For women, day spas and salons are familiar territory:  a place to relax, be pampered, and relish in at­tention to self. The typical male client has a much dif­ferent perspective. He goes to the corner barbershop for a trim. Manicures are "girlish" and pedicures unthinkable. Hair coloring is something he does at home, under cover of the night, in the kitchen sink, if he does it at all. He handles his vanity behind-the-scenes so that his basketball bud­dies don't know how metic­ulously he takes care of himself. Well... not for long.

After their first salon opened three years ago, own­ers Gina and John Agosta put their heads together after hearing many a female client ask where she could send her husband, brother, or son for the same caliber of salon ser­vices she was receiving. At the same time John and Gina, who have more than 40 years of experience in the beauty industry between them, noticed the booming number of men's profession­al grooming products lining marketplace shelves.

So the mother-son duo expanded next door, build­ing a haven for gentlemen. The staff of the two salons, Gina Agosta Haircolor and Design and Agosta Hair Color and Grooming for the Civilized Man, work as a team to offer specialized nail, hair, and skin services for her or him. The salons are locat­ed in the midst of Novi, Mich., an up-and-coming city with a steady influx of commerce, and businessmen and women in search of up­scale grooming and willing to pay the price.

Agosta for Men (the shortened version of the salon's moniker) has contin­ued to grow through its first birthday, its success due as much to the popularity of men's professional products as it is to the growing market of Midwestern men waiting to try them.

"Much of our current male clientele are baby boomers who have disposable income and want to pamper them­selves because they are work­ing longer and playing harder than the generation before them," John explains. But baby boomers aren't the only ones to dive head-first into the good-grooming trend. It has slowly trickled down to men of all ages, men who are willing to go where few men have gone in the past — to the private pedicure room or the polish rack for a matte top coat. In this way, Agosta's state-of-the-art salon cele­brates the surfacing vanity of men.

If You Build It, He Will Come

For many men, going to a salon for a service is about as appealing as going to the dentist to get a cavity filled. Most haven't experienced salon services before and don't know what to expect, so they can't fathom how much a mere hour in a com­fortable chair in the hands of a trained professional can improve their body image and grooming habits until they try it.

With this understanding, John and Gina designed and built a salon that would, by virtue of its inviting decor and skilled staff, draw men in to at least give it a try. And that is usually all it takes to keep them coming back. "Many of our present clients were looking for a salon that broke away from the tradi­tional barbershop or day spa and catered to their special needs in an atmosphere that was comfortable for them," John says.

It is their self-conscious tendency that seems to keep male clients away from sa­lons, says Agosta manager Chris McCrory. "We had certain male clients at Gina Agosta before Agosta for Men was built, who would call and book the first ap­pointment of the morning or the last appointment of the evening so that the salon would be nearly empty dur­ing the service," he explains. "Now these men come any­time."

A good deal of Agosta for Men's repeat business is owed to its inspired mascu­line decor. The salon's wood floor is covered with orien­tal rugs. It is lit by old-fash­ioned light fixtures and cooled with wood-bladed ceiling fans, all reminiscent of oak-paneled libraries and vintage men's clubs. And what men's haven would be complete without wide black leather chairs, strategically placed in the waiting room and at each station during a service? "The cabinets are all wood and we chose a strong, dark strip of molding to frame the station mirrors, ceil­ings, and floorboards," John says. "Much of the furniture is very traditional. We have a product display up front by the reception desk that is housed in a barrister's bookcase."

However, man cannot live by wood alone. Television screens mounted strategical­ly throughout the salon (yes, even over the shampoo bowls) show sporting events on ESPN and news on CNN. There is a telephone and fax hook-up for the business client's convenience, as well as a computer offering access to the Internet. "It was designed with men in mind, "McCrory agrees, adding that nail services are becoming more and more popular as male clients go past the traditional manicure to try pedicures and paraffin dips.

John chose to have a se­cluded pedicure room. Not your ordinary service room, it features a deluxe wood-paneled whirlpool foot spa and wall-mounted television in perfect view to catch the game or the latest stock mar­ket prices. Black and white images from American Crew in the pedicure room and on other salon walls add an up­dated feel to the salon and remind clients that it is cool to groom.

Stroking the Male Nail Ego

While nail care services are not the bulk of the salon's business, male clients contin­ue to show more interest in them. Agosta for Men offers a Sports Manicure, Sports Pedicure, and paraffin treat­ments to protect hands and feet from Michigan's biting cold. "Once men actually try a pedicure or a paraffin dip, typically they are hooked," says McCrory. "The hardest part is convincing them to give it a try the first time." The prices for men's and women's services are comparable, varying only about $l-$2.

"We've noticed that the re­quests for nail services have been growing," says John. "There are a lot of runners who come in for regular pedicures to keep their feet in good condition." Knowing how important it is to both men and women to be well-groomed before hopping on a plane or boarding a cruise ship, the salon recently con­ducted a special promotion that offered discounts to clients who came in to get a pedicure before an upcom­ing vacation.

Agosta for Men "bor­rows" its six nail technicians from sister salon Gina Agosta next door. The nail services are conducted at a portable nail station that can be conveniently moved to the client while he is hav­ing his hair cut or colored. "Male clients generally like to come in, get the services, and leave as soon as possi­ble," says McCrory. "Having more than one service done at a time helps keep the businessman on time.

While none of Agosta for Men's mostly conservative business clientele has requested a colored polish job, about half of its clients ask for a matte coat of Orly's Nails for Males, while the other half request a buff-to-shine end to their service. However, McCrory notes an influx of younger, fashion-forward clients as the result of hiring avant-garde colorists and stylists and the launch of a local marketing campaign, so the first coat of blue or black polish may be just around the corner.

With American Crew's (the salon's main line of hair products) research predict­ing that more than 22% of men will turn to profession­al salon products and ser­vices this year alone, Agosta for Men is on the right track. Says John, "Our secret is sim­ple. We offer our clients com­fortable personal surroundings with an upscale feel, yet we don't ask them to miss a ball game."

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