So Ian, in the last decade you’ve built a hugely successful, recently international beauty brand, tell us a bit about the man behind the brand.
I suppose I could be labelled a serial entrepreneur. For over 40 years, I have been involved in various start-ups from retailing, to music, to a race relations consultancy and now a beauty salon chain. Each time I have entered a completely unfamiliar industry with fresh eyes and enjoyed challenging the conventional wisdom of that industry.
What was your inspiration for starting off the Sorbet Salons brand?
I was told by a beauty therapist, whilst having a massage in 2004, that there were no multi-unit branded chains of beauty salons in South Africa and that there was a gap in the market. So I went about trying to find out if there was a market in the gap.
The brand has grown exponentially over the last decade, what has your strategy been to ensure continued growth?
There have been a number of factors that have given us an edge over our competitors but I believe the most critical of these is the culture of people and service that has been created amongst our franchisees and our citizens (staff). Our business philosophy states that the purpose of work is to serve the needs and wants of people……. it is not to make money. So we always place service before reward and people before profit.
The beauty industry is constantly evolving, how do you ensure that your products continue to stay relevant?
We consistently watch the market and stock the products that have strong demand. It is not our role to break new products. That we leave to the suppliers and only when they have created the demand will we place those products on our shelves.
How have you funded Sorbet Salons so far?
In South Africa, we have over 160 salons that are predominantly franchised. In the UK we have opened two company stores, (with two more to come by year-end). Together with some external partners, we have funded these stores and will continue to do that until we have created a business model with sufficient credibility to start franchising.
What was one of the biggest obstacles you have had to overcome?
The standards of staff service across the chain is without doubt the biggest challenge that one faces in the beauty industry. To ensure that all our citizens are able to provide a consistently high quality of service, we do an enormous amount of training and development.
Sorbet is a family brand. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are running a business with their family?
All three of my children hold senior positions in the group. Their passion and commitment to the business and the brand knows no bounds and we are fortunate that they complement each other in the fields of operations and marketing. In all my 40 years of business, there has been nothing more rewarding than watching my children grow and take responsibility at the highest level. When my one daughter was asked in an interview, why she worked for her father, she replied that it was far better than working for someone else’s father!
Why did you decide to expand your business in the UK?
Two of our key skincare suppliers, Dermalogica and Environ, alerted us to the opportunity in the UK. They explained that, as in South Africa, the market was very fragmented and there were no branded salon chains of any significance. We did further investigation and came to the conclusion that there was definitely an opportunity to build a brand on the high streets of London (and hopefully further afield).
Breaking into the beauty industry can be tricky. What would be your number one tip?
We are extremely aware of not entering the UK market with any sense of arrogance and any assumptions that we can simply arrive and emulate our South African success but we do feel that there is an opportunity to raise the bar in the beauty salon industry with specific regard to the look and feel of the salons, the hygiene levels and also the standards of education of the beauty therapists and nail technicians.
What do you think makes Sorbet Salons so unique?
The positive attitudes of our citizens, the unique look and feel of the stores, the loyalty program, the professional standards of service, the value for money offering, the retail selection and the quirky branding are amongst our key competitive advantages.
Following your expansion to the UK, where do you see the brand in 5 years’ time?
We are not aware of a single beauty salon brand that is truly multi-national. In the long run, we would like to fill that space and become the world’s first international salon brand.