Lookin' Good

Men can stop pilfering their women's lotions and hair gels -- companies are making grooming products just for them.

February 21, 2005|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Sun Staff

Please do not call Chris Oliver a metrosexual.

Yes, the 33-year-old account manager wears boot-cut jeans, paid a silly amount of money at a high-end salon to find the perfect haircut and uses a dab of gooey product on his hair every morning.

So, what of it? So, if that makes Oliver a metrosexual, then maybe NFL quarterback Chad Pennington and NASCAR driver Brian Vickers are, too. They are the latest models companies are using to put an increasingly manly face on hair gels, skin lotions and other personal grooming products.

Industry statistics show a boom in products and services catering to men's desire to look, smell and feel good.

These days, for example, the fastest-growing part of the spa industry is the male customer, who made up 29 percent of last year's business, the International SPA Association says. More and more male-oriented spas like FX Studios in Hunt Valley are popping up around the country to offer haircuts, massages, facials, pedicures and waxing -- while men comfortably watch their sports on flat-screen TVs.

As for skin care, real men may not cry, but they most certainly moisturize. Globally, market researcher Euromonitor International said overall sales of male grooming products will surge by 67 percent by 2008 to $19.5 billion.

In the United States, sales of male-specific cosmetics and toiletries went up 37.3 percent between 1998 and 2003, according to Euromonitor's 2004 study, with total sales of such products hitting $3.8 billion in 2003.

A sense of style

"It's important for men to look good," said Oliver, who works in the high-tech field. "Labels can be a little silly. Can't I just be a guy who has his own sense of style?"

While the polished grooming skills of European men have long earned them mad fashion props - bear in mind the 18th-century dandies who indulged in lace ruffles, gold embroidery, heels and powder - American men may be catching up.

Image-conscious guys have moved far beyond basic soap and water. Their skin-care regimens can rival the beauty secrets of any well-maintained woman.

Take Mark Burke, for example.

The 21-year-old associate manager for Coach in Annapolis developed his keen fashion sense in high school.

On a recent Tuesday, Burke was all casual elegance in his dark gray wool pants, light gray double knit cashmere sweater from Express Men and black Cole Haan shoes. Around his neck, the Catonsville resident wore a simple, but fashionable silver Gucci dog tag.

"You have to look good for the ladies," Burke said. "And you have to smell good, too. It's a must. They don't want no scruffy-looking guy with dry skin touching them."

Some guys would be reluctant to admit to such attention to detail. Burke, however, has no qualms about it. He's been known to drop $25 on a T-shirt, another $250 for Seven for All Mankind jeans, an occasional ten-spot for a manicure or pedicure and $70 to replenish his supply of Clinique for Men face scrubs and cleansers.

"You have to spoil yourself," said Burke, evoking a battle cry raised often by the opposite sex to justify extravagant expenditures.

That's not the only cue men have picked up from women.

Marketing experts believe that for years men pilfered their significant others' grooming products to deal with their own skin issues. That wet loofah in the tub didn't get soaked all on its own.

"Men are just as vain as women," said Amanda Webb, marketing manager for Avon Products Inc. "Women were buying these things for their men in the past or men were just sneaking it from the cabinet. Internally, Avon knew that we were selling to some men."

With the advent of lad magazines focusing on male desires for gadgets, girls and grooming and hit shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy making over clueless schlubs, the spotlight on male beauty is long overdue, some say.

"Scruffy is passe," said Candace Corlett, partner at WSL Strategic Research in New York. "Skin care is a category that is struggling at the moment. Eighty percent of women use skin-care products, but only 10 percent of men do. There's tremendous growth opportunity to grow this market. Men could be its salvation."

Tailored for guys

Companies like Avon have been quick to pick up on those market realities. The 118- year-old beauty products retailer, which built its reputation on selling to women door-to-door, launched M-The Men's Catalog in October.

The New York Jets' Pennington graces the cover of the first issue. Inside, men striving for that sculpted look can buy everything from PROExtreme's Advanced Eye Cream to Ab-Firm, a body gel to make the skin look firm and toned. "Good for love handles, too," the blurb claims.

Meanwhile, NASCAR's Vickers is hawking fragrant Garnier Fructis hair-care products to 75 million NASCAR viewers.

Other companies are eager to help men exfoliate and preen, too. Ranging from prestige companies like ZIHR to more mass-market names like Neutrogena, all offer an exclusive men's line.

But massaging the male ego is never easy, experts say, and neither is selling to it.

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