The Sorbet beauty salon concept, which proved hugely successful in South Africa, has failed in the UK.
In an interview on 702’s The Money Show on Monday evening, Sorbet founder Ian Fuhr told Bruce Whitfield that the five stores in London will close their doors after he decided to pull the plug.
The closure won’t affect the South African operations, which is owned by Long4Life. Long4Life, which is run by former Bidvest founder Brian Joffe, bought the SA Sorbet group from Fuhr in 2017. Fuhr and a group of other shareholders owned the UK business.
Fuhr blamed the closure on the “very, very difficult” trading environment in the UK. UK retail sales fell 1.3% in December, which was the biggest drop since May 2017. Local consumer sentiment is under pressure amid Brexit concerns.
Fuhr added that the UK “work ethic is a little different to ours, we struggled with the culture”.
“The education of beauty therapists is also inferior to that in South Africa, which is quite interesting,” he told Whitfield.
He acknowledged that he could also have been more proactive in addressing problems at the UK stores. The stores had 8,000 clients on their books, but in the end the monthly cost of funding the business in pounds became prohibitive, Fuhr said.
An express manicure at a Sorbet store in London cost £14 (R250), which is in line with other salons. (In South Africa, the same offering is almost half the price, at R130.)
When the London stores were launched three years ago, Fuhr hoped to replicate the South African strategy by building a strong brand in a fragmented beauty industry.
Asked if he lost a lot of money in his personal capacity, Fuhr responded: “Very much so.”
Meanwhile, the South African Sorbet business did “extremely well” last year, Fuhr says. He is still involved in the local operations and says 2018 was the best year yet in Sorbet’s history. The chain saw a “fantastic bump” in Christmas sales and franchise demand remains strong.
There are 207 Sorbet stores in South Africa, from only four in 2005, when the company was launched. In its interim results released last year, Long4Life said growth in stores was limited by suitable site availability and that franchise interest remained strong. The total cash requirement of franchisees to set up a new store is R1.6 million.
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