Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cuba Shoe Repairman's Business Tips

Cuba Shoe Repairman's Business Tips
August 16, 2011
Yusimi Rodriguez

HAVANA TIMES, August 16 — It had just turned 5:00 p.m. as I had made it
to the corner running. That was where the shoe repairer sits, and I was
worried that he had closed or was about to leave. But as it turned out
he was still there hard at work.

"My schedule is from 9:00 in the morning to 6:00 in the evening, but
today I'm working till 7:00," he explained.

In general, the customer will leave the article with him that they want
repaired (shoes, a handbag, a backpack…) and they'll pick it up the next

After much insistence, I succeeded in getting Ariel, the shoe repairer,
to agree to fix my backpack before the end of that same day.

"Come back at 6:30," he told me.

I left after paying him in advance and I returned later at the agreed
upon time. But since I still had to wait for him to fix a pair of
tennis shoes before he could get to my backpack, he offered me a seat.
And since I'd have to remain there for several minutes, I didn't miss
out on the chance to ask him the same thing I ask all self-employed
workers I know:

HT: How's it going with the taxes and paying for your self-employed
business license? Is your business turning out to be profitable?

Ariel: Do you see all those white plastic bags? All those are pairs of
shoes. I generally have a lot of work. This isn't new for me; I began
in 1993 and it has always worked out well for me. You just got to
understand that this type of business has its rules…and it's important
to know them and how they're applied.

First, it's important to be located right out on the street. If you
situate yourself in a passageway or a corridor, you're burying yourself

Second, try to be out on the sidewalk or under the portico of a house.
When I began repairing shoes in 1993, I worked under the portico at the
market, and because of that I had a huge customer base. I even had
assistants. Then they disallowed anyone from locating under the portico
of a state-run business, so I had to relocate my business somewhere
else. It was less than three yards from the sidewalk, but it wasn't the
same any more. It wasn't so visible, so people didn't drop in, and
consequently the business shrank…

The other detail is that you have to collect what you charge in advance,
otherwise they'll leave their shoes and then won't come looking for them
until a week or a month later, or they won't come back at all – after
all, they're nothing but old shoes. After they pay, it doesn't matter
to me if they come back or not. But when they come, their shoes are
there waiting.

HT: You've been here at this site for only a few days. I saw you here
for the first time last Saturday. How have you been able to attract so
many customers so quickly?

Ariel: Ah-ha, let me explain… I've been here for about a month, but the
fact is that the first several days weren't so good. Even though I was
in a good place, no one knew me. But you have be disciplined and get
yourself into a routine, coming every day and completing your schedule,
even if you know that no one's coming. It's the same as if you were
working for the state and had to punch a time clock.

But you have to be even more disciplined, because your bread and butter
depend on it. So say I post my hours as being from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00
p.m.; if a prospective customer comes at 5:00 or 5:30 and I'm not there,
they're not coming back. They'll think I'm not the serious type. The
customers need to get used to seeing you at your work location, and they
have to see you busy working… Sometimes I'll light a cigarette but it'll
just sit there and smolder in the ashtray, because I don't stop.

The other important thing is to know how to treat the public. You need
a lot of patience because there are some pretty silly people out there.
Did you see that woman who came just by just a little while ago and
had the nerve to ask me what I'd been doing all day because her shoes
weren't ready? She didn't remember that I had repaired her two belts on
the spot.

But anyway, I answered her with a big smile — ear to ear — saying that
I'd been out playing baseball, but then I showed her all the pairs of
shoes I had to fix. She immediately calmed down.

I try to not let things or people bother me. If I expect some type of
problem, I'll give back the money and the article to the customer with
all the kindness of the world, and because of that I don't have any

They have to decide between waiting a little more for quality work and
looking for another repairman who can throw together something fast.

The problem is that in this situation where many people have found
themselves forced into self-employed work, lots of them are making
things up as they go along, "inventing"; they don't know the job they're
in and they only want some quick money. I guarantee experience and quality.

HT: When did you learn this trade?

Ariel: Twenty-seven years ago, starting when I was 16. I learned
watching other shoemakers. I began by putting new heels on Centauro
boots that were used for a long time. Then I began making sandals with
a friend. Since I didn't have tools, I assembled the shoes with those
tongs used by mechanics. People said I was crazy.

HT: Did you study anything else? A profession?

Ariel: Nothing. I've always made a living from this, and I've lived
well. I'm not just a repairman, I'm also make footwear, re-upholstering
cars, or make and repair mattresses… (He takes out his cellphone and
shows me photos of shoes he has made – ones for men, women and children.
He also made many of the sandals that his wife wears).

HT: Do you have children?

Ariel: Yes, one. He's 27. He was born when I was sixteen; hey, I
started early. He's a telecommunications engineer. He has his
university degree and that gives me a great deal of pride. But to make
a living, he does the very same thing as his dad – he repairs shoes.


No comments:

Post a Comment