Anyone who lives in New York will tell you that the city destroys shoes.
What they might not know, though, is that there’s a way to have your shoes repaired for $US40 or $US50 without having to visit a shop.
The startup Cobbler Concierge lets you mail in your beat-up footwear and sit back while they make repairs. Then, they will send the shoes back to you in a week or two.
Co-founder Pettus Randall was inspired to start the company when he first moved to New York City and wore his pair of prized Ferragamo loafers down almost to the socks.
Instead of paying $US600 for a new pair, Randall began searching for the best shoe repairmen in the city. But his job managing operations for a biotechnology company made it hard for him to find time to take his shoes to a cobbler. By the time he left for the day, most city cobblers had been closed for hours.
The idea for Cobbler Concierge was born. Randall teamed up with what he told me were “the best cobblers in New York City,” Andrew and Joe Rocco — whose family had been repairing shoes for 84 years — as well as fellow Princeton grad Rebecca Haarlow to create his e-commerce shoe repair company.
Cobbler Concierge charges flat fees of $US40 for women’s shoes, $US80 for men’s shoes, and $US100 for purses. They do everything from sole replacement to fine leather work. Customers around the country are sent a box in which to ship their shoes to the company’s warehouse in Queens. After a week, your shoes are sent back to you looking brand new.
We challenged the Cobbler Concierge team to fix the most worn-down pair of shoes we could find. One Business Insider employee brought in her salt-stained black leather boots that had been devastated by New York winters and too much city walking. They needed a new strap, new heels, and lots of polishing.
The original price of the boots had been $US300 at Bloomingdale’s. Their owner had gotten two seasons of wear out of them — could they seriously be rehabbed well enough to last her another winter, and for just $US40?
Keep reading to see inside the 5,200-square-foot warehouse in Queens and watch the cobblers work their magic.
Cobbler Concierge is an online shoe and purse repair service that launched in April of this year. It charges $40 for women's shoes, $80 for men's dress shoes, and $100 for purses, and sends a pre-paid shipping box to you so you don't need to worry about visiting a nearby cobbler. Women's shoes are cheaper because they're typically smaller and require less material.
But instead of merely sending the shoes in, we decided to visit the factory, which is located at the very end of the E line in New York's Richmond Hill neighbourhood.
Inside the huge 5,200-square-foot warehouse, Cobbler Concierge has built work stations for its 20 employees where the shoes and purses are cleaned, polished, sanded, and buffed.
Here are all the shoes that are waiting to be fixed. The shoes are given a barcode and entered into the system as soon as they arrive.
Once the shoes arrive at the warehouse, they are photographed so you can remember how beat up they were originally.
Here are the shoes my coworker had me fix for her. They look pretty rough -- not only are they scuffed, but after some nasty New York City winters, the heel has been drastically worn down.
The boots were also salt stained and one boot needed a strap to be re-attached. But the cobblers in the warehouse told me all these things were easily fixable. And even though the strap was being fixed, the shoe needed polishing, and they were building two new heels, they said it would stay the same base price of $40.
I followed around a cobbler as he went to work on the boots. First he tore up the useless heel that had worn away.
And secured the brand new heel by hammering in tiny nails. He told me this heel would be a lot harder to wear down in the future.
He had to let the polish dry before the shoe was sent to get the new strap and then polished. Once they're done, the boots will sit here with the other finished shoes.
After I watched my shoes get repaired for a while, I looked around the huge warehouse. There's an entire closet filled with different coloured dyes to match to the shoes as well as leather bags. After a bit of polish, this bag will look brand new.
One thing Cobbler Concierge prides itself on is having red Vibram soles to repair women's classic Christian Louboutins.
Christian Louboutins are known for their bright red soles, but after walking around for a few weeks, the bottom of the shoe looks a lot worse for the wear.
But the red material that Cobbler Concierge has blends in perfectly with the red paint, but won't wear down or lose it's colour.
Upstairs in the warehouse, there's an area for more detailed work, like bag straps as well as zippers and hardware.
Cobbler Concierge said the majority of the bags it receives are Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Prada. These purses typically cost over $1,000, so it's a lot cheaper to have them repaired for $100 than it would be to buy a brand new one.
When you place your order, Cobbler Concierge sends you this box to pack your shoes in and ship back to them.
Then they will be placed in a Cobbler Concierge dust bag. 'Customer service is very important to us,' co-founder and chief marketing officer Rebecca Haarlow told us. 'We put a lot of thought into how we would ship the shoes back to customers and wanted to provide them with the very best quality and service.'
The bags are then placed in the 'finished' row of shoes. These will be packed up and sent back to customers.
Roughly a week later, the shoes arrived at the Business Insider office. The entire process of sending the box and returning the shoes to the customer typically takes 1-2 weeks, we were told.
Inside the box, I found the boots nestled in a Cobbler Concierge dust bag like the ones I had seen in the warehouse.
'They look like new,' said the boots' owner. 'The leather, which had salt stains from the winter, is completely clean. The boots have a few buckles and metal attachments, which are all clean and tight. They also replaced one metal grommet entirely, and while it's slightly different than the original, it's not noticeable.'
'The Best part is the new soles,' she continued. 'The heels had been pretty badly worn away, and now they look brand new, and all clean and shiny. I was thrilled to see that they used Vibram soles, which are really tough and should definitely last me through next winter.'
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