Men Pamper Their Inner He-Man at Spas

No one ever went broke overestimating consumers' appetite for being pampered — at least if the state of the spa industry is any indication.

Revenue for U.S. spa facilities in 2001, according to the International Spa Association, was $10.7 billion, more than double the $5 billion reached in 1999. Worldwide industry revenue grew by 114 percent during that time. But far more interesting than the growth itself is where much of it is coming from: guys.

Indeed, after decades of serving a mostly female clientele, the spa industry has seen an infusion of testosterone in recent years. Men now make up 29 percent of all spa goers, up from 24 percent last year, says the International Spa Association, which also found that male spa habitués are more likely to indulge themselves on a weekly basis.

"Since women have invaded men's gyms, men are now invading women's spas," says Deborah Evans, general manager of the Red Mountain Adventure Spa in St. George, Utah. Men comprised 10 percent of total guests when the resort opened five years ago; now it's 35 percent, and Evans says fully half of that figure is men traveling alone, indulging in private pampering time. And they're not just signing up for sports massages — they're doing it up with facials, manicures, shea butter rubdowns and seaweed body wraps.

Those figures are being replicated all over, as men increasingly get out of the sports bar and into the treatment room. Drawn by the opportunity, a few male-only spas are starting to open their doors.

In its first year of operation, the Nickel spa for men, a hip, modern, men-only spa in downtown Manhattan that opened in early 2002, saw revenue of $1 million; this year, owner Philippe Dumont expects that figure to more than double due to the popularity of the spa's services. These include five types of facials, three types of massages, manicures, pedicures and waxing — back, legs, arms, torso, eyebrows, even cheeks.

The Grooming Lounge, a Washington, D.C., men's spa, opened its doors in March 2002; co-owner Michael Gilman says business is up 60 percent this year, serving up manicures, pedicures, facials, massages and waxing treatments, all provided in a wood-paneled, clublike environment that Gilman says is designed to be a combination old-fashioned barber's shop and modern spa.

Gilman, a former public relations executive, knows the power of publicity: The Grooming Lounge was recently featured on K Street, the new, inside-the-beltway docudrama from Time Warner's HBO division.

Traditional, coed spas are getting in on the action, too: New York- and London-based Bliss has added several men's items to its menu of services, including the "Manlycure," a manicure "for the person who wants to be well groomed without being too obvious," says a Bliss spokeswoman. No polish is applied, but guys get a hot cream massage, paraffin treatment, cuticle treatment, nail shaping and nail buffing.

In its London spa, Bliss recently started hosting "Macho Sundays," men-only days that feature manly details like cold Coronas in the locker room. Other new additions to the menu include the "Homme Improvement" facial, a standard facial that includes an anti-ingrown-hair follicle calming mask; and, for a recent episode of General Electric's cable network Bravo's runaway hit Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Bliss created a new treatment, "Balderdashing," a buffing of the bare scalp — with choice of matte or shiny finish.

Even the stately Four Seasons Hotel chain has jumped on board. New treatments include the "Man O Cure" and the "Gentleman's Barber Facial," to debut at the chain's Jackson Hole, Wyo., location when it opens in December, as well as the "Soothing Executive Men's Facial" in Los Angeles. Then there's the "Handsome Man" offering at the chain's Punta Mita, Mexico, location: a $230, 150-minute rubdown that includes a papaya salt scrub, a full-body massage using tequila and sage oil, and a cleansing facial intended to neutralize the effects of sun, stress and sports.

Industry watchers say the trend is simply a result of men paying more attention to their appearance, something Nickel's Dumont attributes to the surge in men's magazines featuring toned abs and groomed bodies on the cover.

"There was this huge boom of the male body being exposed in magazines, and suddenly there was a need to take care of your skin and body, and there was no place to go to be comfortable," says Dumont. "If you went and asked to get your back waxed, the woman at the counter would think you were some kind of pervert."

Others say it's an extension of the advertising industry's recent discovery of the "metrosexual," the hip, urban male who likes women but also likes flat-front pants and expensive facial products.

Spa owners point out, though, that men are not content with standard spa services originally designed with women in mind. Most spas offering services for men have had to take special steps to make men feel comfortable.

At Nickel, for example, men can cancel at any point up to the service; they don't have to give a credit card to hold the appointment; and if they arrive 10 minutes late, they can still be treated.

"Men are not organized," says owner Dumont. "They hate making bookings two weeks ahead of time, and they are always late. They like that we don't put pressure on them."

Treatments at Nickel, therefore, are limited in number and are described in language that's simple and easy to understand: There are two types of massages and three kinds of facials. "Sometimes there are 20 pages of services," says Dumont. "If you're a guy and it's your first facial, you're lost."

At the Grooming Lounge, there are men's magazines in the waiting lounge, along with televisions running CNN and ESPN. "It gives guys less of a complex," says Gilman. Language, too, is critical. Manicures are called "business manicures," pedicures are "foot treatments," and the word "salon" is never, ever used.

By most accounts, the trend shows no sign of slowing. Bliss in New York had booked 60 appointments for the "Homme Improvement" facial within a week of introducing the service. Dumont is opening a Nickel in San Francisco by the end of the year, the next of what he sees as five eventual U.S. locations. Gilman of the Grooming Lounge is working on a mail-order catalog of men's grooming products that will go out next month.

Meanwhile, guys like Andy Slater, a New York-based national sales manager for a radio station group who gets a facial every ten weeks, are continuing to fuel the growth in the spa market.

"I think it's OK for a guy to be a little pampered," says Slater, who frequents the Fodera salon at New York's St. Regis hotel, a Starwood Hotels property. Sometimes Slater springs for a manicure too. "I'm in sales — people see my hands," he explains.

Would he also consider Botox? "Please," Slater says. "I'm not that vain."

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