I literally stumbled upon a great, new small business right here in Jamaica and then I had the pleasure of sitting down with the owners/operators and chatting with them. I left our conversation shaking my head in wonderment and wishing that we could replicate their spirit across the length and breadth of this island. The Instagram account was what had caught my eye. The pics were mostly befores and afters of shoes of every description. Grungy looking sneakers were transformed into new literal works of art. Leather shoes, both men’s and women’s, were revitalized and good to go all over again. Bridgett sandals that were worn and shabby were reborn into their shiny new, well heeled former selves. I saw shoes that had they been mine, I’d have dumped them, restored so perfectly that I was amazed. And all of this was happening right here in Jamaica! What was being showcased was way beyond basic shoe repair. I had never seen this before
Meet Elite Shoe Care
They listed their services here as cleaning & polishing, customization, restoration & repair, accessories and pickup & delivery services were available too! This was beyond the tipping and dyeing typical of the many shoe repair spots around. This was a shoe restoration business. I was intrigued. I had a pair of Bridgett’s myself that I had gotten every single dollar out of, but they needed some sole work and the straps were slack and faded. I decided to try them out!
First Impressions Matter!
Here’s how my first interaction with this business went. Following the lead of their IG blurb, I simply Whatsapped them and in less than 10 minutes I had a quote from them! I was impressed. I remember being at Bridgett’s some time ago purchasing another pair of her fabulous sandals. I mentioned that I had a pair that needed some refurbishing. I was told to bring the old pair in for assessment and a quote. Ugh. I wanted to be told immediately what could be done for me and how much it would cost. I never returned. Felt like a hassle without a guarantee that my problem would be solved. Well Elite Shoe Care promptly replied to my query via Whatsapp asking me to send pics of the sandals. Too easy. They told me what they’d do, how much it would cost and how long it would take. They had my business within the same day. You see, I already knew what to expect from them based on their IG pics and posts (great workmanship and attention to detail!) and now I knew what I’d get from them and how much it would cost (very reasonable, might I add!) without having to make a call or go in for a consultation. I really, really appreciated that. Plus their responsiveness assured me that they were professional and on the ball.
I found Elite Shoe Care on Beechwood Avenue, not my regular stomping ground, but thankfully, there was parking. I made my way up the stairs and was buzzed in (nice…I liked their security consciousness) and was greeted by a pleasant young lady who confirmed that she was the one who had responded to my queries on Whatsapp a few hours earlier. She examined my shoes and took me through options for getting the straps re-done. We settled on a bronze colour and she clearly outlined how long the process would take.
I agreed to have my invoice and receipt emailed to me and as she entered my particulars in her system behind the counter, I looked around. There was clearly a backroom where the work happened. I could hear the sounds of work going on, but the door leading to that space was shut. The reception area where I was standing was clean and well lit. There was a huge white board advertising specials. There were eye-catching posters placed around the room educating the reader on general shoe care tips. There was a huge banner clearly outlining the services offered by Elite Shoe Care. And then the certificate of incorporation of the business caught my eye. I asked the lady if this was her own business. She smiled at me and answered in the affirmative. I had wrongly assumed that she was hired help, simply doing a great job. She was literally vested! I immediately wanted to know more but I decided to restrain myself until I picked up my shoes to see if the actual product matched their claims.
Sure enough, I got both and email and a whatsapp message a few days later as promised, confirming that my shoes were ready for pickup. My old, worn and battered Bridgett sandals were literally brand new again! I was happy with the finished product, and the 5,000.00 spend for the refurbishing was significantly less than the 14,000.00 replacement cost! So I summoned up my courage and asked Shauna (we were on a first name basis by this time) if I could interview her and tell her story. She seemed a bit hesitant at first, and then explained that the business belongs to both her and her husband and she’d like to run my request by him first. I gave her my blog and social media credentials and invited her to check me out and then let me know if they’d both be comfortable with me telling their story here. A few days later, Shauna whatsapped me and we set a date and time to talk.
