Shoe repair, is it a dying trade?
By Sean Sanders
Lucrative businesses aim for longevity. When it comes to the shoe repair business, the end seems near because of the lackluster interest presented by younger generations.
“There isn’t that many people entering this business anymore,” said Willy J. Johnson, the owner of Johnson’s Shoe Repair. “It’s still a lucrative business, just not many young people interested in learning the trade.”
Johnson first entered the shoe repair business in 1980. Unlike most trades it was not something passed down within the family, he first learned the art of shoe repair from a friend after moving from South Florida to Tallahassee.
Survival seems to be a common understanding among most shoe repair technicians once entering the field. Nick Camechis, the owner of Capital Shoe Fixery shared the sentiment that once someone starts fixing a shoe they aren’t going to stop.
“Shoe repair can’t be a part-time job,” said Camechis. “To run a shop properly you have to be willing to do extra work.”
Camechis stated that his average day usually begins about three hours before his door opens at 6:30 a.m. Camechis can also be found at the shoe fixery routinely even on days when the shop is not open. He stated that when working in shoe repair for every hour of public availability you have for business you have to put in about three hours of outside working to meet the demands of the customers.
A common misconception is that shoe repair is declining as a popular trade because of the innovations made by the modern day fashion business. Many shoe repair technicians say the results are actually quite the contrary.
“The growing fashion industry is actually what keeps our business afloat. Everything they do now is done cheaply,” said Johnson. “In the past things would be stitched and hand crafted.”
As modern day fashion advances, the technology used to assist it advances too. Shoes are no longer stitched because a machine comes and steam presses the soles to the shoe in half the time it would take a man to sew it. This flaw in modern day shoe making keeps steady business for people in the shoe repair trade.
Shoe repair is a meticulous task that normally takes a large team of people. To keep a business sustained in the past you would need a team of seamstresses and a men’s and women’s repair specialist.
Shoe repair businesses operate best revenue wise, when there are minimal people involved. In order to maintain a profitable income, the owner must take on majority of the work alone.
“When you run a business, the last person to get paid is you,” said Camechis.
Primarily the cut on people has been to keep more revenue going towards the business instead of having to pay multiple employees.
The average age group of shoe repair handymen is ages 50 and up. This creates the problem that has left the lucrative business of shoe repair in its current state. It’s now time to pass the role of shoe repairing to a younger generation whom many technicians fear are not disciplined enough to accept the task.
“You must be willing to go beyond the call of duty,” said Johnson. His fear is that younger people don’t have the mindset to be willing to supply that impeccable work ethic that is needed in a business that is driven by customers’ needs and their satisfaction.
While this issue is not something many of the shoe repair technicians are currently concerned with, it has created a topic of discussion among them that they will eventually have to address.
“Word of mouth spreads farther than any advertisement, so we have to be good at what we do,” said Johnson in regards to sustaining the shoe repair business.
However, business according to Johnson and Camechis has apparently never been better. The next few years shall determine the future state of the trade as a whole.