“My dream was to change an entire industry and ensure that black women not only look great with weaves on but also take care of their natural hair.” Sphalaphala salon owner Thembeka Mgobozi tells us how her frustration led her to opening a salon.
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
Originally from Umlazi, South of Durban. I’m a bubbly, passionate and ambitious individual. I’m a Brand Manager by profession and have been in the marketing industry for about 7 years now.
When did your love/passion for hair start?
My passion for hair started at the tender age of 4 when I realized that I like what I see in the mirror after mommy does my hair. I soon became fascinated with mirrors and hair! My gran and mom would get notes that I get distracted in class because I’m always “playing with my friends hair”. As I got older and my hair got longer and thicker it became very difficult to manage so my mother used relaxer to straighten it and just make it more manageable. It was long, healthy and I loved it! I used to spend hours as a kid just trying out new hairstyles in front of the mirror. I grew up believing your hair is your crown and can literally make or break your confidence.
When and how did you decide you were going to open a salon?
My frustration with ethic hair salons and their low service levels, lack of product knowledge and sometimes the overly rude staff is what planted the seed in my head. When I started going to the salon by myself I found it very difficult I find a place that understood my need for healthy, bouncy hair and when you ask questions about the products being used, ask for certain advice and questions around treatments you receive attitude and not the solution! This frustration eventually led me to trying to find my own solutions via the internet and to also visiting white salons to see if the environment was the same of which it wasn’t. That’s when I decided that one day I would own an ethnic hair salon with that homey feel of ethnic salon but one where the stylists are professional, able to assist clients with advice and have intense product knowledge.
Essentially my dream was to change an entire industry and ensure that black women not only look great with weaves on but also take care of their natural hair. When the opportunity presented itself in 2012, I grabbed it! A new mall was going to be built in Umlazi and every mall needs a salon right? That’s how Sphalaphala was born.
How did you come up with the name Sphalaphala?
Sphalaphala is a Zulu word that is used to describe a woman of distinguished beauty. It’s a saying you hear everywhere around you, at the taxi ranks, on television, at home etc. it’s a beautiful word that makes women smile and feel good about themselves. When people call you iSphalaphala they simple mean on what a beauty you are! When I brainstormed names, I thought of what my mission would be in this industry and this name just summed it up beautifully. We simply want to make women beautiful. We want to unleash that inner beauty as well by making them so happy that they simply just radiate. They become iSphalaphala.
What sort of challenges did you come across when you first opened and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge is finding the right people to carry out your vision and help build your brand. Finding stylists is easy especially if you’re located in a township, there is a lot of talent out there but grooming that talent is the tough part. It’s been a difficult process of trial and error and in the beginning we had a very high staff turnover. I just wasn’t prepared to keep people on that didn’t want to be professional and learn how to do things the way we envisioned. The people aspect is by far the most difficult aspect of this journey but through using tactics learnt in my corporate role I have managed to slowly start overcoming these challenges.
We now have a more intense interview process which includes practical’s for a week or two to help us assess if you’re the right fit for the brand and if you possess the skills and knowledge you claim to. During this time I’m also able to assess if you’re a person that’s willing to learn. I also work very closely with educators from various companies like Schwarzkopf and L’Oreal who train our staff and interns. This has made the journey a lot smoother and I’ve had to learn to be more assertive and nip problems in the bud. By doing this we are now at a much more better place than when we first opened.
Who is your target audience?
Our target audience is quite broad because we have so many services and products available. Its stretches from LSM 5 – 10. We have services and products that cater for women, men and their children. But our core target market is females, from all walks of life. At Sphalaphala, it doesn’t matter if you’re the prettiest, the coolest or the most popular. Everyone is iSphalaphala in our eyes that deserves to be treated like royalty. Our customers range from students right through to our grandmothers who still want to look and feel good.
What has been the biggest achievement with the salon?
Turning a year old in November 2015 was a milestone of note! It emphasized that we are here to stay and cemented that it is possible. Some of the smaller wins we experienced last year included working with Mizani at the Durban Fashion Fair in 2015 and with Vuma FM for their annual wedding competition. These were small wins in the industry but huge for us because it meant that we were getting noticed by big brands and awareness about the salon was increasing.
What advice would you give someone who would like to open a salon?
Invest time and money if need be in good market research. Ensure that you are fully aware of the demographics and psychographics of the area in which you would like to have your salon. Understanding the people and consumer behaviour will ultimately position you for success because it will inform you of which products and services to offer and which will not be the right fit. That’s where it all starts.
Educate yourself about the hair and nail industry. Don’t rely on stylists to educate you or tell you the right method of doing a certain process. It is important that you know the right way through your own research (Google, you tube, your suppliers are all great sources of information) so that you can correct bad habits that stylists do and also ensure that your salon is professional. It’s important to know the right methods so that you can also ask the right questions when interviewing potential staff and be able to evaluate if someone possesses the skills they say they have.
Please give us your salons contact details.