This is a series of "Shoeshiner's Quest". There are many wonderful shoeshiners in the world! In our 12th installment, we would like to introduce Mr. Haruki Abe, a representative of Burie, who is active in Hiroshima. He is one of the best businessmen in the shoeshine industry with his aggressive moves and has advanced to the finals of the shoeshine championship 2023.
How did you get started in shoeshine?
The reason I started shoeshine business goes back to the time when I was doing street live performances in Hiroshima, and while I was performing on the street, a musician from Osaka came by. I was impressed by his performance, and he was wearing RED WING engineer boots and a T-shirt with damaged denim, which I thought was really cool. That was my shocking encounter with leather shoes.
So my first encounter with leather shoes was not with formal shoes, but with boots. That's when I got into leather shoes and started researching, buying shoes from TRICKER'S and ALDEN, but it was when I saw Akashi-san's videos on You Tube that I first encountered shoeshine. I think it was after he became independent from Brift H. I saw a video of a documentary program and learned about the shoeshiner's job.
I contacted Mr. Akashi on Facebook with a friend request, and we went to Tokyo to have a drink together, but we talked a lot, and I really wanted to become a shoeshiner. I think I was around 22 or 23 years old.
In terms of work, I was working at a facility for the handicapped. So, surprisingly, I have qualifications as a nursery teacher and kindergarten teacher (laughs). I was born and raised in Iinan Town in Shimane, a fairly rural area where no one wears leather shoes. After graduating from there, I worked at an institution for three years.
I thought there might be an opportunity for me since not everyone was in the shoeshine business, so I launched Brier in 2016. The following year, I changed the name of the store to 92 (Ninety-Two) and moved to a new location in the Tsutaya Appliance in front of Hiroshima Station. I had originally decided to open a store at Tsutaya, so I opened Brier as training for that as well. So it was like a pre-opening for a year.
In 2019, we opened a second store in the center of the city, the 92 Pasela store, but a few months later it became Corona. When we were thinking about what to do, we decided that it would be interesting to open a shoe shine shop in a bag shop called "BEPPIN STORE," where we wholesale Saphir creams, etc. We decided to open a shoe shine shop in the store and started the "BEPPIN STORE" in the same building. We thought it would be interesting to offer shoe polishing services there, so we opened an in-shop shop called "Bepin Shop".
It is a long-established bag store in the center of Hiroshima called Hondori, and the in-shop was so well received that they closed the Pasela store and are still in business.
In the midst of all this, we started an unbeatable subscriber service of 15,000 yen per month for unlimited shoeshine. This was a membership service called "Gold Membership," and we put a lot of effort into membership services, such as "you can come and polish as many pairs of shoes as you want," and "you can buy these at a discount" if you are a member. So, we decided to revive Brier and changed it into the current store.
That was in April 2022. At the same time, we also opened a store in the shoe department of Iwataya in Fukuoka, opening two stores at the same time. It just so happened.
Brier is basically a members-only shop, but friends of members are welcome to use the shop. There are less than 100 members, but non-members can use the shop for a fee. Members can drink coffee and tea as much as they want, and since it is a coworking space where you can work and relax, we have sofas for you to relax on. So there are people who come here to work.
It's a good store, but I'm still running it for a limited time, so I have to move it someday, but I really don't want to move so fast. I was asked if I could do something by renovating a five-story building in the center of Hiroshima near PARCO that was originally occupied by a doctor and painter. I was asked if I could do something with the building that used to house a doctor/painter.
I have a friend of mine, Murakami-kun, who is a wonderful painter and has exhibited at the Louvre Museum. We have also decided to have a restaurant on the second floor, and Brier is going to occupy the parking lot on the first floor. I am thinking of turning it into a boutique-like store where people can order RENDO shoes, suits, etc. as well as shoeshine. It will not be a members-only store, although I am thinking of having a VIP room. I am planning to move in February 2024 at the earliest.
I believe that as the number of players increases, the market will grow, and as the number of shoeshiners increases, the number of people who polish shoes will also increase. For this reason, I would like to create a pension plan for shoeshiners and build an infrastructure for them to be able to become a shoeshiner without any worries in the future.
I think it would be wonderful if there were women like Ito-san, whose model is a shoe polisher, so I would like to make the industry grow by multiplying various things. I would like to increase the number of people who want to polish shoes!
What are your specialties in shoe polishing?
Technically speaking, I am particular about polishing shoes in a way that is suited to each individual. I don't just shine shoes. Yesterday, I polished the shoes of a customer who did not like to shine, but as a professional, I try to polish shoes in a way that suits the customer.
I am also very conscious of gradation when it comes to mirror polishing, but the most important thing is to polish shoes so that they can be worn for a long time. So I make sure to put a good amount of cream on the shoes.
You are the first shoe care trainer in Japan certified by Saphir, right?
Yes, I am. Yes, but it is not so much a skill as it is a knowledge. So, my shoe shine skills are more inspired by shoe polishers from all over the country.
To be honest, I don't think I'm so much influenced by Saphir. I like Saphir products very much, so I basically use Saphir products, but I learn the techniques in many different ways.
Do you have any impressive customers?
Well, there is Ryosuke Kikuchi of the Hiroshima Carp, a Japanese national team baseball player, who comes to RENDO to have his shoes made and polished, and soccer players from the Sanfrecce team often visit us. We also often have soccer players and coaches from Sanfrecce come to our shop through such connections. We also have a lot of business owners and local celebrities.
One of the things that strikes me when I talk to these people is when to buy good leather shoes. I am struck by the question, "When do you buy good leather shoes? Many of these executives are in their 50s or older, and many of them say, "I've been wearing these shoes for more than 20 years now.
Everyone says that it is important to invest in your feet, take care of them, and wear them carefully for a long time, so I learn a lot from them, and I would like to pass this on to the younger generation. I think it is important to buy things that you think are good even if you have to spend 20 or 30 years on them.
I have known Mr. Abe since he was about to start his own business, and I have always been impressed by his positive, passionate attitude.
I believe that it is your human power that has made the membership shoe-shine service and the all-you-can-shine shoe-shine service at Subsku successful as a business. As a businessman, I look forward to hearing more from Mr. Abe in the future.
If you are ever in Hiroshima, please visit the new Burie store, and look forward to seeing his performance at the shoe-shine championship finals on November 18!