Vienna, October 22:

Hard-charging American executives used to let off steam paint-balling or skydiving, but a new salon in this ritzy Washington suburb offers a less bruising stress remedy: Facials, pedicures and shiatzu massages.

The futuristic-looking Dessange Paris salon and spa also caters to women, but co-owners Claude Courtet and Tim Brockhoff are actively targeting high-earning male executives amid a US boom in so-called ‘manspas.’ However, their competition is mounting fast as pricey spas aimed exclusively at men are opening rapidly across the country and industry sales are no longer skin-deep.

The US spa industry had revenues of $11.2 billion in 2003, according to research, which says men now account for 31 per cent of the country’s spa-going population. The typical male ‘spa-goer’ is aged between 35 and 54 and a married university graduate earning between 75,000 and 149,000 dollars a year, according to the association.

Courtet and Brockhoff’s new salon and spa, which has luxury equipment including plush leather pedicure chairs costing $5,000 each, is surrounded by large corporate offices housing law firms, financial groups and other businesses. They hope the male pampering available at Dessange, a franchise of the Paris-based Dessange group, will appeal to many more clients like the casually-dressed businessman who has just arrived for his appointment.

“I’m here for a back wax,” says the 48-year-old businessman, blushing as he declines to give his name. “I’m getting ready to go out to Puerto Rico in a few weeks time,” he says, before being escorted off to a private treatment room by a white-coated female ‘aesthetician.’ Such executive mollycoddling, however, is not for those with light wallets.

Back wax treatments at the Tyson’s Dessange start at $45, while facials and massages, charged by 30 minute sessions, start at $50 and $100 respectively. “Executives, presidents and CEOs are very busy, they don’t have too much time to relax. It’s tailored to the American market where people are very rushed,” Brockhoff says, explaining the 30-minute pricing.

The salon also houses a men’s barber shop as well as a cafe with high-speed Internet access where customers can grab a drink or a light lunch. Brockhoff and Courtet’s business plan is aimed at achieving revenues of around $4.5 million within about three years.

However, rival business-owners are also racing to enter the growing market.

In the nearby Tyson’s Corner shopping mall, two local entrepreneurs, Michael Gilman and Pirooz Sarshar, have just opened their second Grooming Lounge store which offers a range of treatments solely for men.

They opened their first Grooming Lounge in Washington four years ago and now count local politicians among their clientele, as well as selling branded skincare products online.

US retail sales of men’s grooming products struck $7.7 billion in 2003 and are expected to reach almost $10 billion by 2008. American Male, which opened its first salon in 1997, runs salons in Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and other states, and opened its 15th salon in Las Vegas earlier this year.

Other men-only spas have proliferated in New York, Florida, Georgia and Minnesota as well as Washington state. Brockhoff and Courtet, a well-known international stylist who has tended to male celebrities such as film star Johnny Depp, opened Dessange’s doors to business in mid-September.

Aside from a ‘zen acupressure’ treatment or a shiatzu massage, harried male executives can also opt for a chocolate-waxing facial treatment before their next business meeting. “It’s more sensitive to the skin,” Brockhoff says, of the cocoa bean and Vitamin E waxing service.