There exists a strange dichotomy between the relatively low numbers of male-specific spas and the rapid growth in the number of men who enjoy spa treatments. According to recent research by the International Spa Association, the number of spa-goers who identify as male has grown from 29 per cent in 2005 to 49 per cent in 2017. So, if nearly 50 per cent who enjoy spa treatments are men, then why do the majority of spas seemingly target women?
According to Marcus Allen, vice president of London’s Refinery, the answer is space. “In cities where treatments have grown in popularity among men, space is now at a premium,” he says. “Men’s barbers are the number one high street opening now, but if you want to offer treatments you need an allocated space to do it. Although the client base may be changing, many spas started out offering treatments for women.”
The Refinery itself is located in London’s Mayfair, an area of the city that has much in common with the high-end fashion districts of Asia and America. Like Gangnam or Rodeo Drive it is replete with busy boutiques and flagship Swiss watch stores. Sited on the neighbourhood’s urbane Grosvenor Street, the Refinery’s facade is subtle. Inside, guests will encounter a familiar and comforting experience: a welcoming reception that gives way to a barber’s salon.
But as Allen shows me, there is more to the venue than meets the eye. A subterranean retreat houses multiple treatment rooms where clients can undergo the gamut of spa services, from simple massages and facials, to the latest in hair removal procedures. It’s perhaps this clever use of the city’s precious space that has made the brand so successful.
“Guys come in for a haircut and learn that we offer other services,” says Allen. “They’re already comfortable getting a haircut and that comfort leads them to ask ‘What’s the wax like?’ Everything we’re doing is about making people feel relaxed.”
Established 18 years ago, the Refinery prides itself in being one of the first men’s spas in the industry. The company’s first store is in another fashionable district of London – Knightsbridge – but this second location demonstrates the increasing awareness among men for services. “The demand is there,” says Allen. “Our treatment rooms are often booked up weeks in advance.”
Although still rare, other male-specific spas have sprung up around the world. In New York, places such as Hammer and Nails, and Living Fresh are flourishing with their treatments for men, while in Hong Kong, Gentlemen’s Tonic offers a range of men’s spa services. Allen believes, however, that in the near future, established spas will start offering more services with men in mind. It is clearly happening already; Hong Kong’s Bliss Spa for instance has a menu of male-specific waxing packages and other services.
But while availability may be on the rise, according to Allen, it’s not quite as simple as just offering men treatments – service has to be approached in a different way. “Men have to trust the person giving them treatments, so one of the things we will start doing is offering samples,” he says. “Customers can try a facial while they’re getting their hair cut. For some men, skincare is not something they’d consider, but sampling in this way lets them experience the service in a setting they’re comfortable without taking up more time. They’ll recognise there’s nothing to worry about and come back for more.”
For a large number of men, the relationship between the client and the barber is key, in part because many men may not know exactly which services they are after. Women on the other hand, seem much more comfortable making treatment reservations as evidenced by the growth of digital booking platforms. Currently available in 11 countries in Europe, Treatwell is one such service and comprises an app that links practitioners directly to punters. Female professionals have embraced the tool, which allows them to get anything from facials to a wax whenever and wherever they like.
While it may seem like a limitation, the trust between men and their barbers arguably creates more opportunities for the male spa experience. “Our clients trust us to give them advice in other areas of the life,” says Allen. “We’re forming partnerships with coffee brands and tailors, and hosting events like trunk clubs to introduce our clients to new things. We run photoshoots with Linkedin to ensure men are putting the best image forward on their professional portfolio.”
While these kinds of services may deviate from what we typically think of as a spa, the end result is ultimately the same – a relaxed experience for the client, and as Allen suggests, an air of refinement in their appearance and tastes.
So while men-only spas may not be about to explode into our cities, those lucky enough to have access to one should embrace it. For those who don’t, try asking the man in charge of how your hair looks what coffee you should be drinking. If he can’t answer with confidence, perhaps it’s time to find someone you trust.