ShapeShifter

How a dyslexic repairman opened his own store and turned R900 into R1.4-billion

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Hirsch struggled at school due to dyslexia and eventually dropped out in standard seven (grade nine).

After completing an apprenticeship he started repairing appliances at a company in Durban North. He kept on bumping heads with the owner because he wanted to push the margins up while Hirsch preferred reasonable rates in order to keep customers happy. “If you think your ideas are going to work why don't you open your own business?” Hirsch recalls the owner saying.

“Good advice; I’ll take it!”

In 1979, with a grand total of R900 in his pocket, Hirsch took the leap and opened his first electrical appliance repair store in Durban North. “I had to pay R300 in rent and a R300 electricity deposit upfront. So, on day one, I was absolutely flat broke,” says Hirsch.

Where others might have seen the opportunity to make a quick buck, Hirsch had other ideas. When his competitors opened shops in the same area, Hirsch doggedly kept his head down and focused on his own business.

In most businesses there is commonly one distinguishable tipping point; a moment when, looking back, the entrepreneur can point to a catalyst for significant growth. For Hirsch it came in the unlikely form of a microwave.

Microwaving it to success

“I bought two microwaves and, after 30 days, they were still sitting in the shop. I hadn’t sold them because I didn't know anything about them”. Thrilled at what he discovered about the versatility of the product, he and his wife arranged a product demonstration for one evening, inviting 13 couples to show them what the product could do. “We sold 11 microwaves that night,” Hirsch recalls.

Word spread and Hirsch’s quickly became known as the microwave experts, a reputation that eventually enabled them to open a microwave cookery school at their new premises in 1983.

Sticking to the basics and doing that well

The philosophy on which the Hirsch culture was established is sticking to the basics. “One thing you've got to do when starting your own business is to stick to the basics continuously,” advises Hirsch. “Every successful person does the basics right over and over and over again. We have always tried to remember and implement the little things such as greeting a customer, smiling, walking them back to the till and carrying their parcels to the car. These aren’t insignificant things – they are the fundamentals on which success is built.”

Hirsch’s started off with t R900 in 1979; today they have a turnover of approximately R1.4-billion.

Article by Sithandwa Ngwetsheni

(Edited by Kabous le Roux)

(Click here for more "Shapeshifter" articles such as this one.)

Click on play to listen to Nikiwe Bikitsha's interview with Allan Hirsch.

Watch Allan Hirsch take on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. "Our prices are really hot, and our fridges are..." :-)


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