Hey, Fella, It's Time for Your Facial

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Hey, Fella, It's Time for Your Facial

"It's nice to exercise here. There's no man approaching you under the pretense of giving you tips on how to work out. I don't need to worry whether I'm sweating too much or how I look while I exercise," said Lee Myeong-hui, a member of a women-only health club in Myeongdong, central Seoul. She works out everyday at the club where all the clients, and even the trainers, are women. Currently, there are about 20 workout facilities in Seoul designed exclusively for women, and the concept is gaining popularity.

Unlike unisex gyms that have sports equipment designed mostly for male bodybuilders, this women's club offers specialized training with equipment designed for women's fitness goals, which are usually toning rather than bulking up, and losing weight. According to Jeong Su-gil, who runs the franchise women's heath club in Seoul, gyms for women are attracting more customers than mixed-sex clubs these days. Their target clientele is young women in their twenties, and thus many of these gyms are located around colleges.

Also, most Seoul department stores are now offering women-only parking in the prime spots, such as on the first floor lot. As women's purchasing power becomes more apparent, even rail companies are responding to women's complaints of sexual harassment by designating specific sections of rail cars women-only as a safety measure. Airplanes now designate female washrooms. As an extreme example, some restaurants even prohibit a man's presence without a female companion, just to promote this popular trend that attracts the public's interest.

Stores have also rearranged their displays to reflect their eagerness to please female clientele, replacing miscellaneous goods and men's shoes in prime retail spaces with cosmetics and accessories for women. The south Seoul Shinsegae Department Store, for example, has moved men's goods to the sixth floor from its original position on the first.

Other services that cater to women include portal sites that provide links to sites devoted to "women's" interests, including cooking, fashion, child care and marital relationships. And there is even more division within the realm of women's marketing. Many women's sites try to include something for both married and single women to individualize their appeal.

But women aren't the only ones getting special attention. Male-only skin care parlors are popping up. As more and more men show a greater interest in their appearance, and a wish to avoid the awkwardness of being treated in the company of women, male-only beauty parlors and cosmetics for men are becoming popular.

"I feel fresher after coming here than after going to a sauna," said Jeon Seok-gi, 45, a regular client at a skin care shop for men in Sinsa-dong, Seoul. "And I also recommend skin care to my friends." Shops specializing in male skin treatment are also popular among the male golfers who are exposed to the sun.

Mr. Jeon first began to receive skin treatments when he realized the importance of an attractive, healthy appearance for business transactions. As a middle-aged man, he felt uncomfortable at first about going to a skin care parlor, but his discomfort has vanished with the flourishing of men's beauty parlors, which now number about 50 in Seoul alone.

There are also stores that sell perfume, cosmetics, and accessories to men. Only for Man (www.onlyforman.co.kr), an online shopping mall that sells imported men's products, offers aftershave lotions and male accessories as well as a slew of other products.

The Internet has also picked up on men's changing needs. Some increasingly popular sites include information for middle-aged men on how to firm up, especially around the belly. One company that advertised a free diet program for men on the Internet received more than 700 inquiries. Several credit card offers on the Internet are aimed exclusively at men.

For middle aged-men in particular, some Web sites have established chat rooms for those unfamiliar with Internet lingo. In these online communities, users need not feel intimidated about slow typing or an ignorance of youthful slang. The sites offer "trot" songs - a type of music preferred by older Koreans - instead of hip-hop to download, and provide restaurant guides and sports information that appeal to the tastes of an older generation.

Many businesses and services these days pay careful attention to the individualized needs and preferences of different age groups and sexes in Korea. Retail outfits are finally zeroing in on the varied landscape of the consumer market and women - and men - are acknowledging it.

by Kim Sung-tak

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