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10 Questions With Grooming Lounge’s Founder, Mike Gilman

Since he sits right across the office from us, likes to talk about himself (this is not totally true) and has been at the helm of Grooming Lounge for more than 15 years, we decided to chat with Grooming Lounge Founder, Mike Gilman, to get  answers to some of our most frequently-asked questions about the company, his entrepreneurial journey and more.

Q:           Why Did You Start Grooming Lounge?

A:            “I grew up in the professional beauty industry as my grandparents and parents ran a product distribution company for professional salons and spas.  While I only worked there for a brief bit, I did get a lot of ‘freebies” from them and some of these freebies I would give to my buddies.  And fortunately or unfortunately, these guys weren’t the most well-groomed bunch.  But it struck me as interesting around 20 years or so ago when these ‘kind of sloppy’ gents kept coming back to me and saying things like, ‘can you get me some more of that body wash’ or ‘I really liked that eye cream.’ A light bulb went off and I began thinking that if these guys were into taking care of themselves – there must be a whole slew of even more sophisticated men out there who want to do the same thing. That sparked the initial idea for the web site and the Barbershops and Spas as well. I wanted to create destinations where men could feel comfortable getting the products and services they needed to feel their best, look their best and be confident.”

Q:           What Was The Biggest Struggle You Faced Starting The Business?

A:            “I think it was really just getting people to take the concept of men’s grooming seriously.  Many landlords and potential investors said, ‘I really like that idea, but can’t see a man paying top dollar for grooming supplies and services.’  We were able to overcome those hurdles after we launched the web site (with about $5K for both site design and inventory) by getting some really positive reviews and recognition in magazines like GQ, Esquire, Playboy, Maxim and more.  With that press in hand, we got our DC landlord to give us a chance for a physical location and it also allowed us to partner with some of the top-tier brands we’d been seeking out.

Q:           When Did You Know It Was Going To Work?

A:            “Well you never get totally comfortable that your business is going to be a success.  I think anyone who tells you they are confident of their brand’s success day in and day out is being a bit untruthful – or they’re just uber-confident… which is a great trait. But, the day we opened our Washington, DC Barbershop and Spa (March 2002), we had the honor of being featured on the front page of the Washington Post. They said a lot of great things about us and we had a rush of business the second the doors opened.  We had been training to provide great experiences for more than two month, so I was pretty confident we’d lock those new guests in.  I said to my wife that night – ‘this business has some real potential if we keep getting better and better.'”

Q:           What Do You Like Most About Grooming Lounge?

A:            “I like our team and our people above and beyond anything else.  I know if we treat our superstars right, they’ll treat our guests right and only good things will happen from there.  I also really enjoy that while we’re certainly not ‘doing g-d’s work’ as some might say, we do have a positive impact on people and our communities.  Helping men feel their best, look their best and be their most confident is something we’re proud of.  We try really hard to make that happen every day by providing the best men’s grooming products and services available.”

Q:           You’re Not The Only Company In The Men’s Grooming Game Anymore.  What Makes Grooming Lounge Special In Your View?

A:             “That’s certainly a real softball question, but I appreciate the opportunity to answer it.  I think our differentiators, whether it be in our Barbershops and Spas, Online or with our Grooming Lounge Products, is our attention to customer service, every guest’s needs and our general strive for excellence in all we do.  Although we’ve grown over the years, we still and will always act like a very small company, paying strict attention to the details that make a guest’s interactions with us WoW-worthy.  I can’t say we hit a home run every time, but that’s our goal.

Q:           What’s Your Grooming Routine Like?

A:            “I would call it pretty in depth compared to before launching the business.  There’s just so many good products and I like to try every one before and after we bring them on board.  Every day I use some combination of the following – shampoo, conditioner, face wash, moisturizer, beard lotion, eye cream, hair styling cream and a fragrance.  Some days will see use of a face scrub, body scrub and of course, the occasional usage of some nose hair trimmers, body powder and a few others (that’s enough – isn’t it?).”

Q:           Do You Get Services In Your Barbershops & Spas?

A:            I do, but not very often.  I have a weird thing about our talented team taking their valuable time to work on me… when they could be doing great work on actual guests.  So, most of the services I get fall under the ‘guinea pig’ category – when we’re developing a new protocol or a trainee needs a person to practice on – that’s when I’m there.  That said, the only good haircuts I get are at Grooming Lounge.  I’ve tried other places when seeking out potential recruits, but I always come back home to get it fixed or cleaned up.  Our Barbering team is in a class by itself.

Q:           What Are Your Four Favorite Products?

A:            “I’m beyond biased toward our Grooming Lounge Products, so choosing four of those as favorites shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone around here.  The product I first fell in love with was one of our very first introductions – Beard Master Shave Oil.  Second, I’ll stick in the shave category and go with The Shavior.  This product literally eliminated all my shaving irritation – and I used to have a lot (when I shaved a lot).  Third is our You Need Conditioner, it’s a great wake-me-up in the morning.  And lastly, Our Best Smeller Body Wash is simply the best.  Black Pepper, perfect lather and you smell great all day.”

Q:           If You Could Recommend A Man Getting Just One Service at Grooming Lounge Barbershops & Spas, What Would That Service Be?

A:            “That’s really a Sophie’s choice-like question as they’re all great.  That said, I have a special affinity for our Hot Lather Shave.  We spent more than a year developing the system and steps and I can say without hesitation, that you can’t get a more relaxing or closer shave anywhere.”

Q:           What One Grooming Tip Would You Give Our Readers Out There?

A:            “Just say no to the uni-brow.  It’s a nearly impossible look to pull off.  You should have two distinct eyebrows in my opinion. Also don’t wash your face with the same bar of soap you clean the rest of your body with.  That was an unsolicited second tip, but just trying to over-deliver here.”

Have a question for Mike or anyone on the Grooming Lounge team?  Just leave your query in the comments and someone will answer it pronto.

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