EsteticaExport has interviewed Izak Coetzee, founder of Duty-Free Merchandising and Yozelde Du Plessis, partner and head of marketing development and education.
They run one of the leading distribution companies in South Africa for several important international hair & beauty brands.

Izak, how did you start this business?
Well I come from a different background, I am a qualified accountant. It was around 20 years ago that I decided to start my own business, importing and distributing products in South Africa. At that time, I was working in different sectors, mainly in food production. Then about 10 years ago, I started with hair & beauty products. At the beginning, things were very slow as I was inexperienced in the sector and had to learn a lot before being able to organise the job in a proper way”.

Which were the first haircare brands you imported?
I started with a couple of American brands focusing on retail. In 2017, I heard that Alfaparf Milano was looking for a distributor for South Africa, so we had an interview and I got the chance to become their distributor here. Thats how I started with professional haircare products. It was very successful. We knew it as a top-class brand and we have been doing very well in the last 7 years. We also have their other brand, Yellow”.

South African Market
Izak Coetzee, founder of Duty-Free Merchandising and Yozelde Du Plessis, partner and head of marketing development and education.

But that was not enough?
“Exactly. Soon we started to broaden our horizons and look for other brands that could complete our offer to the South African market. That happened when Yozelde joined the company and taught me a lot about the hair salon business. For example, she explained that salons are divided into many sectors that need different kinds of offers. To satisfy a wider spectrum in distribution we needed to have more brands that would answer to the salons’ demands.
That is why we met Artego from Italy and also Montibello from Spain and started working with them”. Our latest brand we added to our Portfolio is Insight – from Bologna – Italy.

How did it go with the new brands you introduced?
We felt very confident with Artego from the beginning and the business grew steadily year on year until in soon became out number 2 for salon sales and number 1 for retail sales”. We are currently run a joint Academy with Michelangelo Academy and ARTEGO Academy – training students to become qualified hairdressers

South African Market
How is your sales network organized?
We serve almost 1,000 salons in South Africa. We have our own network of salesmen in the south of the country while other areas are covered by sub-distributors.Serving neighboring countries like Botswana and Namibia also.
We also in process to sell some of our brands through retail through a pharmacy chain called Clicks”.

Yozelde, Izak says you are the future of the company. Do you agree?
I am younger than Izak and I love this industry. So, I definitely hope to be able to learn and keep doing this job for a long time. I am a hairstylist and I have some experience in importing products. But Izak offered me a breakthrough when he accepted me into the company. For me, it is a great chance to learn a lot and contribute to the growth of the company.

What is your approach to the market?
“It is important to choose a target clientele and follow their needs. In South Africa, clients from different areas have very different demands. I would say in the coastal region people are more easy-going, while those who live in big cities are more concerned with sustainability etc. Then we have different needs according to the type of hair.

What products are you introducing right now?
Artego is really catching up. Their new launch of Beauty Fusion is going to be a great success. It is 99% organic and offers a wide range of opportunities for colouring services in the salons. With its 3 in 1 packaging format, it offers the opportunity to save a lot of products and reduce costs, something really important for hairdressers in the present economic situation of South Africa”.

Izak, how is the market going in South Africa?
“It is not easy. For a distributor like us, it takes a lot of investment for every brand we introduce to the market. For example, if you want to start a new colour line you need to purchase the whole range of colours and all relevant products. What we want to do as a distributor is to give a good service to our clientele and this can happen only by having all the tools the hairdressers need for each one of the brands we represent”.

Why do you need to achieve this goal?
A complete stock is very important, to supply the clients whenever they need it. In the last 3 years, we were able to win some new clients thanks to our capacity to supply promptly having enough stock. To keep ourselves fully stocked, we also need to plan our orders carefully, especially considering the long time needed for containers to reach South Africa from Europe. We need to anticipate possible delays or unexpected events”. It happened quite often that we need to fly in urgent sku’s with unexpected shortages. We are taking the loss, just to make sure we keep the client happy.

Yozelde, are you suffering the impact of the international crisis in South Africa?
The beauty industry statistics are announcing something like 80 to 90 thousand jobs at risk in the next year. That might sound worrying but we must be optimistic about the hairdressing profession, because we offer a service that people always want, we do not just sell products. The only concern is to keep up a high-quality service and make our clients happy every time. It might be tough for a while, but we will survive”.

What about you Izak?
People have become more price sensitive. They are looking for more affordable products. Some brands have become too expensive for our market. The only exception is when a brand with a medium-high price range can offer superior quality and evident immediate results. And this would be the case with Alfa Parf and Artego products. Our new brand Insight offers a very Green Organic range of products with very affordable pricing. If I can identify a weak point about South African hairdressers, I would say that here they offer outstanding services and products, but generally speaking, they are not so skilled in marketing their services. They do not underline the product they use, the quality and the characteristics of the treatment they offer to their clients, they are not able to give value to their excellent jobs. Nevertheless, we can definitely help them with the proper education, and that is what we are doing and we want to do even more thoroughly for our clients”.