The gender makeup of the personal care industry is changing rapidly. Men’s grooming products have exploded, with a global market projected to reach $60 billion by 2020. Today, gender-neutral skincare is on the rise, major cosmetics brands are tapping male spokesmodels, and men now represent 47% of the spa-going population in the US, according to PwC and the International Spa Association.

For a unique take on men’s grooming, we spoke to Michael Elliot, the founder of Hammer & Nails, a “grooming shop for guys.”

How did Hammer & Nails start?

I was just a guy who really needed a pedicure and went to a nail salon one day. It wasn’t my first time, but on this particular Sunday, everything that I hated about the experience of going to a traditional salon was heightened and crystallized. I was in an environment that had, up until Hammer & Nails, been designed to make women feel comfortable. As I sat there, I felt like a fish out of water. At that moment, I thought “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a space for a man who wanted or needed this type of service to go to and not feel out of place?”

The men’s care market was growing globally. All the men that were investing in products and services in a way that they didn’t five years ago. For me, it was as simple as walking into Walgreens or CVS and noticing the number of products in the men’s section versus how many there used to be. Now, there was an entire aisle dedicated to men’s products at Target – there just wasn’t a section. Jay-Z wore a 3-piece suit in Vanity Fair and Kanye West wore a tuxedo on the cover of Vogue. Rappers and NBA players were looking good, being stylish, and taking pride in their appearance in a way they didn’t five years earlier. That was one of the marketing indicators that helped me to know that if ever there was a time for a men’s grooming concept like Hammer & Nails, this was it.

There was a statistic from the International Spa Association about how many men at spas get pedicures, and I was surprised at the answer, because it was much larger than the number of men you would think would walk into a typical nail salon every day. That told me that when a man is in a spa, when he is away from judgmental guys, he feels safe and is more likely to get a service like a pedicure.

What did you intend for Hammer & Nails to accomplish?

I wanted Hammer and Nails to be a destination for men who wanted or needed a pedicure. I wanted it to be that place where they felt safe and comfortable. Being a man, we do very little to reward or pamper ourselves. I saw an opportunity to make Hammer & Nails a place that isn’t just about the service of getting a manicure and pedicure, but a place that was experiential. I thought that women would be interested in a unique and thoughtful gift idea for men, and if Hammer & Nails was experiential, we would make that gift.

Couches at Hammer Nails Mens Grooming Salon
Boxing Gloves at Hammer Nails Mens Grooming Salon
Inside Hammer & Nails.
Couches at Hammer Nails Mens Grooming Salon

Men don’t talk about our feet or problems with them with our friends, so I saw an opportunity to focus on health and wellness. I wanted Hammer & Nails to be a place where he would meet a manicurist who would ask him if he has any problems with his feet, or identify an issue that he didn’t know he had. We’ve had men who have thanked us because only upon coming to Hammer & Nails did they learn that they’re a diabetic. That’s a part of our special sauce as well.

Lastly, there were all these perceptions of what a man who would get a manicure or a pedicure is like that I felt were wrong. I wanted to make sure that Hammer & Nails was a place where all men were welcomed. That was what was missing—if you wanted a manicure, you had to go to a “fine” men’s salon, the kind with the marble foyer that looked like a board room with a $20,000 pool table in the middle of the floor, or you had to go to the strip mall nail shop. I wanted Hammer & Nails to appeal to all men, and be more of the Ford FI-50 than the Rolls Royce.

How have people responded to Hammer & Nails?

From the moment I opened the first shop, it’s been unreal. On any day, we’ll have a pop star sitting next to the guy who works at DirecTV sitting next to the guy with all the tattoos who pulled up on the vintage motorcycle. We really have been embraced by all types of men, and women too. 30-35% of our revenue comes from women who buy gift cards.

Hammer & Nails Melrose, which is the only shop in our system that doesn’t have barbering, made $350,000 in 2015 with 7 chairs only doing hand and foot grooming for guys. Now, we’re franchising. We have about 5 shops and 2 locations open now, but we’ll open 5-6 additional shops by December. By March 2018, we should have a total of 10 shops opening. The response has been great.

What design elements did you use in creating this concept?

The design of Hammer & Nails came from something that is very obvious to me, which is that there are far more men who have never had a manicure than men who have. I wanted to create a place that would appeal to the guy that doesn’t get manicures or pedicures – the guys who would never step foot into a nail salon.

I wanted to create a place that didn’t look or feel like a nail salon, a salon in general, or a traditional barbershop. The vintage signs, the low lighting – when you walk into Hammer & Nails, you feel like you’re in a place where you can relax. When you see the sign on the front desk that says “Cell phones on vibrate”, you know that you’re in a different kind of spot. You experience a sense of serenity, because the tone is set from the moment you walk in. It looks and feels like man-cave Nirvana.

Many new spas and wellness products are seeking to brand themselves as gender-neutral, to appeal to both markets. Is that something you ever considered?

No, it wasn’t. From the very first moment, Hammer & Nails was conceived as a place where men can feel comfortable. That doesn’t mean that women aren’t welcome, but it wasn’t designed with women in mind. That’s why men appreciate it—they feel like this is for them.

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