Margaret Hirsch is a one-woman empowerment force.
The MD of Hirsch’s Homestores and winner of the 2012 Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa (BWASA) Businesswoman of the Year Award Entrepreneur Category has made a habit of investing in others.
Starting with her husband Allan Hirsch who, when they first met, at age 24, couldn’t read or write, so she taught him.
“He is a very intelligent man but people assumed he was stupid because he couldn’t read,” she says.
It turns out Allan had dyslexia and as a result worked as a technician for a business that fixed and resold washing machines. When he queried the high resale prices, his boss told him to go start a business of his own.
Around the same time Margaret was four and half months pregnant with their son Richard. When her manager found out he told her, “Take your handbag and go. He didn’t know he was doing me the biggest favour,” she says.
Suddenly unemployed, the couple sunk their R900 savings into a new business. The idea was for a one-stop shop for home appliances, maintenance and related services.
“We sell everything from pressure cookers to cameras and also provide consumer education,” says Margaret.
Hirsch’s Homestores offer a variety of free courses to customers, including how to operate a camera and microwave cooking classes, but the cherry on top is definitely the cooking course. A Hirsch’s staffer teaches women from disadvantaged backgrounds how to make savoury snacks and muffins, which they sell on the side of the road as a means of earning a living. Hirsch explains that the nominal R200 charge ensures that those who enrol are committed.
Though Hirsch’s is aiming for the R1 billion turnover mark this year, it is essentially still a family business. Richard and his sister Luci Hirsch-Jackson are both heavily involved in the day-to-day running. As KZN regional manager, Richard is set to take over the reins from Margaret, who at 62 is relishing taking on a training role. Luci entered the business as Margaret’s personal assistant, crafted herself a role as public relations officer and has become the face of Hirsch’s.
But the close ties don’t end there. Margaret credits the business’s success to her excellent managers, some of whom have been with the company for over 25 years. But she beams with pride when speaking about Paulinah, who started off as her helper Florence’s helper.
When Margaret needed someone to assist her at the farmhouse, Florence recommended Paulina. In time Paulina worked her way up from making tea at the office to a stock controller and now she is one of Hirsch’s top sales people.
“She has bought herself a home and educated her children," says Margaret.
The company, Margaret says, belives in growing its people. “Both the Durban and Johannesburg regions have full-time trainers,” she says.
Hirsch’s also helps its delivery people buy trucks, therefore enabling them to start their own businesses.
“Hirsch’s delivery people don’t just dump the washing machine at the door and leave. They set it up for you so it is operational before they leave,” says Margaret.
Married for 40 years, Margaret believes the woman is the head of the home. “If women take control and make sure that their husbands and children are healthy, wealthy and wise then we’ll have strong, closely knit families and a strong community which will result in a better future for the country,” she says.