Sorbet shuts UK salons, blaming the trading environment and “inferior” training

Sorbet UK is shutting its five London salons after just three years, blaming a tough trading environment and “different” working culture for the closure. 

The South African salon chain, which first opened its salon concept in the UK in 2015 with sites in London’s Muswell Hill and Crouch End, has ceased trading from Friday, January 25.  

In an interview on South African radio station 702’s The Money Show, Sorbet founder Ian Fuhr said he was pulling the plug on the UK stores because of the “very, very difficult” trading environment and the work ethic, stating it “is a little different to ours. We struggled with the culture.”

The radio programme reported that year-on-year UK retail sales fell 1.3% in December 2018, which was the biggest drop since May 2017, and it is believed to be the result of local consumer sentiment under pressure amid Brexit concerns. 

Fuhr also blamed industry training in the UK for the chain’s flop, adding: “The education of beauty therapists is also inferior to that in South Africa, which is quite interesting.” 

When Fuhr first opened Sorbet in the UK, he told Professional Beauty in an exclusive interview that the variation in training between beauty therapists in Britain and South Africa would be a challenge for him when it came to recruitment. “In South Africa, trainee therapists do two years of training – full-time, five days a week – before they can practice, whereas in the UK it’s often two days a week for eight months,” he said at the time.

“Just imagine the difference in the intensity and quality of the learning. It’s the huge differentiator in our cultures. The problem we’re facing when hiring staff in the UK is that most aren’t trained to the level we would like them to be as a qualified therapist.” 

Fuhr also had plans to start franchising in the UK, hoping to open five to 10 franchisees every year. However, the scheme never took off. 

Fuhr has acknowledged that he could have been more proactive in addressing the issues in the UK salons but said that, in the end, the monthly cost of funding the business in pounds became prohibitive. 

According to reports, the closure won’t affect the business’s South Africa operations, which is owned by Long4Life, wihch bought the SA Sorbet Group from Fuhr in 2017. There are 207 Sorbet salons in South Africa, up from four when the business launched in 2005. 

Sorbet UK is a different entity, owned by Fuhr and a group of other shareholders. Its sites in Crouch End, East Finchley, Muswell Hill, Mill Hill and Temple Fortune have all closed.