Sunday, February 24, 2013

Meant for gents

Catering to "today's man," Jacks in downtown Roanoke is an old-school barber shop with high-end amenities. It promises pampering that's ...

Sarah Preston (right), barber at Jacks Men's Fine Grooming & Valet Services shaves customer Steve Wright.

Kyle Green | the Roanoke Times

Sarah Preston (right), barber at Jacks Men's Fine Grooming & Valet Services shaves customer Steve Wright.

Correction (Feb. 25, 2013: 3:17 p.m.): Deb Roberts is the manager of Jacks. Her last name was incorrect in an earlier version of this story, which has been updated. | Our corrections policy

Bill Stevens sat back in a big, cushy chair and relaxed as a young woman rubbed his feet with warm, soapy water and clipped his toenails.

"Normally, I do not get the pedicure," Stevens, a retired Roanoke neurosurgeon, said over the burbling foot bath. "Today, I just felt like it. Had a little back rub, too."

Back rubs? Women rubbing his feet? Was this heaven? No, it was the barber shop.

That's what Jacks calls itself, anyway. "A classic barber shop experience designed for today's man."

That is, "today's man" who needs an exfoliating facial rub, aromatherapy towel and ear hair waxing after his haircut. Maybe a little deep-tissue massage would be nice, too.

Are Roanoke's men ready for this kind of treatment? You bet your badger-hair shaving brush they are, according to the shop's owner.

"Roanoke has reached the point where it has the critical mass to support this kind of establishment," said Jack Hans, who opened the self-named fine-grooming shop (don't call it a "salon," he says) last fall in downtown Roanoke.

The shop's location is as interesting as its list of services. Jacks operates inside the front windows of Davidsons clothing store on Jefferson Street, where men can shop for neckties and polo shirts while waiting for their scalp massages.

In the process, Jacks has not only added a new business to downtown Roanoke, its presence has invigorated an old one and may bring more foot traffic to Jefferson Street, once the mecca of Roanoke retail.

"The amount of energy of just having them here has been very positive," said Larry Davidson, president of the clothing company his grandfather started in 1910. "It's been the perfect collaboration."

Foot rubs & free drinks

Since opening last fall, Jacks has slowly built up a list of clients.

Manager Deb Roberts said groups of men have come for guys' spa days. Parties of groomsmen have come in for pre-nuptials manicures. Another pack of dudes came in for massages and haircuts before a day of golf. They even got their golf shoes shined (another Jacks service).

Customers are treated to more than just haircuts and pedicures. Complimentary Starbucks dark roast coffee or soda is offered. In the near future, Hans expects to secure a special "day spa" license from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control that will allow Jacks to offer complimentary beer or wine.

Free booze might make it easier to persuade some men to sit still for that pedicure. In the meantime, other techniques have proved effective in getting guys to come.

"Their wives buy them gift certificates," Roberts said.

Such was the case with Stevens, the retired surgeon who was getting the foot treatment. At 77 and recently coming off knee-replacement surgery, he found he needed a little help with his toenails, so his wife got him a gift certificate to Jacks.

"It's been wonderful," Stevens said, as licensed cosmetologist Lauren Bradbury bathed his tootsies.

Still, Hans knows that some men just aren't comfortable with the idea of getting a pedicure. That's why all of that happens upstairs, out of view of men who are in Davidsons for a little tailoring.

"Some guys are like, 'I don't know if I want my feet hanging out!'" Hans said. "I imagined this great ad of a guy sitting there [getting a pedicure], covering his face while a couple of older ladies were chatting nearby."

A costly endeavor

Hans, who is in his 60s, got the idea for Jacks when visiting Knoxville, Tenn., where his college-student son took him to Frank's Barber Shop, a place that includes a billiards table.

He thought the concept of old-school barber shop and high-end amenities could work in Roanoke, where enough doctors, lawyers, bankers and regular Joes (and Jacks) live and work. Larger cities have opened similar shops, he said, but he knew prices would have to be lower to serve Southwest Virginia clients.

He teamed with Roberts, a longtime Roanoke marketing and advertising specialist, and Melinda Jupin, owner of a Salem women's salon, to open Jacks.

He went to all this trouble to open a barber shop despite being, as he calls it, "follicly challenged" - that is, bald as a bowling ball.

A former Marine helicopter pilot, Hans had been a banker in Washington, D.C., when he co-founded an investment company called Dyad Partners, which acquires troubled businesses. After Dyad purchased Roanoke's Custom Wood Products in 1998, he moved to the Roanoke Valley to run the company.

A divorced dad of three, Hans opted to stay in the Roanoke Valley after Dyad sold Custom Wood Products in 2006. He is still involved with an industrial microwave maker in Louisville, Ky., but otherwise all of his business attention is focused on Jacks.

"Everything I did in life was to reach this pinnacle," Hans joked.

The money he has sunk into Jacks is nothing to giggle at.

Hans has spent about $250,000 to remodel part of the Davidsons store to make room for the barber shop. The renovations included adding water and electricity service to certain parts of the store, installing sinks, purchasing custom-built furnishings, changing an upstairs office to the manicure and pedicure area and other improvements.

The removal of upstairs rugs revealed fine terrazzo floors that had been part of a cafeteria. He hired local construction and design companies to do most of the work.

"We want it to look like a comfortable place, but stylish," he said.

A place for pampering

That said, with its old-fashioned barber chairs, sinks and scissors, Jacks still looks like an old-fashioned barber shop, except with really good coffee.

The prices range from $18 for a basic haircut to $25 for the cut and shampoo all the way up to $100 for a 90-minute massage.

Davidson said Jacks' customers have helped his business, too.

"No question," he said. "My sales, since the day they started, have reflected additional activity. It's been everything I hoped it would be. They have a great staff who make people feel good. You can get a haircut anywhere, but they make it more of an experience."

Tuesday morning, Bill Ould didn't need anything more than a shampoo, hot towels and a haircut to make him happy.

"The shampoo is the best part," said Ould, a Roanoke car salesman. "In the old days, you'd get a haircut and have to take a shower because you'd be itching all the time."

Jupin, a co-owner and part of the five-woman staff who provides the haircuts and pedicures, said she's not surprised that men are enjoying the shop.

"Women are more serious and say things like, 'I need these gray roots covered' or 'take these dead ends off,'" she said. "Men like to be pampered."

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