There’s no need to massage the statistics: men are hitting spas across the country – and right here in Milwaukee – in bigger numbers than ever before.
Recently, the Boston Globe quoted International Spa Association numbers that show that men account for 47 percent – nearly half! – of all spa clients these days. That’s up from 31 percent less than a decade ago.
"I've seen men every single day," says Elizabeth Walsh, spa director at WELL Spa + Salon in The Pfister Hotel. "More and more are coming in and benefiting."
Walsh says WELL’s massage clientele is roughly 40 percent male.
"It's just starting to turn; men are becoming exposed to more (and) different things. It's becoming more of a mainstream thing and it's acceptable. Wives and girlfriends now are buying gift cards for their boyfriends or for their husbands, and sometimes that's their first exposure. It gets them locked in once they come in, because they see the difference."
Across the country, the Globe noted, spas have worked to boost male clientele with "macho" touches like shiatsu massage, father-son packages, golf massages, "executive men’s facials," darker colors, microbrews and more.
WELL Spa is decked out in a gender-neutral style, with muted tones, low lighting, hardwood floors and classy furniture. In the waiting lounge, Sports Illustrated and GQ share table space with Cosmo, Essence and Allure.
One key, says Walsh – an industry veteran with nearly two decades experience – is that men are overcoming their fear of the unknown and their unwillingness to ask questions.
"For regular everyday guys, there was always this unspoken stigma like, ‘I'm a manly man. I'm not going to go in and get a pedicure,’" she says. "Or you've got men, and I'm not saying all men, who are uncomfortable having to ask questions. If they've never had a massage before, and they don't know what the expectations are, and they don't know what to do, they will just avoid it altogether rather than getting a massage:
"‘Do I keep my clothes on? Do I take my clothes off? Am I draped? Am I not draped? What's going to happen? Are they going to tell me what to do?’ All of these things play out in a man's mind. Sometimes, it keeps them from coming in."
So, adds Walsh, the key is to not only offer services men want, but to speak the language of men. And sometimes that is the language of silence.
"You've got men that come in, and they don't talk about it," she says. "They don't want to look like they've ever been in, and they don't even talk about it. They don't feel that they need to talk about it."
Among the most popular services among men at WELL Spa + Salon, according to Walsh, are massages, haircuts and styling, waxing and, yes, manicures and pedicures.
And all of these services – which are, of course, also available for female clientele – are tailored to the specific needs of men.
"Their muscular structure is different, so sports massage or deep tissue is going to be much more beneficial and therapeutic for a man," she says, adding that sports also leads many men toward a variety of waxing services.
In addition to chest, brow and back waxing, WELL Spa clients include runners seeking leg waxing.
"You have swimmers that get their chest waxed," Walsh adds. "Some people get their whole body waxed if they're triathletes. You've got the normal, everyday guy that just wants to look better and feel better, and then you've got the athletes, as well.
"Pedicures are amazing because men are hard on their feet. It's becoming more and more acceptable for men to do. In fact, meetings at the golf clubs and the golf course, whether it's a colleague or it's someone that you're courting or whatever, a pedicure is an acceptable place to do business now, whether you have a martini, and you're just chatting, and you're talking about work."
Walsh says the staff at WELL is trained to read a client's body language and respond appropriately.
"We explain everything that's going to happen. The massage technician explains everything that happens. We try to walk them through. The biggest thing with men is, they just want to know what's going on. They want to be in control. They don't want to have to ask questions, and then they're able to relax. They feel much better and within 15 minutes they're like, ‘Alright. I can do this’."
Each successful new male client leads to more and more men showing up, says Walsh. So, she expects the percentage of male clients to continue to rise.
"Guys talk to guys," she says. "If you've had an experience that is profound – ‘I just had the best massage’ – you're going to tell your buddy, and then your buddy's going to know it's okay to go do that. Guys word of mouth is the best thing, because they're bragging about it to their friends."
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.