Customer Service

The Man-Tailored SALON

With a little enterprise, you can get the most from today’s ignored men’s market and muscle in on Herculean profits.

The size of niches today suggests that “molecular marketing” is the catchphrase of the future. So with all the hoopla over discovering new “special-needs” consumer subgroups, it’s surprising that there’s one very large contingent that’s still up for grabs when it comes to nail services ... Men. Statistics show that men spent $107 million on manicures and pedicures in 1990 and that currently, just 2% of the adult male population gets either service. While this represents only a small percentage of the possible market, consider it good news. When grooming dollars are uncommitted, aggressive pursuit and friendly persuasion pay off. In a flip-flop of the social stereotype, men are hard to catch, easy to keep. Once you persuade them to try nail services and they like what you offer, they won’t salon hop, comparison shop, or waste time in search of the perfect nail shape.

And while there may be a current man shortage in salons, you can bet it won’t last. Take a look at the revelations that celebrities are making about their pursuit of an improved appearance: Singer Kenny Rogers recently told the world about his liposuction; actor Madison Mason colors his chest hair and is proud of it. It’s not that men are suddenly more vain; it’s that they’ve relaxed their attitudes about what’s acceptable and feel freer to admit that appearance matters to them.

But as much as they’ve loosened up, men remain hard-line about who tends to their grooming needs. Thus, while unisex salons lured the male client past the salon threshold, men never felt entirely comfortable with them and continued to search for the barbershop atmosphere to which they’d become accustomed. Enter the new proliferation of men’s salons.

If you’re in an expansion mode, adding a second location that’s for men only could be an excellent competitive move. It’s early enough in the game for you to be the only such operation in your area. Or, you could build on to your current salon, creating a separate service area (and separate entrance) for men. With the latter approach, just shift your current male client base right over and build on it.

You don’t have to over-expand to offer the elements that make men’s salons successful (good news for your finance department!). A little furniture rearranging and atmosphere changing is all it takes.


According to owners of men’s salons, manicures are the easiest service to sell to men next to haircuts — if you put forth the effort and create the private service areas. The salon is one place where sex segregation is definitely desirable.

Explains Babette, general manager of Umberto Men, Beverly Hills, “For years our female clients were telling us that their husbands, fathers, brothers, and boyfriends had to go to one place to get a haircut and another place for other services. This not only discouraged them from trying services other than cuts; it left them with a choice they didn’t like. If they wanted it all in one place, they had to be seen out in the open, among women. After hearing this for five years, we realized the time was ripe for a men-only salon.

“The very first services men came in for were haircuts and manicures. Men won’t get nail services in open areas; they don’t like being seen sitting there with their pants legs rolled up. But they do feel very comfortable in their own little place.”

Almost every salon owner we talked to confirmed that privacy was the number one requirement to get men to try other salon services besides haircuts. Privacy is important, even when there aren’t any women present. So, creating private rooms or a cordoned-off area is key, whether or not you’re for men only.

This was the establishing premise of the 10-year-old Gio’s in New York’s Hotel Pierre, which was one of the first exclusive, men-only salons to offer a men’s club atmosphere. The salon is practically a legend in New York, where stories include how Gio introduced Lee Iacocca to his publisher and how he fiercely protected his clients’ privacy. Today, the salon is run by Mrs. Gio, who strongly adheres to the same principles that made it a success with men in the first place.

Says Mrs. Gio, “All our rooms are private because many of our clients are in the public eye. They don’t want anyone watching them get grooming services. But really, whether a man is the chairman of the board of a well-known corpora­tion or works in a department store, he wants privacy above all else.

“Top-notch service is important, too. We treat every client as though he is the most important person in our lives, because he is. We strive for punctuality so that when the client walks in he is immediately taken care of.”

Which brings up the next point many salon owners make — men wait for no one. Keep a man cooling his heels in your waiting room and he may lose his nerve and you’ll lose his business.


