In 2004, after selling his company Super Mart to the Edcon group, Ian Fuhr decided to venture into unknown territory – the beauty industry. This would eventually lead to the creation of professional beauty therapy salon Sorbet.
“I used to go to this beauty therapist every couple of weeks for a massage and she said to me, ‘why don’t you look at opening some beauty salons?’ At first, I just laughed at her – I don’t exactly have the look and feel for the beauty industry,” says Fuhr.
He adds that while there were several independently-owned stores in operation, there were no branded salon chains.
“I started looking into it and realized that there was an opportunity there. As an entrepreneur, I don’t particularly look for industries, I look for a business, and if it happens to be in the beauty industry, then it is fine.”
Sorbet, which offers beauty therapy for both men and women, as well as hair and nail treatments, currently has 117 stores and, according to Fuhr, is set to see another 20 to 30 stores come online this year .
“People ask us, ‘how did Sorbet manage to grow so quickly?’ I don’t think we took our business from other competitors, I think the strength of the brand managed to enlarge the size of the market.
“It has made it accessible and more affordable, and that is perhaps one of the big reasons for our growth.”
When he started, one of the biggest challenges was staffing. “It’s hard enough to get staff motivated and productive in a single salon but to try and get a thousand people all at the same level of service quality and motivation – that’s the challenge.”
Sorbet is now taking its business to foreign shores, with Fuhr citing the United Kingdom (UK) as its next possible destination.
“The UK doesn’t seem like a natural place to go. Most people were saying, ‘why are you going to the UK? It’s so difficult there’. We were recommended to go by our biggest supplier Dermalogica,” he says.
“We’ve had a look there and there’s definitely an opportunity.”
However, Fuhr also hopes to have Sorbet’s first couple of stores in various African markets by the end of the year.
He cites Angola, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana as the immediate markets of interest, with Tanzania and Nigeria being future possibilities.
Fuhr also stated that while the growth of the brand is undeniable, the focus remains on furthering the company’s current ventures such as Sorbet Man and the Dry Bar Salon, as well as its expansion into new markets.
“The beauty industry will always be there, because women, in particular, will always want to look after themselves, to varying degrees. If they can’t afford some of the more luxurious pampering-type products, they’ll cut back but they won’t stop doing their nails or looking after their skin.”