Earlier this month, I had a chance to sit down for an interview session with one of the co-founders of Shoe Mo, Ginny To. During the interview, I managed to get a lot of information regarding the business. From the background, future planning, what makes Shoe Mo different, and what kind of message they want to convey to their customers.
The interview lasted for almost an hour, but there are so many things I have learnt from Ginny. Most importantly, I was able to learn many things about shoes cleaning service here in Malaysia.
For those who do not know, Shoe Maestro or commonly known as Shoe Mo, they are the leading shoe, and sneakers care services in Malaysia and also in South East Asia. To date, Shoe Mo has four branches and a few franchises across the region which is Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Brunei.
What is the story behind Shoe Mo?
“When I was in Vietnam, I used to send my shoes into cleaning once or every two weeks because I have quite a lot of sneakers in Vietnam.”
“But, then I moved to KL, and I couldn’t find any shoes cleaning service. I didn’t think about it at first.”
“Then there was one day, me and my business partner, which was my friend back then went running, and I found out that there’s a little bit of dirt on it and I ask him where I can send my shoes for cleaning in KL, which I used to do back in Vietnam.
“He couldn’t recall any service or shop that does shoes cleaning. So I was surprised because for me KL is more advanced and diversified than in Vietnam.”
“My partner told me, ‘why don’t we just start doing this since we cannot find any shoes cleaning service.’
After researching and googling, we found out that a few shops provide shoes cleaning. However, the charge is quite expensive, like RM60 to RM80 to clean the shoes only, which I find it is not affordable.
The Beginning of Shoe Mo
When Ginny and Jack decide to start shoes cleaning service, the first thing they did was creating a Facebook page, and from that point, they began receiving orders from random people.
“Jack will ask his friends and colleagues to try out the business.”
“At that time we charge RM10 including pick-up and drop-off to see if there’s any demand for the service.
Back then, Ginny was working in Mid Valley, and usually, she will ask the customer to pick-up and drop-off the shoes there because, at that time, they don’t even have a shop. All the shoe cleaning are done at Ginny and Jack respective homes.
“So that was like ‘bring your shoes into your office and bring it back home, clean it, then bring it back when it is done,” said Ginny to us.
According to Ginny, in the beginning, they only receive two or three pairs of shoes every week, and this eventually became a few pairs every day. Through that experience, they see the demand and realize they need a shop to centralize everything, from shoes cleaning to management. That is how their story at Damansara Utama started.
“We see the demand, so we invest a little bit in Facebook ads, and the response is amazing like people start commenting, posting, and asking us for the service. Then we realize that we can’t run the business without a shop because we can’t use our toilet to clean the shoes.”
“So we rented a place in Damansara Utama or Uptown, which is Shoe Mo’s first shop, workshop, and also my office.” Said Ginny to us.
The first seven months is the most challenging for Ginny and Jack because they have to do everything by themselves.
“It was a lot of hard work in the beginning because we don’t have anyone to help. We clean ourselves, return ourselves, do the marketing ourselves.“
“From the first day we started until seven months of operations, that seven months we learn how to clean the shoes, doing manual pick-up and drop-off in Mid Valley.”
“Only after seven months, we opened our shop we hired an intern to answer Facebook, Email, messages, and drop-off the shoes.”
How many stores Shoe Mo has?
Speaking to Sterrific, Ginny told us that, Shoe Mo has 13 outlets in four countries – Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Brunei.
Eight of them are owned and managed by Shoe Mo itself, while the rest is licensed.
“For Shoe Mo, all the shops in KL is owned and run by Shoe Mo itself. If you see Shoe Mo in JB or Penang, it is a licensed outlet.”
What makes Shoe Mo different from the other shoe cleaning services in Malaysia?
“I think the shoe cleaning service industry in Malaysia is still very manual. Everything is run manually by the shop owner, and they don’t even have a proper system and process to do the business.”
“Shoe Mo is different because we build and have our system to manage the shop’s Standard of Procedure (SOP).“
The system helped the business to manage the order from the customers and also make it easy for Ginny to monitor the work of their staff.
“For me, as the business owner, I wouldn’t know who does which shoes because I am not in the shop, for example. And I wouldn’t know which pair comes first, which order do I have to do unless I have to write down every single pair of shoes.”
“And then we couldn’t know if my staff is doing anything in the shop or not if I am not here. How can I know? I don’t check my camera all the time, and I don’t count every day. There is a lot of work.”
“So whenever customer drop-off by our shop, we use the system which can be accessed by a smartphone. We locked the shoes into the system with the shoe photo.”
“When you send your shoes to Shoe Mo, you can see the status of the shoes sent to you through emails and text messages.”
How would you envision this business?
“The ultimate goal is that I want Shoe Mo to be globally recognized!“
“So let’s say, we have branches in four countries and we will continue to expand. The reason is I want everyone to get shoe services, and I want them to think Shoe Mo first!“
“I would say, globally recognized sneakers service brands. That’s our ultimate goal, and we are working towards that.”
Last year was a fruitful year for Shoe Mo as they managed to expand their business where they opened ten outlets. However, for this year, Shoe Mo choose to slow down the expansion to focus more on the existing business operations.
“We are expanding a lot last year where we open around ten outlets, but this year we only have one because we expand too fast and it takes time to put down a standard business.”
“If you open too many outlets at the same time, you have to make sure the quality is following the SOP, the staff, and the team is playing their role and understand what they are doing.”
