Wells of Experience

His name is emblazoned above the doors of 16 of South Africa’s best hair studios, yet he has his feet firmly planted on the ground. His brand is synonymous with style, class and longevity, and he stands tall and proud. In his industry, Gerald Wells is most certainly akin to a legend. We sit down for an intimate glimpse into Gerald’s journey, his success and running a family business.

Gerald sits behind his computer screen with a quirky pair of spectacles on, sipping on a cup of honeyed tea. He sits back as his sons Wesley and Dylan join him, and the resemblance they each bare to their father is remarkable. The premise of the Gerald Wells brand, says Gerald, is authenticity. “We are what we do,” he says. “We are hairdressers, and that’s the foundation. This is a family business.” This ideology has rooted Gerald since he started hairdressing at 17 years old, at the salon of his older brother’s mate. At 21, he became one of the top stylists in the world, and one of only eight stylists with a chair in the iconic John Frieda Salon in London. He opened his first salon in 1984. “I knew what I wanted. I knew that, before I became a businessman, I needed to build my name as a hairdresser. I worked hard, and it’s taken me forty years to get to this stage of my life, where I’m enjoying the business.”

There are currently 10 stores in Durban, 10 in Johannesburg and two in Cape Town. These encompass not only the Gerald Wells Salons, but also specialist stores Splush, a retail outlet selling the best in hair care products, Hair Hardware, supplying the latest in hair hardware and accessories and Trend, specialising in ethic hair. Their latest offering is located in Hillcrest, where Wesley tells us they are testing out a new model. “In Hillcrest, we’ve included two beauty rooms where our customers can get the works – tinting, waxing, manicures, pedicures, facials; a full beauty treatment menu. Our therapists are currently working with Environ, and plans to partner with Dermalogica are in the pipeline.” The services are available to men and women, another unique facet of the brand. In August, the store will include a specialised men’s grooming lounge, which Wesley says will take gents back to the ‘old school’. “Cut throat shaves with a hot towel, traditional shoe polishing, a jacket press and a coffee and whisky bar. It’s all about putting elegance back into grooming and offering our male customers a little something extra.”

The group has also benefited from the addition of the Urban Tribe range, which they import from Italy. This, and plans to introduce a Gerald Wells signature unisex fragrance, are part of a carefully formulated marketing strategy. In addition, the group is considering opening a Gerald Wells Hair Academy, where future stylists would receive expert training. Dylan, who heads up marketing for the group, mentions the importance of brand image and awareness. “Our goal is to set trends rather than follow, to remain at the forefront of the industry. In doing this, we are professional from start to finish, adding our signature to everything we do. Every day is a challenge, but being in this industry requires a hundred percent effort. If we want to be recognised as the best, we have to put in the work.”

While he acknowledges that working with his children is not always easy, Gerald calls the opportunity a pleasure. “They are the loves of my life,” he smiles. “And they know everything I don’t!” He adds with a wry chuckle, and then says neither of his sons was forced into the business; a trend he will follow with his only daughter, Jade. “I told Wesley and Dylan to come to me when they were ready, and come ready to learn. The one thing I encourage in the business, family or not, is respect. Everyone is equal.” Wesley appreciates the chance to eat, sleep and dream the family business, and to merge the old and new. “My dad is from the old school,” he smiles. “And it’s always interesting to meld his strong principles with newer technologies. I’ve been with the business for eight years and still, no day has been the same. It’s always a thrill opening a new store under the brand, keeping our family name strong.”

Jade has since joined us, with her carefree laugh and cascading blonde hair. In matric at Maris Stella, Jade jokes that having her father and brothers continuously talking about work ‘does get a bit much’. “But I don’t mind,” she winks at her father. “I can always come and get my hair done, which is a bonus!” Jade plans to take a gap year once she matriculates, which she will use to travel overseas. Once she returns, she has dreams of becoming a pre-school teacher. “Or teaching at the Gerald Wells hair academy,” she exclaims.

The goal, say the Wells men, is to open at least 50 stores and take the Gerald Wells brand international. While they go about this methodically, foraging new trends and blazing new paths, Gerald is building a legacy his three children would be proud to walk in. “When I stopped doing hair, I had done everything I wanted to. Now, I’m enjoying a new phase with my children. At the end of the day, I want them to be happy…even if it isn’t in this business.” He smiles sagely. “Ultimately, I want to be remembered as someone who did something different in this industry.”

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