- Shoe Mo is a laundry service that offers cleaning, repair, restorations, and custom paint jobs for shoes and sneakers.
- Founded in June 2017 by Ginny Truc To and Jack Wong, they now have four locations across three cities in Malaysia.
- Prices begin at RM30 for basic cleaning services.
Ever since Converse introduced the All Star back in 1917, sneakers were destined to be a “thing”.
So widespread has the love for sneakers become that its global market is expected to be worth US$220.2 billion by the year 2020. With such huge demand for a product comes opportunity for business, in this case, sneaker cleaning and customisation.
Officially launched in June 2017 by Ginny Truc To—a Vietnamese local who relocated to Kuala Lumpur—and Jack Wong—a former army man—Shoe Mo provides cleaning, restoration, and customisation services for shoes and sneakers.
According to Jack, it all began when he and Ginny, both 29, were out jogging together two years ago.
“Ginny asked me for recommendations on sneaker cleaning services,” he said. “It took me a few seconds to realise that there weren’t any that I could recall.”
“After doing some research and conducting a few surveys, we reckoned that not only are sneakers creating a culture among the younger generation, but there was a market gap that was still to be filled. So we decided to start our business.”
Currently, Shoe Mo (which is meant as a shortened form of “Shoe Maestro”) operates five outlets across Malaysia and provides customers footwear care services such as midsole repainting, water repellent coating, and custom decaling to give sneakers a personal touch. They’ve also made their services affordable, with basic cleaning services starting at RM30.
“We carried out the services by ourselves in the beginning,” said Ginny, detailing how she and Jack would rush home after work hours to clean shoes, experiment with techniques, and brainstorm for new ideas.
“After seven months, we opened up a workshop in Uptown Damansara. And then more team members joined us until we reached a team of 11.”
Running Towards Opportunity
“The motivating factor to start Shoe Mo was to grab at the opportunity to service a market with high demand,” said Jack. “In fact there were a few sneaker laundry boutiques when we started, but they only targeted the niche sneakerhead group.”
“We want to offer a service for the mass market where everyone can enjoy shoe care services at an affordable price.”
According to the both of them, the main target that Shoe Mo has set for itself is to become the standard go-to for shoe and sneaker care in Malaysia. And in that endeavour, Jack and Ginny are actively searching for ways to rapidly scale and acquire market share.
“We need volume. We need to dominate the market and scale as fast as we can,” said Jack. “I believe other businesses have their own way to scale.”
“But for Shoe Mo, it’s a bit tricky because we are still a service-based business with little awareness from the market. We also have no sample to refer to or look up to.”
Building on this realisation, they figured out that the best solution to this problem was to systematise their operations and thus customised an internal system to help them with this cause.
“We build a custom web-based system for our specific business model,” said Ginny. “Since we have hundreds of shoes that go through multiple services carried out by different departments, we figured it was beyond just using pen and paper.”
It’s this very system that may give them the competitive advantage they need.
“Ever since the system took over the process, our staff has been freed from manual work to focus on delivering the best service possible. We have never been this ready to scale.”
Not Sole Players
But even though the both of them are eager to grow the Shoe Mo brand, they are also warm to the idea of more players entering the scene.
“I think the market is getting more exciting with more players coming in,” said Ginny. “There are franchised shoe and bag cleaning services from Taiwan, a few cleaning boutiques for sneakerheads, and some home-based services that do pick-ups and deliveries.”
“But we still see this as an advantage because the more marketing effort we make as a whole, the more we unlock the market and raise the awareness of this type of service.
Jack was equally as enthusiastic about the collective growth of their market and stated his keenness to see how the big players would end up helping the smaller businesses like themselves.
“From what we see, the sneaker and streetwear trend is going strong,” Jack said. “Adidas and Nike are the leaders and they are very good in capturing hype.”
“And with social media booming, these big players will be riding on the waves of these trends, and the more shoes they sell, the bigger market we have.”
There are obstacles that the both of them are currently facing, however.
“Our problem right now has to do with hiring and people management,” said Ginny. “It’s hard to find new people, especially for startups in Malaysia.”
“We feel we need to build a culture to retain talent and counter the prejudice that comes with the job of cleaning shoes.”
“We think that cleaning and repairing should be perceived as a simple and basic service that everyone needs for their shoes,” she added. “That said, it doesn’t mean that shoe cleaning doesn’t require skill and technique. In fact, it’s intensive and highly detailed work that requires experience and knowledge.”
To solve this, Shoe Mo is enhancing team communication and empowering their team members to step up and take management roles.
After under a year of being operational, Shoe Mo has serviced more than 5,200 pairs of shoes with around 23% of the clientele being repeat customers. And looking forward, Shoe Mo is aiming to grow while simultaneously improving the quality of its products and services.
“We are opening more stores in strategic locations,” said Jack. “The newest addition to the Shoe Mo family is our Sunway outlet that takes us to a total of four shops in three cities after just 18 months of operations.”
“In the long run, we want to conquer South East Asia. We want to be a well-known regional shoe care brand.”
“We also aim to grow vertically to add shoe care products to our portfolio,” said Ginny. “We aim to bring our e-commerce game up to a new level to catch up with the current online shopping trends.”
“We believe that having a strong product and service portfolio, physical outlets and a dominating online presence will be the key to expand.”