on staff in order to serve the needs of their local clientele. Increasingly, formerly unisex salons (forget that word!) are getting men in the door in droves by relying on personality, individuality and community.

Explains Shannon Lamm, owner of Atomic in Raleigh, North Carolina, "My clients are 50-percent male because we're more about having fun than a business plan to make money. Clients know they can get something that's one-of-a-kind in our salon, where the stations reflect the stylists' personalities. When everything looks the same, you get what everyone else has-even businessmen don't like cold, formal salons anymore."

Another salon stressing local-think is the new Robert Jeffrey location in Chicago. The salon aims to be welcoming to everyone with minimal decor and outdoor garden for relaxing-Chicago's first for a hair salon. But what's truly different is its sense of community. Once a month, the salon invites local aldermen and other neighborhood group leaders to speak to both the staff and the clients. Explains co-owner Charlie Bonanno, "We're partnering with everyone around us to create a sense of community. The men's spa across the street is part of our custom care package-guys get a cut and color here, and go over there for spa services. Today, men want to relax after work and feel part of something; they also expect more."

New Attitudes

Bonanno says that in a change from a decade ago, men are referring other men to salons-they like to hear about where to get a hair cut from other guys because they tell each other exactly how it is. Jessica Hammel, president of the Reading, Pennsylvania-based American Male chain says the best way for salons to steal men from the barbershop is to offer more than cuts.

"Men want more today and as a result, our skin care services are growing tremendously," says Hammel. "Another selling point for salons is that barbers outside major cities don't keep up with the latest looks."

Core Cuts and Beyond

Hairdressers who have a strong male clientele agree that longer looks are back; how long depends on the client's age. What's always true: The shorter the cut, the more exacting the lines must be.

"There's no room for error on short cuts; men are very particular," notes Bonanno.

On the other hand, says Logan, there are no seasonal trends to deal with. "The nice thing about the men's business is that at the core are simple cuts and stable styles," he says. 

This is true for the vast majority of men, who settle into a style somewhere in their late 20s to early 30s. Younger, urban guys want trendier looks, from skater styles to dreds.  If you can attract these teenaged males, not only will you make their mothers happy by adding a little control to their scruffy surfer style; you'll reap a slew of new clients.

"Junior high school guys are the most loyal clients of all; one will send in 12 friends at once," says Hammel. "They'll also experiment with color."

When it comes to older men, Hammel says the best way to offer gray blending is at the sink with a 10-minute service.

"We talk about percent of gray and offer options," she says. "No man wants to go from 70-percent gray to zero."

Just as important as services is the comfortability factor. Assume nothing: If you've got no script for your staff to follow, ask a guy who is entirely unfamiliar with the salon business to do a walk-through and tell you what feels weird.

Magnetic Attractions

Women will work harder to get a bargain but that doesn't mean men don't want value. Bonanno says guys favor his online booking offer: Book three appointments in advance, keep them all and get 50-percent off the fourth. Hammel's best-ever male attraction was to offer free cuts for a year to any guy who made five referrals. It's doable because men won't knock themselves out like women might but it gets them referring. (Just 10 to 15 guys at each American Male location meet the goal.)

Salons that want a balanced clientele are also finding that good citizenry is as important to men as women. Donations to the overseas troops, like Sports Clips' fundraiser for phone calling cards, charity events that aim to build homes for Hurricane Katrina survivors and even ones that support men's health concerns have proven that men will come together for a cause-a concept that just happens to have its roots in barbershop culture. That brings things full circle: If you want more men, make them feel comfortable and welcome; and add a local spin with something they care about.  


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