Tom Beecroft is on a mission. His shoe shine start-up doesn’t just help London’s men sport proudly gleaming footwear, it also offers a meaningful leg-up into employment for the homeless. He runs a bespoke concession stand located beside the Booking Office restaurant, within St Pancras Grand hotel.
• I want shoe shine to be a real experience. What we offer here is essentially a 20 minute foot massage. It’s a rare technique, but I use my fingertips. Partly because that’s the best way of getting the products deep into the shoes and partly as the heat of my hands helps soften the wax. We were looking at being based out on the St Pancras concourse, but for three months in the year, the polish would simply be too cold to work.
• At business school, they never told me this – but I firmly believe the future is all about ‘social business’. Charities are becoming more sales-focused, while ethics are now vital to any commercial company’s success. I left a job a Deutsche Bank because I wanted to work where the two are converging: to use a wealth market to solve a social problem. That’s how I got into shining shoes.
• We offer a safe way into paid work – for people with perhaps little or no formal education or experience. I train them in using the products and the customer-facing argy-bargy, then set them up with regular weekly visit to locations at big insurance or law firms. Rather than cut the safety net of people’s benefits, this job can scale up alongside them until they feel comfortable in it providing an income. That’s vital.
• Forget the recent era of cheap, disposable shoes – people are buying quality items again, and looking after them. The Northampton-based shoemakers that make fantastic shoes costing a few hundred pounds are seeing their sales grow and grow. It’s a welcome return to traditional values.
• A “jaunty flâneur” is simply the guy we aim to please. In the space of a year, we’ve developed into an online shop, as a way to make these fantastic creams and waxes available to our clients. That turned into a high end shining service for private clients and events, and now were offering accessories all aimed at that same type of guy, such as long socks. There really is no going back once you’ve tried them.
Words and photos: Tom Kihl
Check out his website for all the products Tom uses and more info on his services