Real Men Shop

How local retailers market to men

By Karen Johnson

TRAVERSE CITY – Marketing to men is not a new concept; the birth of the automobile spawned a new era of advertising targeted toward men. The key to understanding what men want is to understand how men see themselves – and how they want others to see them.

Creating a comfortable, non-threatening environment goes a long way toward getting and keeping a loyal male client. There are certain factors that will always ensure a successful shopping experience, said Maurie Allen, owner of Captain's Quarters in downtown Traverse City. With 45 years of experience under his belt, he knows a thing or two about marketing to men.

"A lot has changed, yet much has remained the same," he said. "Among the factors remaining unchanged are the importance of a warm, sincere, friendly greeting and determining if there's a specific need that has precipitated the visit. If so, then developing a strategy to not only meet, but exceed, that client's need. An experienced and knowledgeable staff well-schooled in fabrics, precision fitting and skillful communication can expedite the process, leading to a mutually-satisfying visit."

Jennifer Ringl, owner and interior designer at Nest of Grand Traverse, agrees with Allen. Her home interiors and furnishings boutique, also in downtown Traverse City, has a warm, gender-neutral vibe designed to appeal to men and women alike, with a staff trained to understand both points of view.

"We see a lot of couples shopping together, making joint decisions about their home furnishings," she said. "Men can be very active in the process and it's important to consider their input."

She purposefully carries items in rich, bold patterns, rather than the more traditional, female-centric florals and pastels. Just as clothing is a reflection of how men see themselves, so too is their home. Both help to define how a man wants to be perceived: strong, confident – maybe even a little adventurous.

Men are also boldly going to one place where few have gone before: the salon. Long considered a female domain, today's male client has embraced spas and salons.

Sandra Dunn, owner of Impr├ęs Salon on Traverse City's west side, has not only seen the number of male clients increase, but also the type of services they're incorporating into their grooming routine.

"Men have learned the benefits of professional grooming, whether its manicures, pedicures, hair color or product usage," Dunn said. "One of the treatments that's really gained popularity is waxing – ear, nose, eyebrow and, particularly, back waxing."

Whereas they used to come in somewhat sheepishly, men are now regular clients with standing appointments. Even salon terms have evolved for the masculine market. "Camo-coloring" is used to describe male hair coloring techniques that hide the gray, but are subtle enough that no one knows it's been done.

Using male-specific terminology is also a successful selling tool for Joel Heady, manager of the Traverse City branch of The Sunglass Shoppe, who likens buying frames and lenses to buying a cool sports car.

"Our Maui Jim line of eyewear uses similar materials to those found in fine autos," Heady explains. "I find if I break an item down to tech-components, like titanium and carbon fiber, men will respond. They like getting the coolest thing on the market. I'll also use sports influences to appeal to their interests: a specific lens to enhance depth of vision for golfers, or low glare for guys who spend time on the water. Men like things explained in detail," he added. "They really need to know exactly what they're getting."

An understanding of trends is vital, said Allen. "A major change in our menswear industry has been the evolution of acceptable business attire. In the past several decades, the suit has been the prominent component of the business wardrobe," he said. "But today, 'business casual' has become an alternate choice. In clothing and in business, it's all about return on investment."

Joe Frost of Robert Frost Fine Footwear in Petoskey and Traverse City has noticed a "drastic change" in the male customer since he began working for his family-owned business in 1998.

"Fisherman sandals, woven Italian and tassel loafers have been surpassed by basic Venetian and driving-style loafers, nautical shoes and casual, performance sandals," Frost said. "We strive to maintain our male customer by offering him formal and funky options to complete his work and casual needs. We use email marketing to encourage the return of our male and female customer alike."

While women can view shopping as an event, men usually have a more task-oriented approach. "This is what I want, this is where I'm going to get it." And it's answering that "where" question that tops many successful retailers' lists.