Mr Julius Obare has taken shoe repair to greater heights — he gives his customers the option of stretching shoes to fit and reducing them to a buyer’s size.
He is the proprietor of Africo footwear, a shoe repair business in Nairobi’s central business district. He started his trade in Kibera slum.
“I was a local cobbler repairing shoes in Kibera where I earned very little money, money that could not sustain me,” Mr Obare told Money.
He landed a job with an Asian shoe repair company in the 1990s, where he mastered the skill.
Equipped with his own tools — a Sh40,000 grinder (used for cutting heels and filing shoe soles), a Sh10,000 sewing machine for repairing handbags, and a shoe stretcher worth Sh75,000, Africo footwear was established in 2002.
“The machines were donated by my former employer, Mr Lakhan Jatharan, who mentored me in professional shoe repair,” Mr Obare said.
The 37-year-old now makes a stable profit of about Sh200,000 every month after expenses.
“I have repaired shoes for prominent people in Nairobi such as Mrs Ida Odinga, Kenya’s former president, Daniel Moi, and Mr Musalia Mudavadi,” he says.
His customer list includes both the Who is Who in the country and middle class people.
The prominent people approach him through renowned shoe stores, which give him an order on the specifications of the type of service needed.
That way, he has managed to run a professional shoe and bag repair business. He makes leather bags and shoes for school children, he says.
“I also make official shoes on order that I sell from Sh1,200 a pair,” he said, “Shoe stores in town have been instrumental in building up this business because they send their customers to us.”
Even with lucrative deals, Mr Obare continues his quest to create inexpensive, light shoes, which he uses to cash in on peak shoe selling periods such as back-to-school seasons.
Africo footwear is located along Nairobi’s Tom Mboya Street and has had its fair share of difficulties.
These includes keeping up with competitors, most of them Asians who have mastered the art of shoe and bag repair.
These include Oriental Footwear and Khan Leather, who provide similar services.
His raw materials are sourced from various places, including China and Italy.
The materials include leather, soles, tips, heels, nylon, leather board, glue, thread, which cost him about Sh20,000 a month.
“I source only the best materials so that I can deliver the best results to my customers,” he told Money, “I have clients whom I have served for the 11 years that I have been in the business.”
Africo Footwear has saved many women from embarrassment when they break their heels in town, he claims.
“We are based within the central business district, so it is usually easy for one to drop in and wait as the shoe is repaired,” Mr Obare said, “I repair heels with perfection.”
He charges Sh350 to make the full sole of a woman’s shoe and Sh200 to fix a broken heel.
He replaces zips for Sh300, makes new handbag lining for Sh600, and makes leather straps for Sh500.
He says that his secret to staying in business is his top-notch service and expertise, which he says has earned customers’ loyalty despite stiff competition.
With his profits, Mr Obare has expanded his business to include collection and delivery services.
Most customers find it convenient to call his office and arrange to have their shoes pick up and delivered after repair.
HIGH END CUSTOMERS
Mr Obare says his high moments are when he gets high profile customers.
He charges them Sh1,000 and above because good quality materials are required to repair their shoes.
Sometimes big stores import shoes but find that they are faulty. In such cases, Mr Obare smiles all the way to the bank because he gets tenders to repair the shoes.
“Repairing shoes for stores in bulk brings in good money and I usually negotiate for a good price that is worth the great services I offer,” Mr Obare said.
Mr Obare’s future plans include expanding his business to several counties.