Finding and Keeping Your Man: Attracting the Male Spa Client

Written by Douglas Preston

Over and over we read it: men are still the untouched client wealth for day spa operators. According to various news reports and industry surveys, men represent anywhere from five to 30 percent of the day spa market. While these statistics are often unclear about the exact types of services and products to which men are primarily attracted, it is clear that there is business opportunity in the male spa customer.

As a spa business consultant, many of my clients stress the desire to build a better volume in male clients. The reasons range from an expected growth in sales revenue to something as simple as, “It would be fun to have more men in the spa!” Whatever the motivation for expanding into the male spa customer market, it is obvious that a strategy is required to achieve that result.

In my work as both consultant and skin care clinic operator, I like to look at every new spa business growth idea as a separate business plan – that is, examining the potential cost and value of the concept in advance of actually investing time and money into the effort. I do the same whether a spa is considering a physical expansion, the purchase of a piece of treatment equipment, or the introduction of a new product line. Knowing something about the risks and rewards of any business decision is just, well, good business! And while no one could argue that more customers is not a positive thing for the spa, there does exist the possibility that a similar or even smaller investment in one’s present customers could yield a better financial return. This consideration aside for now, let us explore how to bait the hook for a more robust male spa trade.

in-the-worksUnderstanding “The Man”
All men begin as boys and boys are raised with very different notions about grooming than girls. Few boys are found reading fashion and beauty magazines, trying on clothing outfits in front of mirrors or dreaming about the visual details of a future wedding. Boys are more externally focused (sports, work, achievement, and so on) and are not personally or culturally encouraged to veer far from those pursuits. Any mother of a young son knows what a struggle it can be just to get him to bathe or brush his teeth. The boy just does not seem to feel the need for such frivolous things. Thus, it is important to remember that man is emerging from the boy’s training (or lack thereof). While he has probably learned that improved hygiene and appearance can enhance his job and romance competitiveness, he may engage in it only to the degree that he feels will make a critical difference, and then he stops there. No wonder so many female online dating profiles include the demand, “Good oral hygiene is a MUST!” Evidently, there is some known need for men to do a better job at this. Most men do not feel the desire or pressure to maintain the high standard of personal looks that women desire. While men are not held to all of the unfair cultural and Madison Avenue manipulations forced upon women to stay young, thin, and beautiful, men are increasingly subject to higher appearance standards (much of it generated by more independent females).
And then there is still the prevailing fear among your average man that any attention paid to how he looks might suggest a compromise in his sexual orientation. Even the most liberal of men will not want to be misunderstood when it comes to the definition of his manhood. And any experienced spa owner or service provider has witnessed the insecure awkwardness of the first-visit man in this decidedly girly world. He can be stiff, unsure, guarded, and suspicious. He is the female talking to the greasy mechanic at the muffler shop – all he wants to do is get what he came for and leave, especially if the spa appointment was gifted to him by a wife or girlfriend. That loving gift could be measured in increments of torture by the average male.
There are also other types of men who will find personal grooming and relaxation not only a joy, but a valued commitment in a healthy lifestyle. He is confident in himself, friendly, and affable and does not need to be dragged kicking into the spa. This man likes the services you offer (some more than others) and is an agreeable product customer. Your guy is easy to work with, keeps his appointments and is a nice contrast in your usual all-girl schedule. What spa owner would not want more of them? Trouble is they are just too few and far between. How and where do you find these guys?
What is the takeaway from all this? Your target guy will likely prove to be just a little difficult to pull into the spa. With that in mind, we will look at the best methods for attracting, keeping, and retailing to the male customer.

Smart Marketing: The Lures That Work Best with Men
When you think of the male customer, it is best to start from the reality of who he is and what he does with regard to self-care services. If you have a hair salon connected to the spa, then that is probably an easier way to attract him. You want to spend your marketing time and money wisely. Men also enjoy massage treatments, so that would be your second best service to promote to him. With facials, it gets a little more challenging, especially in suburban and rural areas where male grooming culture and values are, say, a bit more traditional. On average, the percentage of men representing an aesthetician’s clientele is typically less than 10 percent, usually a lot less. Some urban aestheticians successfully cater to a decidedly gay male market, but that, too, represents a rather small and type-specific sliver of the facial business as a whole.

what-guys-likeThe Spa Environment: What Guys Like
Over the years I have read endless articles explaining how to attract men to a spa. Many of the strategies promoted suggest that unless men see NFL posters, see lots of heavy black and brown leather furniture or smell bacon frying, the guys are not going to feel “like a man” in your business. This simply is not true for most of us guys. While lots of feminine color, textures, names and décor will make a guy sense that he may have wandered into the wrong bathroom, you do not have to make your spa look like an oil change garage to make us feel at home. Gender neutral works just fine for us. Men like warm tones, rich textures and stone, the sound of running water, so long as it is not coming from the mouths of cute little cupid statues – nature over nurture. Use warm scents such as sandalwood or citrus as aromatherapy choices instead of more green or sweeter scents.