According to salons that primarily service a male clientele, men prefer a very specific ambiance. Both Gio’s and Umberto Men are designed in color schemes that are “gender neutral.” Gio’s resembles a true sanctuary with private rooms, russet-colored Alicante marble and leather upholstered banquettes. Mirrors make the salon look more expansive, offsetting the small, separate rooms. Umberto Men is designed with ivory marble and camel-colored leather chairs.

If your entire salon is pastel, just segregating an area and making it beige and cream won’t cut it. Pastel pink (or, for that matter, hot pink) send too strong a signal that says “not for me” to men.

So if you can’t—or don’t want to — make your entire salon a men’s haven, change the color scheme so that it will appeal to both men and women, then add a men’s area that’s as separate and private as possible. Remove any lace curtains or artwork that could be construed as feminine and strive for a clean, utilitarian feeling. This doesn’t mean austere, but uncluttered, comfortable, and functional.

Explains Babette, “One of our clients said it best when he described our salon. He said that it felt like when he was on the road and chose to stay at a fine hotel because he could really relax there — or do business if he wanted to. That’s how our clients view our salon.”


When developing a relaxing, male-oriented atmosphere, pay attention to the little things. In a recent article in Los Angeles Times Magazine, a male writer chronicled his visits to salons that men frequent and, in doing so, inadvertently illustrated the power of details. He made not one but.

How painstakingly you develop your ambiance depends on your clients’ lifestyle and your determination to attract men in droves. If you want to create a men-only atmosphere for businessmen, re-place those beauty magazines with Inc., Forbes, and the daily paper and add a fax machine and phones at styling stations. (If you keep a section of the salon for women, don’t make the fatal mistake of not giving them access to their own phones and faxes.)

Umberto Men also subscribes to CNN and a financial news network via satellite. If you want male clients and have a unisex reception area, the fashion videos have to go in favor of what appeals to both sexes.


Many salons fail to pursue the male client simply because they assume men aren’t interested in nail services and won’t book in numbers that justify the efforts to attract them.

Says Babette, “Salon owners assume they know what men want, but when you talk to them you find out their needs are very different. Men want manicures and pedicures; they just won’t sit in an open area to get them.”

And how many of Gio’s clients get manicures?

“You’d be surprised,” replies Mrs. Gio. “Clients who book regularly always get a manicure with a haircut. It goes without asking. And even we are surprised at the response to pedicures. Men value them more than women, who tend to look at the polish or the nail shape. Men appreciate the whole process. Once they have a pedicure, they can’t seem to go without it.”


There’s not much difference between a man’s manicure and a woman’s, but there is a special trick to creating the perfect, no-polish nail. At males-only Anthony’s in New York, the clientele refuses even the buffing.

Says Anthony, “Most of our clients want their cuticles trimmed but don’t even want their nails buffed because they think shiny nails are feminine. A few men do want clear polish, but they are the ones who bite their nails and think that bad-tasting polish will deter this behaviour.”

At Umberto Men, the high-buff nail is much requested. Because there is a certain technique to achieving it, the salon held auditions for manicurists to see who could create the best short, sporty nails with a highly buffed finish.

Explains Babette, “Our manicurists work all around the cuticle with a Hindu stone, then repeat, applying pumice powder and buffing two times. We also offer paraffin pedicures, which are great for removing calluses, and use reflexology techniques during the massage.”

When it comes to nails, the only other difference between the sexes is men’s attitudes. According to Babette, women will watch the process beginning to end; men will “supervise” a few minutes until they’re comfortable, then they’ll read or do their own thing.


Once your men’s area or men-only salon is ready to go, put out the word. Men won’t come running for the pedicure party, but they will come to a salon for a men’s night or if they hear it’s new and for men only.

