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FT Undercover checks out three grooming brands


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Ever wonder how consumers feel about your franchise? Editorial staffers Laura Michaels, Nick Upton, Tom Kaiser and Beth Ewen check out three brands in a different genre each issue, and report back.

When I asked Jameson, The Gents Place barber behind my straight razor shave, what was up with my hot-towel blindfold, he said it’s meant to be relaxing. But as a first-timer at the business end of a straight razor, it was not. Of course like the host who offered me some beer at the mini bar out front and everyone I interacted with in the “men’s grooming and lifestyle club,” Jameson was absurdly accommodating. He hoisted my hot towel so I could at least see the deadly sharp blade coming at my throat. His overwhelming patience and high-touch service with a skittish, scruffy and travel-weary journalist captures the two-hour experience at the upscale men’s grooming concept—it was nearly perfect. By the time it was time for my haircut, I was baby smooth and so relaxed I almost fell asleep in my chair. My stylist Sheridan said that’s normal. Since Franchise Times was footing the bill, I skipped right over the standard 3 Course haircut ($50) and splurged on a straight shave and the 7 Course treatment ($145 plus tip). It consisted of a personal consultation, a cut and style, a rejuvenating paraffin hand dip, a hand massage, an energizing shampoo and conditioning, an invigorating scalp massage, face refresher and more steamed towels—so many steamed towels. While it was extremely relaxing and I looked like a well-groomed child afterward, it took a long time.

The upshot: The Gents Place offers an  addictive mini vacation for a maxi price, perfect for millennials like me on the cusp of our highest-earning years. —NU

FT Undercover

Laura Michaels, top, gets her Farrah on at Drybar, while Tom Kaiser, left, checks out Tune Up and Nick Upton experiences multiple hot towels at The Gents Place.

Its menu reads like a cocktail list: Manhattan, Mai Tai, Dirty Martini. Aside from a complimentary coffee or mimosa, though, Drybar isn’t serving drinks but instead providing blowout services to the hairstyle-obsessed masses. Nearing 100 locations, it’s among the larger franchises capitalizing on the still-growing trend of blow dry bars, wherein customers get a specialized blowout, no cuts, no color. Arriving at one of Drybar’s Dallas locations at 9 a.m. on a Thursday, I was surprised to see a dozen chairs already occupied by ladies ranging from the hipster 20-something in flannel to an impeccably outfitted older woman getting what I later learned was the “Southern Comfort” style, aka big hair, bouncy curls. I opted for the loose curls look of “The Cosmo” (although my editor, of an older generation, called it the Farrah Fawcett) and my stylist set about shampooing my hair—twice—so it was as clean as could be to better hold the style. About 40 minutes later I walked out feeling like a movie star but also wondering how people can regularly drop at least $45 (regular blowout) just to get their hair done. And thankfully I didn’t need to cancel my appointment. Late cancellations and no-shows are charged a $20 fee to the credit card required to book an appointment.

The upshot: Drybar puts polish on the standard blowout, plus offers conditioning and scalp massage add-ons for those seeking a more indulgent experience. — LM

One day before a conference that included on-stage time, I noted the grooming equivalent of a check-engine light or two and made an appointment at Tune Up—The Manly Salon in Grapevine, Texas. As a polygamous haircut customer, I was curious whether this was on the mimosa or whiskey end of the men’s grooming spectrum. Walking in, the overstuffed leather chairs, wood paneling and rugged beard oil scents suggested this was the most masculine salon in the land. I was the only customer, but Melissa and company immediately offered me a drink, and brought me back to comfy chairs to soak my hands and scrape away remnants of the manual labor from my life as a journalist. Without polish, my manicure was expeditious before I was directed to a barber’s chair to work on my shaggy mop. Melissa was terrifically friendly and said she loved the ambiance compared to typical salons. She brought out the razor for a beard trim, and what a luxury it is to have somebody else sweat those details. All in all, a fair price for $92 including a $20 tip. I chatted with two prospective franchisees who were checking the place out before signing for themselves, and they happily extolled the concept’s virtues. I declined to point out the lack of customers.

The upshot: After one experience, it’s easy to imagine feeling bullish about turning men’s grooming over to the pros—especially when duty calls. —TM

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