And while many savvy spa and skin care salon owners have their own success stories with attracting the male customer, here is my priority list when it comes to developing business with men:

  1. Using his head. Even the most macho of guys will submit to having his locks lopped. If your spa offers hair services, this may be the best place to start your marketing campaign. Once he is in the door and is comfortable with your business, your stylists and spa brochures can take it from there. Offer him a service list to read during his haircut and train your team to enthusiastically talk about your other service departments. “Do you ever have skin care treatments, Mike? Lots of guys who come here do.” You can even offer him a complimentary consultation or treatment just to get him familiar with the culture and feel of facial treatments and products. He cannot buy what he does not know exists.
  2. Go for the body. Most spas report that their number one male preferred service is massage therapy. Whether it is to relieve sports pain or just to throw off some workday tension, men have sought out massage treatments since before Roman times. We guys tend to relate to these treatments more mechanically, so be sure to emphasize the physical benefits over a relaxed, soothing experience. Since most men will quickly scan over your spa menu, you might want to have a single sheet marketing piece that describes your massage treatments separate from your other services. Make sure every guy with whom you work receives one.
  3. Get the girl. One of the best ways to get him into the spa is through her – the spouse, girlfriend or daughter who feels their guy could use a little tender, love and care. Romantic spa twosomes, Father’s Day gifts, birthday presents – all of these are great opportunities for compelling men to try a spa service. Send out holiday e-mail blasts that remind your female customers to think of you when they think of him.
  4. Get the guy to get the girl. A spa customer is anyone doing any sort of business with you. In my experience, by far, the most valuable male customer was one buying a gift for someone special in his life – mom, girlfriend, sister, fiancée. So while the gift certificate may be for someone other than the guy purchasing it, he is in fact your true customer. And because men like to solve problems quickly (choosing a gift for a woman is always one of them), what is well received from him will be repeated again and again. Create an e-mail list that is men-specific for marketing your spa services as wise gift selections, and then make it easy for him to buy them. Gift card programs are the best way and there are many of them available to help you grow these valuable sales!
  5. Go where the boys are. If you choose to employ conventional advertising in your marketing plan, remember to place your advertisements where men tend to read. Consider sports or business magazines and websites. Knocking on his “Do not forget Valentine’s Day!” reminder door while he is checking out the weekend game schedule can be very valuable to your gift certificate sales.

The same is true about other male-specific notions of what guys prefer or need in order to patronize a spa. While your experience may be different than mine, hosting a men’s night event at the spa will be about as well attended as a picnic in a hurricane. Again, the idea that men attract men usually falls flat as a spa promotion. Most men do not see the day spa as a cultural experience, but as a place to go for the service they want. They do not want to hang out for long either before or after. And male-centric spa products? Those can be another expensive dead end if you are hoping that men will flock to them on their own.

"Men will do just about anything you ask if you can make easy sense of what he is doing and why."

It is best not to put men on display in an environment dominated by women customers. While you do not have to provide a baseball dugout just to seat the waiting male client, putting him in the middle of a busy hair salon full of female clients covered in foils is not his idea of a great time. If you provide magazines, make sure there are a few that men enjoy reading. Car, business, and sports publications are best because no matter how good it may look, we are not going to tear that zesty summer orange cake recipe from your Ladies’ Home Journal. Tailgate barbeque tips in Sports Illustrated are a more likely read.
If you have a special men’s lounge in your spa, it is great to have a television screen with a sports game playing on it, even a car race. Men like thick terry or velour robes and slippers are fine, too, so long as they are neutral in color and correctly sized. Yes, we will drink cucumber water and eat energy bars, too – buffalo jerky is not necessary. Do not seat men face to face, though. Men like their independent way of communicating and do not like to be forced to look at one another in unfamiliar settings. Guys also have a habit of expanding their posture to take up space (some sort of primitive defensive mechanism thing hammered into us), so scale your lounge furniture accordingly.

