Vanity case

Grooming salons are the next big thing on the high street. But how do you create interiors that appeal to all tastes and cater to every need.

Hair removal, manicures, eyebrow-tinting and shaping, facials, massages. These and other beauty treatments are being touted at an increasing number of outlets, as entrepreneurs see the opportunity to cash in on an underdeveloped market. According to research company Mintel, it’s worth at least £1.3bn a year.

There have always been beauty parlours, but in the past they tended to be attached to hairdressers, department stores and hotels, or more recently fitness centres. Now, the new players are fragmenting the market, in terms of both services and target audiences.

Only a quarter of the population had any health, relaxation or beauty treatments in 1998, according to Mintel’s March 1999 report, so there’s plenty of room for growth. And as a variety of services become more mainstream, “going for regular beauty or grooming treatments is likely to become a more integral part of everyday life for a much wider proportion of the population”, predicts Mintel leisure analyst Caroline Norman.

The latest niche players have so far come in the shape of nail bars and hair removal outlets. In the last nine months, a handful of nail bars have appeared, aiming to change our perception of manicures, from a once-in-a-blue-moon treat, to an affordable and hence frequent treatment. These are highly branded environments, taking many of their design and service cues from the US-import coffee bar phenomenon and have all proclaimed their almost immediate plans to roll out. Studio Hagger, The Formation and General Practice with Design Bridge were behind the interiors for Ten, NYNC and Nails Inc respectively. Since then, Rhodes Design has branded the Nail Bar as Scarlet, which opened 18 months ago and saw the need to differentiate itself from its younger rivals. The new name first appeared in the new shop on Marylebone High Street in central London (DW 14 July).

Now inexpensive hair removal for women has sprung up on the high street. By the early autumn, there will be seven Boots stores offering laser treatment. Interiors for the scheme, designed in-house, are currently being piloted at London’s Kensington High Street, Crawley and Milton Keynes.

But it is the male population which represents the real under-exploited potential. Like Captain Correlli’s Mandolin, the male health and beauty market has been something of a slow burner. A two-pronged attack was undertaken by the manufacturers, introducing or relaunching men’s grooming products. Brylcreem was rebranded by Design Bridge last year, and Nivea unveiled a range for the male market. In addition, the new generation of men’s magazines has been promoting these products. “All the traditional messages for women are now being shoved down men’s throats,” says Omar Fadli, co-founder of men-only salon The Refinery.

What’s more, the male audience seems to be taking the bait, so that the sector is finally beginning to fulfil its promise. Research company Datamonitor predicted last year that the UK market value of men’s toiletries would exceed £687m by 2004, up from £580m in 1999.

Health and fitness clubs have reaped the benefits as a growing number of men take an active interest in their appearance. They already © have plenty of male members and can market to them more effectively, says Mintel.

However, Boots the Chemists is piloting men-only branches, designed in-house, in Bristol and Edinburgh. Grooming services include wet shaves, facials, manicures, waxing and head massages. Called Boots Men, the company has invested £2m in the concept. Elida Fabergé is meanwhile reported to be launching a barber shop chain under its Lynx brand next month.

At the other end of the market, London salon The Refinery on Mayfair’s Brook Street is doing brisk business. Designed by Simon Simpson, the then 3D design director at Minale Tattersfield, the five-storey salon has the feeling of a contemporary gentleman’s club. “We wanted to enter at the top end of the market, as the Harvey Nichol’s of men’s grooming,” says co-founder Omar Fadli.

An ex-investment banker, Fadli did his research in New York and Paris, and concluded that “there was no innate reason why men didn’t want to look after themselves”. He commissioned a retail feasibility study from Management Horizons Europe, which confirmed his impressions. Fadli and his partner Leith Waines visited a number of women’s beauty salons masquerading as punters, and found the atmosphere decidedly unwelcoming. The design of The Refinery aims to dispel this, without being overtly macho.

At The Refinery, most clientele are cosmopolitan: US and Japanese businessmen and City boys. “We didn’t want it to be a niche outlet, just for wealthy or gay clients,” says Fadli, and so although it has a clubby atmosphere, it is not a members’ club.

Although men’s grooming has a long way to go before it reaches saturation, either in products or services, it may have its own limitations. Mintel consumer goods consultant Elvira Doghem-Rashid believes this market will never be anything more than a niche, and most men still have a long way to go when it comes to personal grooming. “As a sector, getting men to buy their own products is the next step. Salons are a step further – it’s a niche.” The men’s grooming market, she believes, is never going to be as big as women’s.

So perhaps the most successful concepts will be those that are not aimed at one specific audience, therefore alienating no-one. Certainly Mintel thinks this is the way forward: “Salons which are most successful will be those which can offer clients a non-intimidating atmosphere, using state-of-the-art techniques or a particularly extensive menu of alternative or holistic treatments,” reads its report.

Euphoria 1 opened off London’s Chelsea Green two months ago, offering facial treatments and products devised by Tracey Malone, along with manicures and pedicures. Designed by co-owner Carole Langton, of Langton Interiors, and architect Weldon Walsh, the two-floor shop is bright, modern and clinical. Co-owner Lady Jacqueline Thomson says the environment was not particularly designed with men in mind, but “we wanted it to appeal to everybody”. She says the shop’s look is “very of the moment, and not intimidating for men, as it’s not pink and frilly”. The packaging, designed by Trigger, has an androgynous feel, she says. About 10 per cent of Euphoria 1’s customers are men.

Nail bar Ten, set up by ex-army officer Russell Ross-Smith, is actively chasing male customers. The graphics and bar layout were specifically designed not to alienate the male audience, and even in the last month, the customer profile has changed. “It’s not just the well-travelled European businessman,” says Ross-Smith. “It’s more ordinary people who look a bit spoddish. The inroads we expected to make (into the male market) are happening, because the look of our place is non-threatening and non-traditional.” Male custom currently runs at around 10 per cent. Following the outlets on Berkeley Street and Watling Street in the City, the concept will be rolled out.

Meanwhile, Emulsion design duo Yen Yen Teh and Michael Deeley is working on a truly unisex beauty salon. The interiors of Iomi, set up by client Mark Harris, aims to appeal to both sexes through the select use of materials.

“But it won’t be too monochrome,” says Teh. Emulsion has designed multi-grooming stations, so customers can enjoy several treatments at once. The plan is to arrange them in full view of the shop front, “so there’s no sense of enclosure”, she adds.

To avoid either sex feeling outnumbered in the waiting rooms, more private niche areas have been incorporated. Another idea is to employ some male staff, like The Refinery, as a way of helping male customers feel less awkward. Harris, who wants to turn Iomi into a chain, is looking to open his first 232m2 site in London – either in the City or the West End – next spring. Designer and illustrator Kam Tang has created the identity and graphics. Eventually own-brand products will be introduced.

This is surely just the beginning. “A growing number of companies will specifically target men by making sure the appearance of their salons is unisex and that products used are suitable for men as well as women,” says Mintel.

And like any self-respecting retailer these days, all these outlets have or are developing websites. The development of own-brand products is also par for the course, another example of leisure and retail joining forces.

While male grooming as an industry is a new phenomenon, some retailers seem to be taking a catch-all approach. The next phase of its evolution will be the development of niche markets, beyond the simplistic “new man” tag, giving designers the opportunity to create some specific target concepts.

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