Johnathon and Shauna Kelly: Owners & Operators of Elite Shoe Care
I was not having a good day that day. It was Friday and it had been a long week. But I was determined to honour my commitment and so I turned up. As it turns out, Shauna is 38 years old, but she looks 28, no lie. There is absolutely no pretentiousness about her and she has a calm and easy manner about her, doing everything with a genuine smile on her face. I started talking with Shauna alone. “This business is to provide a legacy for our kids” she stated with certainty and quiet clarity.
Elite Shoe Care was the brainchild of Shauna’s hubby Johnathon. He had appeared by this time and like his wife, had a very easy manner and a ready smile. We shook hands and we started to chat. Johnathon confirmed that Elite Shoe Care was only one business endeavor that he was part of. He had been an employee only once in his life and he knew that being an employee was not going to work for him. He shared with me that the thought of someone else determining what he was worth and deciding when and where he worked just didn’t sit well with him. Both Johnathon and Shauna are in fact IT professionals and run another IT based business dealing with animation and software products.
A Natural Entreprenuer
Johnathon grew up in an environment where entrepreneurship was the norm. His dad ran a number of businesses. I looked at Johnathon and told him that he struck me as that kid in school who always had a viable side hustle going on…you know those kids…they sell candy or CDs (back in the day!) or fruit or pencils or stickers… He laughed heartily and in agreement. He sure was. But just how did an IT entrepreneur end up in this shoe repair space? “Necessity is the mother of invention” said Johnathon in response to my query. He confirmed that his brain is always on, looking for opportunities to solve problems and make money. He had stumbled across a shoe laundry business concept that was doing very well in India. I should pause and mention here that during our conversation, Johnathon confirmed to me that he is always reading. It stuck him that no one was offering a shoe cleaning or laundry service here in Jamaica, and with the growing sneaker culture, it would likely be a relevant business to start! Remember now, Johnathon is a creative at heart (IT and animation background), he has an natural entrepreneurial spirit, he has a curious mind, and he confessed in our chat that he simply has a drive to be first.
Johnathon shared that he was inspired by TV sitcom “The Jeffersons” at a very young age. He was impressed by the self-made George Jefferson, who built a business and life for himself and his family with his dry-cleaning business.
“So what about Risk? Aren’t you afraid to Fail?”
Johnathon rocked back in his chair with a huge smile as he responded to my query: “Failure? So what! You really only fail when you’ve stopped trying. If something doesn’t work the way you thought it would, you’ve learned something new. That’s not failure.” He shared a story about a lesson learned over the almost one year that he’s been in this business. Very early on a customer brought in a pair of imitation shoes that simply didn’t stand up to the cleaning process. He has now learned to identify the fakes and advise his customers in order to manage their expectations. He did replace those shoes though and never made that mistake again. Being an expert is important to him, as part of his mission is to educate his customers and build credibility and trust.
A Partnership that works
As Johnathon and I were chatting, Shauna excused herself to deal with some matters. In her absence he said the very same thing that Shauna had said to me when we were chatting earlier: “This business is to provide a legacy for our kids” He said the matter of inter-generational wealth is very important to him, and that both he and Shauna were determined to have something to pass on to their two children (now 14 and 11 years of age). He said that it is very important to them that their kids realize that they have control over their destinies and that they can create the life they want. Elite Shoe care is where the kids come after school, and while they don’t necessarily work in the business per se, they are exposed to everything to do with running and growing a business.
Johnathon confirmed that Shauna is a critical part of the business. “She is excellent support, providing the balance to my passion.” he stated matter of factly. Johnathon was very clear about where he wants to take this business and admitted that it would be very easy to run ahead of himself without Shauna’s steadying influence and useful interventions that has seen the business expand steadily without over extending and running out of steam in terms of capital and capacity. In response to my very pointed query about working together as man and wife, they both laughed and Johnathon simply declared: “It works!” They both have clearly defined roles which consume their time and energy and focus during working hours.