the-male-clientThe Service Department: Treating the Male Client
I will let you in on a little secret you probably know already: We men are a lot more sensitive and delicate than we let on. While guys will take a beating on the football field and shoulder heavy work, just try doing a few extractions on his nose during a facial treatment – he is not going to love it. This is not to suggest that men have to be handled with hyper-caution when treating them, but because they are often less familiar with the methods in a facial procedure it is best to walk him through the various stages of it as you go. It is sometimes suggested that women are less pain sensitive when it comes to beauty services, but women are also more invested in the results of those services and may be willing to put up with a lot of discomfort in order to get them. With massage therapy, guys enjoy a firmer hand on those dense, sore muscles, so that is the time a technician can really go for it. Remember, men are more solution-oriented and are much more concerned about addressing immediate needs (acne, muscle tension, back pain, and so on) than they are about the future development of crow’s feet or hyperpigmentation. Involve him when you are planning his treatments and never assume that he knows as much about your work as your female clients know.
We men tend to feel warmer in our bodies than women feel. It is an old story in shared working office environment that men feel good at temperatures that make their female counterparts shiver. The office thermostat can become a gender battleground. Male clients may not like being bundled up in lots of warm blankets and heated hand mitts – a thin sheet covering during treatments may do the trick just fine.
Be especially aware of a guy’s beard area during a facial service. Dragging sponges or disposable cloth against the beard growth is really uncomfortable for us, though we may not tell you so when enduring it. Feel out the resistance pattern on a man’s face before treating it and follow the direction of it. You will not only make him feel better, but will help to avoid post-treatment follicular irritation as well.
Retaining your male client is a fairly simple job: find out what his concerns are and then tell him what to do about them! Men do not like to be offered lots of options when it comes to their service selection, particularly when we are not skilled in making decisions among them. Instead of saying, “If you like, you could come in more often for massage treatments,” say, “Here is what I would like for you to do to deal with your muscle soreness: let us see you once a week for the next four weeks and we will do a deep tissue program that will steadily restore your comfort. Can we schedule that now?” He is much more likely to commit to a program that is laid out for him and promises a clear solution for what he perceives as an immediate problem.
Subtle encouragement can also work to keep a guy in the spa. If he is married or dating, you can reward his facial routine by letting him know how much women love the feel of smooth skin on their guy. If he has a blackhead problem, it is useful to praise him for dealing with it by saying, “Women really notice those small details on a guy’s face.” He will get the message.

Retail Reality
The same “command style” communication method is ideal when advising men on a home care plan. Short, simple, and clear is best when setting up a guy with his grooming regimen. Men will do just about anything you ask if you can make easy sense of what he is doing and why. For the face, you will do best with products that address cleansing, shaving, moisture retention, blackhead control, and sun protection. Again, no options here – just direct instructions and a confident choice of products by you, the authority. “Here is what I would like for you to do: Use this scrubbing cleanser with warm water day and night and focus on the nose and forehead to keep those blackheads under control. It also works well as a pre-shave lubricant. During the day, wear this sunscreen so you do not burn and risk aging the skin faster. In the evening use this moisturizer instead of the sunscreen to keep that skin feeling smooth instead of dried out.” Trust me, he will appreciate the directness, the simplicity, and the brevity of your suggestion. And he will buy! Most men will not know or care about the science behind your product line. If you have body products that help relieve muscle soreness, this is your customer!

"Most men do not see the day spa as a cultural experience, but as a place to go for the service they want."

Another thing: The idea that you need a male-specific hair or skin care line in order to successfully sell to them is not true. If your products do not have a distinctly feminine look, name or scent, you are just fine with those alone. The one exception may be shaving products, but even those can be provided by your gender-neutral cleansers. If you have been in the skin care business long enough, you have already heard from your female clients how their men use up their face wash and moisturizer in the bathroom.
One last thought about the male customer as a target market for your spa or treatment practice: you may want to ask yourself from a strictly business perspective whether or not men are the best investment of your advertising and inventory dollars. Look at it this way: your best clients are those who use the widest selection of your beauty services, buy the most home care products, and talk up your treatments with friends and family who represent referral opportunities. From that perspective, would these customers be men or women? Or if you had only one opening in your schedule and had a new male and female client trying to get it, whom would you prefer to serve? We are not talking about gender discrimination here but just simple ecomonic logic. Would a hairstylist prefer a child’s haircut over a female color client? Would a makeup department spend a great deal of money trying to find men who will buy its bronzer sun block? Do restaurants aggressively market to customers who are non-drinkers? A spa or personal service practice is a business first and everything else after that. No matter who you serve, you need to make the most money possible from each scheduled client. And while we like working with both genders, I think about my financial needs above all else – the main thing that keeps my doors open in order to serve anybody. Some food for thought.


douglas.preston.headshotDouglas Preston’s career spans 32 years in professional aesthetics, education and skin care career mentoring. Preston’s business articles appear in DERMASCOPE, Spa Management Journal, Les Nouvelles Esthetiques, among others. He is past-president of Aesthetics International Association and former committee chairman for The Day Spa Association. Preston was named The Day Spa Association’s “Spa Person of the Year” in January 2006 and voted Favorite Spa Consultant in American Spa’s 2006 readers’ poll. His recently published book, An Esthetician’s Guide to Growing a Successful Skincare Career, is a top-seller with aesthetics professionals. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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