THE SORBET STORY
In the beginning of 2004, Ian Fuhr had just sold his previous business, Super Mart, to the Edcon Group and was looking for a new business venture. At that time, he used to visit a home salon owned by Liz Goldberg for a regular relaxing massage. Liz, having previously worked for Dermalogica, suggested to him that there was an opportunity in the beauty salon industry. At first Ian thought she was joking but later he decided to do some informal research into the possibility.
He discovered that, in 2004, there was only one nationally recognised chain of nail bars called Dream Nails and absolutely no branded chains of beauty salons. The reasons for this were unclear. Did no-one have the courage to try and build a chain or had they tried and failed? This question troubled Ian for a while until he decided to go for it and find out for himself.
Ian realised from the outset that if there was to be any chance of success, he would have to create something totally different. He believed that in business, "sameness" was a disease and that he would have to do everything in his power to differentiate the new business from the competition.
Instead of going into the highly competitive and expensive spa business, he decidedto rather swim upstream as it were and to go "back" into the beauty salon arena but to do it in a more professional manner and to hopefully change the way people viewed beauty salons.
Ian invited Liz to join him in this venture and also recruited a friend Johnny Marks, an accountant, to complete the team. Together the three set out to launch the business. The first objective was to buy a few existing salons so that they could get the feel of the business with a view to converting them later into the new brand name.
In September 2004, two stores were identified and bought: Tracey-Ann's in Bedfordview and Sensorium in Norwood. Another decision needed to be made. "Which skincare products would the new business be using and selling"? Liz was in no doubt on this issue. She was convinced that there should be only two products. Dermalogica and Environ.
Dermalogica was a very well established brand that was manufactured in the USA and imported into South Africa. It had already built a solid foundation in the country and was by far the leading upmarket brand. Environ was a locally produced less expensive range but had also built a very strong brand in South Africa.
Liz then introduced Ian to Cherie Keating, the MD of Dermalogica, and explained that they wanted to introduce Dermalogica into a new chain of salons. Cherie was somewhat surprised that a man in his 50s was interested in building a new chain of salons without any prior experience in the beauty industry. Nevertheless, it was agreed that Dermalogica would become the primary skincare brand in the new business with Environ as the secondary brand.Essie was chosen as the nail care brand.
In November 2004, Debra Beswick, Ian's niece, joined the business and became the buyer of all the skincare and nail products for the salons.
At the same time, Ian approached a branding consultancy called Sfere to assist with the selection of the name and the logo. After the initial briefing, the Sfere team came back with a list of names.
The name "Sorbet" appeared about halfway down the list. Although it was a well-known ice cream, the name Sorbet conjured up images of freshness, tantalising taste and beautiful pastel colours. Ian phoned Liz and said, "I love Sorbet" and Liz said, "Me too"…. and at that moment the name Sorbet was born.
Then came the logo which took almost 4 months to develop. It was colourful, funky and instantly recognisable. Exactly what was needed for the establishment of a brand that they planned to establish as a house-hold name.
In March 2005, more salon purchases were made; one in Bryanston and two in Cresta, (one of which was a nail bar – something new for Sorbet).
At that time, Ian called upon his old friend and colleague from the Super Mart days: Rudi Rudolph. Rudi had many years of experience in retailing as the MD of some major shoe and clothing chains, (ABC shoes, Cuthberts and Scotts amongst others) in South Africa.
Rudi came in as a part-time consultant and immediately put the team in place for the creation and development of the Sorbet concept. Rudi and Ian briefed Sue Lauter, the store designer, on the vision for the store. Having both come from a retail background, they wanted a strong retail focus. Sue started work immediately and before long had come up with the initial concept designs. The team loved them. She had created a fresh and vibey feel. She had designed a salon that looked more like a retail store with treatment rooms at the back than a beauty salon with a "bit of retail" up front.
Work started in May 2005 and on by the end of July all the stores had been converted. An advertising agency, called Mr Carraway, and a PR company by the name of Red Cherry were contracted for the launch and on the 1st of August, 2005 the Sorbet brand was officially launched with 5 salons, (the nail bar in Cresta was only converted later that year so it continued to trade under the name of Jayne's Nails for the time being).
In October 2006, the Sorbet Society loyalty program was launched. This has become the backbone of the entire business and is currently approaching 100,000 members.
The Higher Purpose (An HR Philosophy)
Rather than creating the traditional Vision and Value statement, Sorbet developed what it calls the Higher Purpose. This helps the citizens (employees) in the Sorbet Community (company) to understand, not only how to serve the needs of their guests (clients) but why it is so important. The higher purpose is to serve and improve the lives of our guests and our citizens. This simple statement is the driving force behind the Sorbet business philosophy and is introduced to every citizen as part of their Induction Program on joining the community. There are 5 Driving Principle that need to be in place if the community is ever to achieve its Higher Purpose:
- Passionate Service – This involves the total belief that the purpose of work is to serve and not to make money. Financial gain is only the reward for good service. It is not in itself the purpose of work. A passion for serving the needs and wants of the guests is fundamental to the success of the business
- Selfless Community - The people of the Sorbet Community need to always put the needs of others before themselves. Rugged individualism is often the destroyer of both community and service. As soon as the individual places self-interest before service, the entire community is undermined. So Sorbet works hard to ensure that their citizens understand these concepts and show respect, trust and tolerance for their fellow community members.
- Servant Leadership – Sorbet has chosen a management style in which the leaders work for and serve their citizens rather than the other way around. The principle works on the notion that the leaders should provide their citizens with all the skills training and product knowledge they need in order for them to serve their guests in the best possible way.
- Unwavering Integrity – In an industry where integrity is a glaring problem, Sorbet has tried to address this issue by developing an Integrity Charter which outlines which types of citizen behaviours are acceptable and which are not.
- Individual growth – Insofar as the Sorbet Community is concerned, there is a consistent and critical need to improve the skills and knowledge of all the individual citizens. The growth of people in terms of their ability to serve the needs and wants of the guests is fundamental to the maintenance of the highest standards across every Sorbet outlet in the country. Along with individual growth and development, comes growth in financial reward which has been the secret to Sorbet's relatively low staff turnover in recent years.
Ian originally started the business with the idea that Sorbet could ultimately become a predominant brand catering for the needs and wants of South African women. This meant that the salons and nail bars would be the first phase of the brand building process but would be followed by other businesses under the Sorbet umbrella.
In 2011, the first two of these businesses were launched. Firstly, the Beauty Therapy Institute at Sorbet was franchised from Sandy Roy's institute in Cape Town. This school offers a unique modular system of training beauty therapists and nail technicians that will have preferential employment opportunities within the Sorbet Community.
Secondly, Sorbet launched an events management business called Sorbet Events. This business will offer event all management services but will focus more specifically on women orientated events, workshops and functions.
At the same time the salon and nail bar business will be grown aggressively. Plans for 2013 include the potential opening of a further 10 – 15 franchised stores as well as the Sorbet Drybars.
Other exciting new businesses that are being investigated include Sorbet Hair and Sorbet Health, (a ladies health gym).