Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Charlotte Shoe and Leather Repair: small business report

Charlotte Shoe and Leather Repair (517-543-6988) was purchased by Travis Lyon in December of 2013.   Charlotte Shoe and Leather Repair had been a local business for many decades before Travis bought it and breathed new life into the business.

You are likely to see Sarah when you walk through the door.  Finished repair jobs are in the background.
One of the things that you will notice when you walk into the shop is that it has been de-cluttered.  Much of the repair has been moved to an upper and a lower repair space.  The retail space is much more open and brighter than it was before.

Charlotte Shoe and Leather Repair, like many specialty shops in small towns, sells a myriad of product lines.

They sell high-end leather footwear.  That includes some pretty fancy cowboy boots, Golden Retriever work boots and fleece lined slippers (Hint:  A great gift for Mother's day!)

They sell sunglasses, handbags, leather care products, shoe polish and boot laces and keys.


Two customers came in while I was there.  The first customer owned a horse and he had an issue with a broken harness.  In the space of three minutes, the man explained what he wanted done (take the parts from two harnesses he brought in and stitch them together into one working harness), the modifications were made and stitched together and it was back in the man's hands.  He even had a choice in the color of stitching.

The other customer brought in a shoe with a broken down heel.  Travis talked her out of repairing it.  He said, "I can fix about anything, but I would have to filet out the layers in that shoe, straighten out the bent pieces, glue and/or stitch them together and then un-filet the shoe.  The shoe is simply not worth what I would have to charge you to fix it.

I thought it spoke well of his integrity that he did not try to talk the woman into repairing her shoe just so he could have more revenue.

I asked Travis what he repaired.  He said, almost everything....except for metal.  There are some things he will refer to other craftsmen.  For example, he will perform repairs on gun holsters but he will refer you to Frank's Custom Holsters in Battle Creek, Michigan because they can do it more quickly and he knows you will be very happy with the results.


Leatherworkers have all kinds of neat looking equipment.

This is a lightweight sewing machine that has a lot of reach.  This is the machine that Travis used to repair the customer's harness.  This machine is in the upper repair room.  All remaining equipment is in the lower repair room where most of the "heavy" repair is done.

These grinding wheels generate a lot of dust.  They were moved to the downstairs work area to keep the retail area cleaner.

Much of this old equipment has belt drives.  I believe this sewing machine could stitch through oak planks.
I think this is a grommet press.  The brown bins are for different sizes and styles of grommets.

Another sewing machine.  This one is configured to reach down inside boots and less accessible spaces.


Some repair stock is kept on hand to expedite quick repair.  Custom repair parts (like fancy zippers and buckles) can be ordered.  Obviously, it takes longer to make the repair when the customer specifies custom hardware or soles.

Commonly used soles.
Padding and lining materials

Various types of leathers.  Belts.

Containing costs 

Much of the downstairs work area was spec-ed out by the workers.  The bench and shelves were then designed and built by Ahler Construction, a local construction firm.

The three full-time repair people (and the one or two part-timers) got together and agreed upon a 38" high bench and 1" thick ergo matting.  They also decided to make the bench shallow at 20" to minimize reach and make it easier to see things. They also designed and built the shelving to meet their needs.   Corrected based on reader feedback to read, the work bench and shelves were designed and built by a Ahler Construction, a local construction firm.  All errors were ERJ's.
After using the set-up for a few day, decided where and how-much lighting to install.
I see building this as a major win-win.  They saved money and they got EXACTLY what they wanted.

New guy, new look

Since Travis is "the new guy" I asked him if there were any messages he would like me to broadcast to the people in Eaton County.

He said that he would like people to think about the pounding their feet take.  You are on your feet all day long.  Why not invest in a really good set of footware?  As a farmboy who baled hay, he learned that a quality set of work boots was the difference between needing to ice his feet after work and wanting to go out dancing.

He also wants Eaton County to know that Charlotte Shoe and Leather Repair (517-543-6988) is a retailer for five brands of high-end footwear.  He kept the name from the previous owner and, unfortunately, it does not tell potential customers that they also do retail sales.

He wants Eaton County to know that they fix "stuff".  They have repaired vinyl items, tonneau covers, sports equipment, some upholstery, lots of zippers.  They repair, tweak and customize all types of orthopedic devices.  And they repair shoes.  They are currently at 1500 repair jobs a month and it is increasing.

Three pieces of advice

I like to ask businesspeople "What three pieces of advice would you give a niece or nephew if they came up to you and told you they wanted to start a business?"

1. Luck is the product of hard work.
2. Work until the job is done.  You have a customer waiting for that job.
3. Watch the books.
(and a 4th piece of advice snuck in) Do quality work.  You lose money and customers when they have to bring stuff back.

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  1. Ahler Family Construction designed and built the shelves. We also built the work bench.

    1. Apologies for the error. It was mine, not Travis's. Corrections made. Again, I apologize for any inconvenience.


  2. Sounds like a good shop to use! Wish it was a bit closer!!!

  3. I can see that you are an expert at your field! I am launching a website soon, and your information will be very useful for me.. Thanks for all your help and wishing you all the success in your business. western leather gun belts and holsters


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