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Male-Themed Salons: Barbershops With Style

Small Business

Major League Trim is one of several shops that cater to men, providing entertainment and sometimes even a cold one to patrons.

August 16, 2006|Cynthia H. Cho | Times Staff Writer

Rob Reed needed a haircut. But the only time the 35-year-old Westlake Village resident could get one was on a Sunday afternoon, when the Lakers were playing.

So he left his home at halftime, thinking that he'd be back before the game ended. The local branch of a chain salon could give him a cheap haircut, but it wasn't quick -- he missed the second half of the game.

That experience got him thinking: There are millions of salons that cater to women -- why not one for me?

Four years later, Reed is an owner of Major League Trim in West Los Angeles, with six barber stations, each with its own 13-inch TV and access to the cable sports stations. It has paintings and photos of sports legends on the walls. A life-size bobblehead of Shaquille O'Neal stands in one corner.

Major League Trim, which opened five months ago, is one of several themed salons in Southern California that cater primarily to men who are wary of unisex salons and find traditional barbershops old-fashioned.

"This is geared toward guys," said Jess Cortez, 32, who was getting a haircut recently. "Most of the stylists at normal salons don't know how to do a fade. It's all for women. There aren't any men's magazines."

Recent arrivals in Los Angeles include not only the sports-bar look but also places that masquerade as a gentleman's club and a rock music club. There was even one with a gas station theme that is now closed.

These independent salons are just a sliver of the vast hair-care services industry that in 2005 had revenue of $45.7 billion, according to Professional Consultants & Resources, a Plano, Texas-based company that specializes in the professional salon and beauty industries.

Chain salons -- companies with many branches such as Supercuts and Fantastic Sams -- account for $10 billion of the sales in 2005, according to Professional Consultants. The remainder comes from mom-and-pop operations like Reed's salon.

Many of the independent salons are run by full-timers. Other owners see their businesses as an opportunity to earn extra income. Reed, for example, has a day job as an executive at a downtown sports and entertainment company. In California, there were 21,291 licensed barbers at last count, according to the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. In Los Angeles County, there were 4,821.

Like Major League Trim, other smaller salons have their own gimmicks, offering diversions, entertainment and sometimes even a little liquor.

Whiskey or bourbon, on the rocks or straight up (mixers are not available), are offered with a haircut at the Shave, a Beverly Hills salon that is strictly for men. Guinness is an option too.

"Our theme is a luxury lifestyle with a nod to old London," co-owner Adam Dishell said. "When you walk in, it smells like man. It is geared toward the reluctant male who doesn't want to go to a woman's salon.

"Our motto is, 'Get in touch with your gentleman side.' It's reestablishing what it means to be a gentleman," he said.

Dishell said his salon was not required to hold a liquor license because the libations were not sold and were served only to paying customers.

Traditional salon services offered at the Shave, which opened in September, have been renamed to sound more masculine. On the menu of services: the Sweater Removal (a $35 back wax) and the Fingernail Clip n'Clean (a $25 manicure). Haircuts start at $35 for a buzz cut, and the signature shave is $65.

Themed barbershops aren't new, but they've been making a comeback over the last few years, said Charles Kirkpatrick, executive director of the National Assn. of Barber Boards of America, a professional trade group.

Even though themed salons might be popping up, Kirkpatrick said, it will take a long time, if ever, for them to eliminate the traditional neighborhood barbershops.

"I think they'll do OK," he said. "They'll put a lot of money into it. They'll find out that the volume is not as big as they thought it would be. And some of them will get out of it."

That was the case for Service Station Barber Plus Body, which opened Dec. 1 and closed July 30. The automotive-themed shop in West L.A. offered haircuts, hot shaves, massages, facials and waxing services.

Steve Woolford, the company president, said he and his business partners faced a number of challenges, including finding the right location, getting the appropriate permits from the city and attracting their target male customers.

"With women, it's ingrained in their lives. It's a must-do; it's like breathing," he said. But for men who were "just on the cusp" of discovering these sorts of grooming services, it was difficult to persuade them to make it a routine. He said business grew steadily -- the shop had 2,000 clients in its database -- and he believed that there was a market for what his salon was offering.

"I say the business is definitely there. It was growing. We were doing quite well with product sales too," Woolford said.

The partners spent $1.1 million to build the salon. In the end, they ran out of money to operate.

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