Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Shoe Shine Philosophy

The shoe shine chair is no longer a place to visit in our city.  Men sat there and talked business or exchanged pleasantries for years.  They nearly always left more than the price of their shoe shine with the proprietor.  But a shine for a teenager with a dime was guaranteed to shine just as well for that dime as it did for the businessman’s dollar.

A man by the name of Robert Engstrom once said that employees are those who build a business.  His son, Bob Engstrom kept that philosophy to the point that his employees had one year of guaranteed employment even after he sold his business to another company.  That guarantee was part of the sales agreement.

The Engstroms believed that if they took good care of their employees, the employees would take good care of business.  Customers who trusted the employees’ honesty would come back again and again and would recommend the company to others.  Reputation—of a company or product—is everything when people spend their money.  Get one dissatisfied customer out there among those who use the same services and suddenly a company’s reputation is on the line.  If the customer is known to be a cheat, it might not matter what he/she said.  But people listen, just the same.  And they wonder, and they watch the bottom line and the service department closely.

I never got a shoe shine by that man downtown.  Only men did that sort of thing.  But I could see that he certainly did a good job.  He was quite a businessman.  But he is gone now.

It was the death of downtown that took away the business for the shoe shine man.  Malls don’t let men put down a box and offer services for a dime or a dollar.  No, rent a kiosk for $2,000 a month or more and see how much a shoe shine would have to cost.

Very few individuals own a business which does not require assistants unless it might be someone like Cari Guidry of Healing Hands.  Individuals have made her business do well because she does a good job.

No, most businesses require multiple employees.  Managing employees takes tact, honesty, and wisdom.  But if a manager or owner will take care of the employees, the employees will take care of the business.  Bob Engstrom proved his theory.  Business owners would be wise to emulate his philosophy.  That philosophy is not a “FIX” for problems.  It is a gold standard for future worth.

Ignore honesty and decent standards of quality; ignore the value of good employees; ignore the actual needs of the customers or overcharge for services:  these are the elements in a formula for failure.  Business owners beware!


Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Oh boy, did you bring back memories. My father owned a barbershop on Monroe St., and he had a shoeshine stand. It was at the front of the shop, and Morris was the "shoeshine boy" as we called him. He was the sweetest man. Thanks for this reminder.


Carla said...

I have seen shoeshine stands in airports, but that's about the only place left. I like your point that employees build the business.