I was introduced to the technical hands-on expert of the business, Alex Blair. He listened in to our conversation, nodding in agreement at critical junctures. Alex is a childhood friend of Johnathon’s who immediately caught Johnathon’s vision and jumped in from day 1. He has learned the technical aspects of the services offered and is a critical member of Team Elite Shoe Care.
Remember I shared with you that Johnathon’s brain and mind are never off. He has a vision that goes beyond cleaning shoes and customizing sneakers. Early on, he recognized that while he had defined his scope as shoe cleaning and refurbishing, shoe repair was a natural fit within this business model. So he contracted shoe repair and brought it in house, and was now able to fix a strap or replace a sole AND clean and paint the shoe. Made sense, right? And that same observant, entrepreneurial mind is always looking for ways to grow his business by establishing trust with the client, attracting new clients and maintaining them, by meeting a real need and solving real problems.
He sees educating the public on shoe and foot care as a central part of the mission of Elite Shoe care. Johnathon very clearly articulated the importance of growth as a universal rule to the success of his and any other business. He regularly meets with his small team and they discuss the Vision. All 4 of them are vested and a part of the vision for Elite Shoe care.
Johnathon recognises the direct correlation between the success of the business and the personal success of every team member: “A better You (meaning team member) is a better Us (meaning Elite Shoe Care). He knows what is happening in the lives of the team members and ensures that they are taken care of.
Johnathon is currently planning a local expo aimed at bringing players in the shoe and foot care industry together…big goal for a new entrant in a specialized niche, but if I am correct in my assumptions about Mr. Kelly, watch out Jamaica! He sees the services offered by Elite Shoe Care as part of a larger and wider vision.
Challenges over the last year
Growing their customer base remains a challenge that they continue to embrace. Their marketing is done mostly online, and as IT professionals it should come as no surprise to us that they have a very professional online presence. The response to their Instagram page has been tremendous and they continue to build and grow by leveraging this platform.
Elite Shoe Care will have been in business for one year come March 2019. During this period, one of the main challenges faced by the business is identifying genuine, committed persons to work in the business.
They are still looking for an ideal location that will be able to attract a higher volume of traffic.
A second location, more of a drop-off pick-up point, is in the short term plan, but the actual work done will remain centralized for now. Johnathon was very clear about his decision to have this structure in order to establish and maintain quality control even as they grow out.
I was surprised that he didn’t cite “access to capital” as a constraint to his business and I very bluntly asked him about this. Micro, small and medium enterprises moan about issues to do with funding and capitalizing expansion plans. Johnathon was once again crystal clear: “We decided to use retained earnings to fund any expansion. The typical investor doesn’t care about you, your family, your vision or your business. They simply want a return on their money. That is just one added thing for me to worry about. I want to be free to grow my business without worrying about keeping an investor happy. This approach has been working so far for us.”
What is next for Elite Shoe Care?
The Kelly’s see more and more Jamaicans realizing that their are options beyond throwing out their old shoes, that shoe care extends beyond tipping heals and re-soling shoes. That customization of sneakers is an actual thing and that footwear can and ought to reflect one’s personality and can be the focal point in any outfit.
They aim to make it easy for you to access their services. They already offer pick up and drop off services. Stand by for conveniently located kiosks and points that will serve as satellite touch points making it easy for you to do business with them.
Do you know they have a shoe club too? This innovative, creative entrepreneurial duo have created this: “We understand your love and desire to keep your shoes in the best condition possible to preserve their value and to provide additional years of wear and enjoyment. We have created a service that will fit perfectly into your fast paced lifestyle and relieve you of the hassle of keeping your shoes clean and fresh yourself. We have created two packages suited for Men and Women that will cover most if not all of your monthly needs. In addition, any additional accessories, services or major repairs you may need will be eligible for an exclusive discount as a member of the EliteShoe Care Club.”
Check out Elite Shoe Care today. This is a business led by innovative, truly customer-centric, problem solvers in the form of Jonathon and Shauna Kelly. I am inspired by them. They give me hope.
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/eliteshoecare/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eliteshoecare/
- Whatsapp: 876-368-7609
- Website: http://www.eliteshoecare.com
- Unit 11A, 3 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5
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