Howard spas tap into a growing male clientele

For Howard Magazine
Although women still dominate the spa scene, Howard County spas are seeing more men.

It never occurred to Gordon Lane that a spa might be considered female territory.

With its coastal decor and diffused light through windows and skylights, Brightwater Spa feels comfortable to the 63-year-old general contractor from Columbia.

“You’re able to step in the door and leave everything else behind,” says Lane, who has become a regular at the spa off Charter Drive in Columbia.

Lane books massages and facials often, looking forward to the hourlong break.

“I never even thought about it being less common for men,” he says.

As if to underscore his point, another male client walks by on his way to a weekly reflexology appointment.

Although women still dominate the spa scene, Howard County spas are seeing more men and have responded with services specifically geared toward them — mirroring a national trend.

“Men are taking more time to pamper themselves… and are seeing the benefits,” says Krystal Kroll, director of The Spa at Turf Valley in Ellicott City.

Nationally, the proportion of male spa-goers has grown to 47 percent, up from 31 percent less than 10 years ago, according to the International Spa Association.

While men have been going to spas since ancient times, today’s male spa client is typically 25 to 44 years old, and is likely to hold a job as a manager or above, according to statistics collected by the association.

Local spa managers say men make up 20 to 40 percent of their customers. Clients range from teens combating acne to retirees looking for health benefits, says Jamie Bright, owner of Brightwater Spa.

Some are looking for aesthetic results and opt for facials, tanning, waxing and nail services. Many, such as Lane, find significant stress relief.

Some men get their introduction to a spa with couple’s treatments. Others are given the experience as a gift.

“Then, he ‘has’ to come,” Bright says. “After that initial visit, they’re much more open.”

Sharon Schmitz, spa director at The Pearl Spa in Maple Lawn, says men are often brought in by spouses and partners to their Blue Grotto, where clients apply mud treatments themselves, then follow with steam and specialized showers.

“For those who are hesitant, it’s a good introduction,” Schmitz says. “They’re not being touched by strangers… By the time it’s over, they’re asking, ‘What’s next?’ ‘When’s your next opening?”

Like a lot of men going to a spa for the first time, Nate Anderson booked a massage.

“I kept hearing how good they were, and they really are,” says Anderson, a 39-year-old Baltimore disc jockey.

But when a staff person at The Spa at Turf Valley in Ellicott City recommended that he try a Vichy shower body treatment, Anderson was game. “I’ll try anything once,” he says.

Now, he’s a body treatment devotee, not to mention a regular customer at the spa.

That’s how it often goes, says Kroll: “The massage is the like the gateway drug.”

It’s not long before the male clients are experimenting with facials, body wraps and reflexology. And when the spa starts offering nail services in the near future, she expects a significant portion of the customers to be male.

Already, local spas are marketing to male clients.

At The Pearl Spa in Maple Lawn, for example, “The Metro Man” services include “The 007,” evoking James Bond to describe hand and foot treatments. “The Terminator” package promises to elevate gentlemen to “superhero status,” with a combination facial, massage and manicure.

The Spa at Turf Valley in Ellicott City offers a “Gentleman’s Rescue Facial” and “Gentleman’s Scrub.” And Oasis Day Spa in Columbia advertises an “Oasis for Men Getaway” with a sports massage and facial.

The actual treatments offered to men aren’t that different from those for women, except for the scents used, Kroll says. “We’re probably not using rose or lilac,” she says, “unless they request it.”

Of course, plenty of services are all-gender, from spray tanning to waxing.

The decor in many local spas is also gender-neutral. The Spa at Turf Valley, for example, features Tuscan decor done in beige hues. Lights are dimmed and tea candles flicker in votives, but the robes are white (not floral).

“It’s welcoming to everyone,” says Kroll.

But, others, such as The Pearl Spa, are designed with men in mind. The men’s lounge features leather recliners, a steam room, flat-screen TVs and bottled beer.

The atmosphere is an ideal setting for an alternative bachelor party, says Schmitz.

Long popular with brides and their wedding parties, Kroll says she’s is starting to see more male wedding parties at her spa, too. Just recently, a groom, his father and brother came in, she says. The groom was balking at the idea of a male spa day but quickly changed his mind.

“He was butter the rest of the day,” she says.

Spa staff expect to see even more men checking-in. “Some of it is word of mouth [recommendations],” says Schmitz. “But I think we’ll also see more men as spas become more mainstream.”

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