NOMPU SIZIBA: Beauty franchise The Sorbet Group has decided to give its 3 500-strong workforce some significant financial support for two months. It’s pumping up R7 million in the form of food vouchers to its workers through its franchisee network. The group says this can only be temporary assistance, of course, and is hoping that lockdown restrictions will be eased rapidly so that people can get back to providing a service safely and earning a living again.
Well, to share their story with us and to give us their view on how the likes of the hair and beauty industry have been affected by the Covid-19 crisis, and the future, I’m joined on the line by Linda Sinclair, Sorbet’s CEO-designate. Thank you so much for joining us, Linda. At the time it became clear that the country was going into international lockdown in March. Like everybody else across a number of industries, you must have been absolutely gutted, especially worrying about the implications for the workforce.
LINDA SINCLAIR: Hi and good evening. Most definitely. Around the world we’ve Covid ravage various businesses, and some more disproportionately than others have been affected. But I think the hair and beauty industry is no exception to that. We’ve seen about 15 000 formal and informal employment establishments across our country that employ tens of thousands of people, and we have understood that the impact is being dire for our entire industry.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Yes. At Sorbet what’s the general payment setup for hair stylists and therapists of all sorts – do they tend to work on a partial or full commission basis, or what?
LINDA SINCLAIR: We are governed by a bargaining council, and there is a minimum wage that we are required to meet. But they predominantly work on a commission basis. So they’ve been severely hit with significantly reduced income. It’s zero income over this time period and we are relying on funding to help pay our workforce during this time.
NOMPU SIZIBA: When did The Sorbet Group decide to move ahead with the gesture of at least ensuring that its workers are able to feed themselves and their families, and how is it going to work? Are you sending a voucher of several thousand rand a month to each of the recipients for the next two months? How is it going to work?
LINDA SINCLAIR: We’ve been in contact on a continuous basis with our franchise partners, our franchisees, and it was really their investors on a continued basis, and just their dire stories and their hardships that they facing and the fears they are facing, not only for themselves but for their employees, that really sparked our initiative to see how we could support our employees’ during this this time. Sorbet has been built on the values of people before profit, so I think it is really important that during this time that becomes even more prevalent, because we know that our citizens or our staff – we call them citizens of Sorbet – are really integral to the future and success of this business.
We heard their stories, we really related to them in terms of the hardships that they were going through, so we decided to make available some food vouchers this month, the month of May, and June, to all our approximately 3 500 employees. We aligned with a retailer and we will be issuing food vouchers. We’ve already issued the first lot of food vouchers to all our employees, and they can go and redeem them at any Shoprite and Checkers, and use that around the country. We are doing the same initiative next month as well.
NOMPU SIZIBA: What’s been the reaction?
LINDA SINCLAIR: The reaction has been absolutely incredible. We’ve had so many heartfelt stories and thank yous from every single employee out there. And literally those stories and those heartfelt motivations is really what’s keeping us going and continuing to drive and continuing to engage with government around accelerating a response for the re-opening of our industry.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Of course, you don’t have a deep pit of cash to help your employees, and we understand that this support is temporary. And I understand that you guys are pushing for the acceleration in the easing of the lockdown restrictions. So the big question that’s constantly being debated is, being a physical up-close kind of service that your franchise offers, can you be easily ready to observe the Covid-19 health protocols like social distancing, sanitising and screening people coming into your premises, and so forth?
LINDA SINCLAIR: One hundred percent. The hair and beauty industry, inclusive of Sorbet, has already applied strict hygiene protocols and standards. That’s paramount to our industry and the operation of out industry pre-Covid. So we are already working on an appointment basis, which enables us to restrict the number of people, guests, within our store at any given time. So that helps support the social distancing requirement. And also we’ll definitely be ready with all the necessary PPE requirements, sanitisation, sterilisation which we do. We already continue to do the sterilisation in front of the guests before every single treatment, ensuring that all those hygiene protocols are implemented and continuously monitored to make sure that our guests feel comfortable and therefore appear protected and safe during this time.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Yes. The hair and beauty industry, like tourism, isn’t expected to come racing back to participate in the economy any time soon, because of fears around these sectors being more conducive to Covid-19 spread, despite what you’ve just said – because of the intimate nature of some of the services that are given. How worried are you about Sorbet’s future and the wider industry should you only be permitted to come back several months later?
LINDA SINCLAIR: I can’t speak on behalf of the entire industry, but I can definitely speak on behalf of ourselves. The longer the lockdown, the more severe the impact will be. There’s even talk around nearly 40% of our industry that is in a dire situation should this lockdown continue. That’s why we really are working with our the bodies like the EOH, which has been advocating on behalf of our industry to try and get us back to work as responsibly as possible within a phased and measured approach.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Yes, indeed. Linda, we wish you all the very best. Thank you so much for talking to us.