First Person Singular: Michael Gilman, 41, Owner, the Grooming Lounge
By Robin Rose Parker,
My family had run a beauty distribution business. They were salon distributors. My grandfather started the business more than 80 years ago, and while I didn’t really work there, I grew up learning about it at the dinner table and working through summers there with friends. So I’d done that, and my old business partner was a hair stylist. We met up at a trade show where I was helping my family’s business, and after talking for a while, we kept coming back to the same point — that all of what we categorized as our beer-drinking, football-watching buddies were always asking us:Can we get them that moisturizer or that shaving cream? We always went back to these guys and said, “Why don’t you just go buy it?” And the same answer kept coming back: “I feel kind of silly going into the shop — there’s a woman behind the counter, and I don’t want to ask her about the bags under my eyes or a nose hair trimmer.”
Well, a light kind of went on. If these guys, who we didn’t target as the most well-groomed guys, are into this stuff, then imagine what a real professional guy — who’s taking care of himself — imagine what some of the issues he has are or some of the things he wants to take care of. Right before I got married, my wife said: “You’ve got to go get a manicure. Your nails are gross.” I remember going and getting a manicure, and I got it in a typical female-oriented nail spa. I was surrounded by 20 women getting their nails done, and I remember sitting there having had my head down the whole time. I was out of my element; I felt uncomfortable.
When we were going to get our first store, we couldn’t get space from a landlord. Their rationale was: That’s a great idea, but no guy in D.C.’s spending 50 bucks for a haircut. I don’t know what I expected, but when we started the business, I certainly didn’t know what guy is going to be in here at 2:15 on a Wednesday getting a foot treatment. I didn’t know this would happen, but it happens every day of the week. A lot of guys work really hard. They make enough money, and if they can step out somewhere and take care of themselves in a place that treats them right, they are more than willing to do it. I didn’t even realize the power of guys being able to step away and just kind of escape somewhere, even if it’s just an hour.
I got an e-mail [about] a guy who’s been coming here, I think, since we opened. The e-mail [was] from his wife or his significant other. And it was basically saying: “Our relationship had always been the other way around, where he was checking my credit card receipts to say that I had spent too much money at the salon. And the tables have turned. Now I look at him and say — ‘You spent what at the Grooming Lounge?’ ”