They call themselves “The Trilogy” – with good reason. Sisters Tracy Gielink and Kim Davidson, along with their long-time event queen mum Debbie Davidson – who formerly managed the annual Durban July, among other high-profile fixtures – have another business to call their own.

After making a profitable success of both the Barnyard Theatre and the Teremok Marine boutique hotel in Umhlanga, they’ve taken sexy cartoon icon Betty Boop as the inspiration for the whimsical Buff Beauty Parlour.

Also located in Umhlanga, the full-service spa is an indulgent trip down Alice’s rabbit-hole, replete with artful manicure stations, a retro soda foundation and a doughnut bar supplied by fellow Durban brand Wicked Donuts. There’s also a discreet black armoire full of erotica and expertly-trained, candy-stripe pinafored staff. The spa offers waxing (including Bareback for him and Brazilians for her), brow and lash tinting and threading, and the full gamut of nail treatments.

The single treatment room at Teremok Spa was expanded under Gielink’s watch, which helped them fill a gap in the market for a sophisticated spa experience.

“We always approach businesses as if we were clients, instead of owners, so with Buff, we tried to create an experience we’d love to have ourselves.

“All three of us have strong personalities, but we each have something different to add. And all of us believe in being hands-on, so it’s worked out perfectly,” she explains.

The spa is the first and only Essie flagship salon in the country and boasts imported manicure stations from Italy with extractor fans, making for healthier nail treatments for both clients and therapists.

The layout ignores industry norms and features various beautifully branded pods, including a Frida Kahlo-themed Brow Bar and make-up station, a soft salmon-coloured Glow area for tweens and teens to experiment with appropriate products, the workshop for male grooming, the Alice in Wonderland-inspired salon (which also functions as an intimate eventing space) and a communal nail station, which seats 10 people. Waxing rooms with flat screens, warm beds and cute, squeezy toys for pain management complete the picture.

“The development of the brand was three years in the making, but the delays ended up being a good thing, as they allowed us to keep evaluating and tweaking the concept,” says Debbie. “We spent about R4 million setting it up because we felt the nail industry needed someone to take it by the neck and give it a good shake. So we’ve created what we hope will be the best salon brand in the country.”

Kim adds that they’re “not entirely driven by profit”, which makes for decision-making that never compromises quality for cost. “We spent the money that needed to be spent to create the space we wanted without cutting corners, so that clients could get the experience we envisaged,” she says.

In the first two weeks of the spa’s operation, the family fielded a host of franchising queries, although they’d like to allow the brand to establish itself in the market before opening other salons.

“We’re not prepared to look at franchises just yet because we think the brand should be further down the line before we do that. We intend growing it organically. We’re also control freaks, so it will be difficult to franchise the brand – but we do intend opening other stores, probably on a smaller scale,” explains Kim.

She says that while the local economy’s been under pressure in recent years, the health and beauty industry continues showing promising growth. “As people become more stressed for time, so does their need to spend time on themselves. That includes nails and waxing treatments, but we’ve also incorporated other beauty treatments with a good mark-up to keep the business sustainable. The teens and tweens, as well as the men’s market, are also growing really well.”

Tracy says the partnership with Essie allowed them to piggy-back off the brand’s relationship with Italian furniture company, the Maletti Group, which created the unique manicure stations for Buff.

“We had to pay for them in euros, which was unfortunate, given the depreciation of the rand, but it’s a decision we don’t regret at all, because the furniture really sets us apart. Apart from being beautiful, the stations all come with their own LED lamps and an extractor system to eliminate odours when doing acrylic and gel nails. We also get discounts from Essie on our orders and benefit from training and early deliveries of new products and colours,” says Kim.

Buff Beauty Parlour currently employs 12 therapists in the 230m2 space, which has the capacity to accommodate more employees in due course.


This article first appeared on the April issue of DESTINY