“I really struggled to find a proper hair salon,” she says. “Some ethnic hair salons aren’t professional and they can be quite messy. It was very frustrating because I’m passionate about hair.”
Vowing to create something different which the market needed, Sphalaphala Hair Salon was born. “In isiZulu, we call a beautiful person a ‘sphalaphala’,” says Mgobhozi. “The name was perfect! I want women to come out feeling very beautiful and renewed.”
But her idea didn’t grow legs until her uncle told her about a new mall development in Umlazi in which he was involved. Seeing the opportunity, she burnt the midnight oil, conducting research and creating a pitch and business plan to submit to the mall managers. This was where her six years’ experience in brand management came in handy.
“My experience made it easier for me to articulate what the brand, the story and the selling point would be,” said Mgobhozi.
The next phase was securing funding. While she did have some savings, she applied for financing from the Small Enterprise Funding Agency, which turned out to be a long and drawn-out exercise. “It was tempting to give up, as the process took two years, but I was consistent in faith,” she recalls.
Fortuitously, the funding materialised just in time for the salon to open in mid-November 2014 – giving Mgobhozi the chance to capitalise on the holiday crowd who descend on Durban during the summer. By the end of the business’s second month of operation, it broke even and by February, it was making a profit – so much so that Mgobhozi felt confident enough to quit her job.
However, being an entrepreneur has presented many challenges and requires her to wear many hats. “It’s been a learning curve,” she admits. “Playing marketing manager, finance manager, HR manager and supply chain manager isn’t easy for one person.”
The toughest challenge, she says, was finding and retaining staff who are not only qualified, but willing to learn and grow in their jobs. “It was trial and error. We’d hire, we’d fire and people would leave. But what really helped overcome that obstacle was staying true to the brand,” says Mgobhozi.
The business currently has 12 full-time employees and three freelancers who are part its creative team. “Being able to create jobs is a win for me,” she says, “and there’s so much more I can do. As a black woman, I think it’s important to make a mark in the industry.”
– Lethal Nxumalo