Try offering a cut, high-buff manicure, and sports pedicure at a single price to make men think of multiple services right off. If you’re a specialty salon, advertise men’s night in your local paper (make sure and tell your ad rep that you want your ad placed in the sports or financial section). Also, develop a relationship with a podiatrist, a hair replacement center, and other places men frequent. This way, you can create promotional tie-ins for your services and refer clients to one another.

Create one-page brochures, especially for men, discussing various grooming concerns. For example, one brochure might talk about nail injuries (men are notoriously hard on their hands) and how they can be “treated” or camouflaged with acrylic or a wrap. Another brochure might give tips on how to stop nail biting and discuss a few of the products you retail to help biters break the habit.

And most important, enlist the help of the women. Your female clients will be more than happy to tell the men in their lives about your new salon or your new, private men’s area. Make sure to give women your man-tailored brochures to help their cause. Make word-of-mouth work for you and you’ll get both sexes talking.


Do real men get manicures? You bet! When Umberto Men opened in June 1991, most of the men came in for cuts and manicures first, then returned to book pedicures. Almost a year later, well over half of the clients book multiple services, including hair, nail, and skin care. At Gio’s, clients who have standing bookings almost always get a cut and a manicure because they can be performed simultaneously in an hour.

If men really want manicures, what’s stopping them? Reluctant men cite a lack of privacy, an atmosphere that’s too feminine or female-dominated, or the wrong sales approach to get them to try the salon. When you’re ready to open your men’s salon or men’s special service area, review the following to ensure sales success.

Don’t assume all men have the same attitudes and needs. Other than the universal demand for privacy, male clients are vastly different, depending on their age group and profession.

Educate the male client with commonsense suggestions. Stress the benefit not the beauty, of your professional services.

Be on the lookout for nail biters and men with ragged cuticles. These guys provide the perfect lead-in for you to offer to take care of that jagged nail or torn cuticle.

Prescribe solutions to real needs. Don’t use words like pamper, rather, stress things like callus removal, ease of aching feet, and the relaxing benefits of your foot mat sage with pedicure.

Brush up on sports-related foot problems so you can sell pedicures intelligently. Memorize a few facts about what the foot undergoes during jogging and other sports, then use this information as opening dialogue.

Remember that this is a new experience for many men, who will feel ill at ease. Let them set the pace; treat the service and their questions as perfectly natural.

If you serve both men and women, enlist your receptionist’s help to book men at the same time whenever possible. That way, your men’s area isn’t empty — a signal other men don’t come to you — and your clients see other men coming and leaving.

Be consistent. According to Mrs. Gio, men notice changes in atmosphere — and personnel —immediately and don’t like it because they want to know what to expect each time. Train each technician to deliver the same quality high-buff or shine-free manicure every time.


Don’t tell Gloria Steinem, but when it comes to salons, sex segregation is not a bad thing, according to the owners we spoke to. Neither sex revels in being seen in a robe and perm rods in front of the other (and maintaining some mystique never hurts).

If you aren’t ready for a men-only salon of your own, here’s what pros say it takes to create a separate but equal men’s area in your existing salon. This approach allows you to test the waters and build a strong male client base. Once success is proven, you can shift the entire salon over into a men-only operation. As an added bonus, you might find your unique stance ends staff recruitment problems forever!

Wall off an area large enough for two shampoo bowls, two dressing rooms, a men’s restroom, and four private service rooms (two for hair services, one for nails, and one for skin care). Give manicures during cuts to double your business. Position this area so men can reach it directly from your reception area, without passing through the women’s section.

Ideally, create a separate men’s entrance and reception area.

Design your men’s section in a gender-neutral color scheme and decorate it for hotel-like comfort with leather sofas in the reception area and a minimal number of plants and modem or high-tech art.

Add finishing touches such as phones, faxes, sports and business magazines, brochures on hair replacement, information on the role of reflexology in sports medicine, etc.

Hold training sessions for your separate men’s section staff in servicing the male client and communicating without mentioning pampering or fashion.

Offer men’s night specials and invite the local media.

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