These well-known words from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland could easily apply to the Hermanus Factory Shop, which has been a landmark in town for almost 40 years. Started in 1983 by a Swiss called Jorg Friedrich, the original premises comprised one room on the first floor of the historical ‘Balcony Building’ in Main Road, reached by a narrow staircase.

Enter Fransien Koegelenberg, born and bred in Ceres, who had just moved to Hermanus after completing her studies in clothing production at the Tygerberg Technical College, where she’d also picked up her future husband, Hermanus native, Johan Koegelberg. “I’d always loved fabrics and sewing, and I used to shop at the Factory Shop,” recalls Fransien. “I was actually looking to start my own business when Jorg offered me a job in 1992.”

Over the years, Fransien has been part of the shop’s gradual expansion – firstly, the section on the first floor was expanded as more office space became available, secondly the shop took over the premises of Alex Grant Pharmacy on the ground floor when it moved to the Gateway Centre, and thirdly, Fransien took over the premises next door in August 2019, where Homes International used to be.

Fransien Koegelenberg has been the owner of the legendary Factory Shop in Hermanus for almost three decades. PHOTO: Taylum Meyer

Unlike Alice, who started growing after swallowing a magic potion, this astute businesswoman, who had bought shares over the years and eventually took over as owner from Jorg in 2013, grew her business through dedication and hard work – and also by being flexible and adapting to different circumstances.

After successfully negotiating the choppy waters of social unrest, load shedding and the economic downturn over the past few years, she again managed to overcome the latest challenge of the lockdown. Reopening on 1 May, Fransien says she had a queue in front of the shop as customers were clamouring to find materials to make face masks. “People had more time on their hands and many turned mask-making into a home industry,” she says. “There was also a demand for warm bedding and kitchenware, as people were generally cooking more at home while the restaurants were closed.”

But there is so much more to the Factory Shop than fabrics, bedding and towels, although they remain her best sellers. Here you will also find all manner of décor items to prettify your home, from comfy couches, scatter cushions, beds, tables and chairs, to mirrors, picture frames, lamps and candles. She also stocks clothing and accessories, and quirky gifts for young and old. And, this being the time of corona, some of the most comfortable, effective and easy-to-wear face masks.

“I was very fortunate to be able to keep all 13 members of my staff and to continue paying them throughout the hard lockdown. I think many businesses were simply not able to do that.” Now that it’s back to business, Fransien says it’s not quite business as usual, but she believes they’ll get back there. “The buying pattern has definitely changed and customers are mainly shopping for basics. And although the shop looks quite busy, people are not spending the same amount of time as before to just browse – they come in to get something specific and don’t hang around.”

Getting stock is another problem, as not all the factories are back to full production yet. “There is also still a lot of uncertainty about how the pandemic is going to play out, and that makes it difficult to plan too far ahead.” But one thing is for sure – Fransien and her shop will endure and continue to prosper, no matter what. In spite of its growth, the shop still feels homely, warm and intimate. It’s an unpretentious and welcoming space, with a good sprinkling of humorous messages and quirky touches; it’s a place where people shop with a smile on their faces.

If you’re in need of a cheer-me-up, pop into the Factory Shop in Hermanus, or Fransien’s second Factory Shop in Gansbaai. Or contact them on 028 312 3265 (Hermanus) or 028 384 0700 (Gansbaai).

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