“This year we slowed down to look into more to our business. But we are still looking for a potential licensee.”
“There are two ways to run and expand your business. First, open a new outlet and second is license it out.“
According to Ginny, Shoe Mo prefer licensee instead of the franchise because it is more flexible.
For the licensee, the structure, interior, or design of the store does not have to be precisely the same as long as it is following your standard. But for the franchise, everything must be the same.”
Besides, Shoe Mo prefer licensee because there is a lot of shops to run and manage.
“You have a different outline. Because you have your standard, but it’s not the same.”
“I think that for now, we prefer to have someone to license it because we have many outlets to run.“
Shoe Mo online service is available for Singapore and Malaysia but not Indonesia and Brunei.
One reason why online service is available in Malaysia and Singapore but not in Indonesia and Brunei is that the two countries have a different market.
“The reason why the online store is not available in Indonesia because Indonesia is a different market. People don’t do a lot of online stuff there.“
“It is tough to convince the consumer to create an online store account, put in the order by themselves and pay online.”
According to Ginny, Indonesia is not as advanced as Singapore and Malaysia, and the market there is very service-centric.
“So let’s say you have your driver, and you have your maid. You will send your maid to the shop to get something for you.”
“They don’t do it themselves, the driver and the maid will do it for them. Because they don’t know how to pay online.”
Ginny explain to us that doing online service in Indonesia is not going to benefit them.
“We don’t think it’s suitable for the market. So what we do is we still take delivery service, but we will manually use GoJek to fulfil it.”
“As for Brunei, the market is too small, and everyone has a car. So it doesn’t make sense to do delivery if anyone can drive and it is a small city.”
Is it possible to do online stores in Indonesia and Brunei in the future?
“It is possible; we still can launch. But you have to look at the reality of the market – launching delivery service takes a lot of resources, marketing, backend, delivery partner.“
“If we don’t have an order then what’s the point of launching it?”
Do you have your courier or delivery partner?
“We have a delivery partner.”
“We integrated with Go Get, but sometimes we used Grab as well depends on the price. We will use these people to fulfil the delivery.”
“The customer here they know how to order online and pay online, so everything is done online. Just that when we fulfil the service, we use GoGet or GrabCar. It is really up to us.“
Which service is preferable to the customer: online or drop-off?
While the online service has steady growth, people still prefer to drop-off their shoes to the store. The reason is, people don’t trust to send in the pair of shoes to a random person, which is the delivery guy.
“The reason why online delivery is not overwhelming because people do not trust someone else to pick up their shoes.”
Usually, the customers will only start using online service after using Shoe Mo service once or twice.
The delivery charge usually depends on the distance of the place where the customer lives. The shoes sent by the customers often go to the nearest shop from their home.
“The delivery charge depends on the distance of the place, and it will always go to the nearest outlet.”
While Shoe Mo is known to be an expert in shoe cleaning services, they also introduce a new service, which is a leather bag service. So I asked if they plan to venture in different business fields and here is what Ginny said.
According to Ginny, they were doing a leather bag service because it is similar to shoes.
“We do a leather bag service because it is very similar to shoes, but our branding is about shoes, and we have limited resources.”
“As much as I want to expand, we don’t have enough manpower.“
“It’s tough to hire because when you are hiring, you have to train them, and it will take a while to get used to the skills and everything.”
“So I find it is tough to hire other people suitable to do this kind of job. There are not many people that appreciate shoe cleaning.”
“We don’t always ask people to clean shoes. We can always have career advance like be a shop manager, or you can move into the management team.”
“It’s just the perception that people are not very keen on having shoes cleaning as a job.”
The message behind ‘Saving the environment, one shoe at a time’
“We just think that people nowadays are buying too many shoes.“
“I think that they buy too much and not maintain it. Because if you see the shoes get old already, then you will start buying a new one. But you don’t know that you actually can maintain it and make it look like new sneakers.”
“So we do think that we can help to shape the mindset of people that you don’t always have to buy a new one.”
“The only thing you can do is pay attention to your shoes and maintain it while you needed it. You don’t have to do it every week or month.”
“Instead of buying a new pair of shoes, you can fix it, clean it, and make it fresh again.“
“That’s the mentality we want to share among the young people.”
How does the existence of Shoe Mo change or influence the shoe cleaning business and culture in Malaysia?
“I think the shoe industry will grow as it is. We don’t think that shoe cleaning is something that destructive or have a huge impact on it because we were like sub-industry.“
“For example, if there are no shoes, then there will be no Shoe Mo.”
“So the stronger the shoe industry go, the stronger we are.”
“People will keep buying shoes. Cleaning the shoes doesn’t prevent them from buying a new one.”
“It just that they will use the pair of shoes for a longer time. It is up to them whether they want to buy or not.”
“But in a way, I would say, we are contributing in terms of prolonged the lifespan of the shoes.“
“The shoes cleaning is benefiting the consumer more than the industry.”
The business who co-founded by Ginny To and Jack Wong has been running for almost three years since 2016. The company will keep growing from time to time, and I believe the influence of Shoe Mo is not limited to business purpose only. But instead, it could expand to a whole different level and area.
For me, it is good to have such a company because not only it will help you prolong the life shelve of your shoes but also it will help preserve the environment. More important, the millennials could save a lot of money by repairing or clean their sneakers instead of buying the new ones!
*All the photos are taken from 1. Shoe Mo official website, Instagram, and Facebook. 2. GoGet official website 3. GrabCar official website