Aaron Harris for the Toronto Star
Case Studies

Toronto’s upscale Yorkville Bodé Spa Medi-Wellness needs more men getting facials

Vital Stats
Bodé Spa Medi-Wellness for Men
Inirida Zerpa
416.968.0808, toronto@bodespa.ca
Spa, personal grooming
four full-time employees and seven part-time contractors
Years active:
Customers often visit the spa on the suggestion of female partners, who usually book all their appointments.

Looking for an edge to clinch your next big deal or job interview? If you’re male, add one more task to your to-do list: a spa visit to take care of your ragged fingernail cuticles, out-of-control unibrow and those off-putting hairs sprouting from your ears.

According to Inirida Zerpa, owner of Toronto’s Bodé Spa Medi-Wellness for Men, Canadian men are just catching on to what women have known for decades: first-rate grooming – think manicures, skin treatments and waxing – is essential for a polished and professional image.

But, unfortunately, for Zerpa and her almost-one-year-old Yorkville business, not enough men are catching on quickly enough. As Toronto’s sole male-only spa, and one of just a handful in Canada, it caters to a small but growing niche market – men who have traditionally had no interest in a mani pedi.

Zerpa knows she is on the leading edge of a trend. According to SpaFinder Wellness, an international spa marketing company, over 30% of spa visitors in North America are now men, up from 24% in 2002.

Her 3,200-square-foot spa, staffed by a 50/50 mix of men and women sells a solid 24 services on a busy Saturday, but a mere two or three on a typical Monday. She’s anxious to build each day to the 24-services level and at least double her revenues.

Although her roster of clients, who range from Bay Streeters to actors to truck drivers, has been increasing steadily, the business – financed with about $500,000 in seed capital from Zerpa and one other investor – is currently just covering its operating costs.

“Once they’re here, they stay as clients,” says Zerpa, noting her impressive 65 per cent conversion rate. “Men are more loyal than women in this industry, plus they don’t have the same option to shop around. Our clients tend to try one service initially, like a haircut or a foot treatment, and then add another the next time.”

Although this is her first venture into entrepreneurship, Zerpa spent 30 years at several airlines working in sales and customer service

She clearly understands her business’s marketing conundrum. “Our biggest obstacle isn’t competition, but that there are a lot of stereotypes and preconceived notions – men think a spa is where their wives go.”

To create a male-friendly atmosphere, Zerpa has taken cues from her investor/business partner who’s owned a highly-successful Ottawa men’s spa for ten years. The result is a serene and handsome retreat that offers man-size robes and slippers, products (like moisturizers and cleansers) with neutral/non-flowery scents and private treatment rooms. Men, unlike women, don’t like to sit together and socialize while they’re having their cracked heels and ingrown toenails tended to, says Zerpa.

According to Adriana Costenaro, president of Toronto’s Bryan College, the first Canadian college with a curriculum dedicated to the wellness and spa industry, Zerpa is making all the right moves.

“Men’s spa visits often start with a girlfriend or wife booking them in to take care of their badly callused feet. It starts as a need, and then becomes a want,” she says. “But even if they really like the service, they won’t go back if the clientele is predominantly women and if they feel out of their comfort zone.”

Bodé’s biggest revenue generators are massage, hair removal (they call it “manscaping”) and facials (“facial tune-ups”), and prices are comparable to other spas in Toronto. There are also “foot fixes” and “hand fixes” (pedicures and manicures), and male-specific signature services such as “Brozillian” waxes (the male equivalent of the Brazillian) and body-hair trimming.

Still, to crank up revenues, Zerpa knows that the business must capture more early adopters–and get them talking.

She has tried all the standard low-cost marketing techniques: social media (the spa has 475 Facebook fans and 610 Twitter followers); several open houses and a series of three workshops, like “Learn to Shave,” which attracted 6 to 20 men each. She also made  a presentation to American Expresses’ team of 17 local concierges which has only resulted in referrals to date, held events at Harry Rosen and Korry’s menswear stores, offered mini treatments at the University of Toronto and various golf tournaments, and had three months of small ads in a glossy tourist magazine. Those ads, says Zerpa, were $3,000 down the drain.

A spring Groupon deal, that offered a $400 package for $199, resulted in 50 sales, 41 of which have been redeemed.

Zerpa considers the spa’s search optimized website to be her best marketing investment. But she realizes the obvious limitation: the website is only useful if men search for it, and they need to be sold on the good grooming concept already before they type “male spa” into google.

In the meantime, Zerpa is moving forward and will soon be introducing medical-grade esthetic services like laser hair removal and “Brotox” (Botox for men). And she says, trends are moving in her favour.

“More and more men are coming around to the idea that looking and feeling good is an important part of their success.”