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Gentleman’s salon to open in Columbia’s Vista

krupon@ (803) 771-8308May 15, 2014 

Can you get a pedicure and still feel manly?

Melanie Wright has proven that you can with Frank’s Gentlemen’s Salon in Greenville, which opened two years ago to bring haircuts, facials, straight-razor shaves, mani-pedis, brow waxing and even shoe-shining services to men – in a manly men atmosphere. (Think man-cave waiting room, with Frank Sinatra crooning in the background and cigar sales.)

“Men want to have all those things done. They just don’t want to go to a chickie place to do it,” said Wright, who is opening her second salon in Columbia’s Vista at 717 Lady St. in a month.

“Columbia is not going to know what hit them,” Wright said from her downtown Greenville shop this week. “The men down there are going to be so happy.”

The men’s grooming industry is gaining ground. Spending on men’s grooming products in the United States is expected to rise 9 percent to $6.1 billion in retail sales in 2017, according to a 2012 report from Euromonitor International, a consumer-markets research group.

“Men are starting to get more manicures, pedicures. We’re starting to see a lot more men get (hair) color,” said Angela Morrison, president of the S.C. Association of Cosmetology Schools. “(But) men aren’t going to go into the salon where women are to get all that.”

The trend came to bigger cities, such as Charlotte, about 10 years ago, Morrison said. But she has noticed several men-centered salons opening in a few areas around South Carolina in recent years, and cosmetology schools are beginning to teach students how to perform services for men. “We’re finally catching up.”

As men get more comfortable in a salon setting, Morrison expects the trend to grow in the state.

In her Greenville salon, Wright said she has two “groomsmen parties” booked for every Saturday in May. It’s the equivalent of a bride and her bridesmaids going to the salon for makeovers before a wedding.

For regular appointments, Wright and her stylists also focus on the experience, providing consultations about what hairstyle is right for each client based on his lifestyle and face shape. They also provide a neck-and-shoulder massage with the haircut and a straight-razor neck shave.

“Men work so hard and, usually, to them having to get a haircut is just an inconvenience. They just don’t want to go do it,” Wright said.

But the salon experience provides a “time out” for men from the stresses of everyday life, she said. “We’ve just created a very comfortable environment for them.”

Columbia’s salon – under construction now – will be similar to Greenville’s, featuring black leather salon chairs with red accents; a man cave outfitted with a chess board, dart board, leather couches and soft drinks for waiting clients; and a shoe-shine station.

But it also will have a unique feel – “kind of like an old law library, with mahogany walls, hardwood floors, very masculine,” said Wright. “It’s kind of like an old-fashioned barbershop on steroids.”

Wright said the response to her Greenville salon has been incredible.

While running Augusta Place Salon in Greenville for 13 years, she always thought somebody should open a gentlemen’s salon in the Upstate. “I just didn’t know the Lord was waiting on me. It was just by chance that it happened.”

Wright said one of her clients owned a building on Main Street – and had a tenant who wanted to get out of the lease – so he asked her to come look at the space, she said. She was dead-set against doing another salon, but she asked which building it was.

“There was one space on Main Street that I had been coveting for years, thinking that would be the killer salon space,” she said.

That was the building, and Wright took it as a sign.

But when she went to look at it, the rent was double what she had been quoted. Turns out, the landlord got the building mixed up with another he owned around the corner that was half the size and half the price.

Wright said she was done.

Until she started thinking about it. “I just started really praying about it, me and my boys,” said Wright, who said she doesn’t so much as tie her shoes without praying about it.

When she walked in to take a look at the second building, “It was on,” she said. “What you see on our website is what I saw in my head.”

Wright had three people offer to back the salon financially, but she didn’t feel comfortable. So she went to her banker and, ultimately, came up with a solution she could stomach. She took the bank her car title and got a loan that was interest-only for the first year.

“Within two months, Frank’s was paying its own bills,” she said. “Within the first year, I had paid the loan back, and I got my car title back.”

Today, Wright is expanding to Columbia, where her oldest son, Cody, will manage the shop. She is poised to expand her Greenville salon. And she just signed her first franchise deal for a salon in Sarasota, Fla.

So why did she choose the name Frank’s?

“I didn’t want them to picture some little blonde owning the place. I wanted them to think it was some old Navy hand with a flattop and a beer gut.”

Plus, her Greenville landlord’s name is Frank. “I figured if I couldn’t pay the rent, he could not possibly kick me out.”

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