Shared Responsibility — Each member on your company’s team should bring something uniquely theirs to the table, pulling their professional weight adequately, so to speak. As a Founder, you have to know that my individual team members are proactively taking care of all that is delegated unto them. Of course, critical players like trusted investors can be essential staying fiscally solvent, never losing site of your debits and credits, and payroll! In any case, you can’t rule the world alone; I’m only as good as everyone working with me.
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Warren Barthes , CEO of THE COBBLERS.
Meet Warren Barthes and his eponymously titled sartorial collective, The Cobblers — an impressive, no-nonsense entrepreneurial force that is solving the societal conundrum of keeping sneakers clean, shoes shiny, and people presentable head to toe. The Cobblers is the pioneering ‘fash-tech’ brand that is reshaping the shoe repair industry, redirecting fashion trends, and pursuing its own, glorious vision in ‘Sneaker Rescue & Leather Works’. Together with his team, Warren is effectively reviving an old world craft through master artistry, haute couture and technology, all while propagating a magnanimous retail movement that favors sustainability in the face of ‘disposable luxury’ — a culture that is rather frowned upon in today’s conscientious consumer circles.
If you care about your pricey sneakers, your dress shoes, or that valuable handbag of yours, The Cobblers does well to “revive, restore and refresh” any and all of it. “You can trust us with those pricey AJ1s, your designer Birkin bag, or your precious Christian Louboutin red- bottoms. You name it, we’ve got you covered,” says Warren.
According to Warren, ‘there is no such thing as irreparable harm to these items.’ Not only will Warren’s new business The Cobblers fix most any type of shoe, they’ll leave your favorite pair looking like-new, which begs the question: Why buy new (at a premium) when you can save your signature shoes, your money, and the planet? Up-cycling also helps reduce your carbon footprint, turning ‘waste into wonderful’.
You see, the global footwear industry produces 23 billion pairs of shoes per year and 95% of these end up littering landfills. Not to mention the production of just one pair of new shoes expends 495oz. of CO2 into the air we breathe. And so it goes without question that Warren Barthes and The Cobblers is a group that is leading the way in the development of new ideas and better planetary manners. Mr. Warren felt it was time for a greener approach to footwear and the like. “Think clean, think green.”
An expert in refurbished goods, technological and otherwise, Mr. Barthes’ value propositions are now satisfying a seemingly insatiable demand for traditional cobbler services while catering to an explosive ‘sneakerhead’ culture around the globe.
So keep your eyes peeled and ear to the ground; Warren’s burgeoning business, The Cobblers hails quickly, exerting moves both powerful and pecuniary. We wouldn’t expect anything less industrious from Mr. Barthes.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
The concept of “The Cobblers” was born in November of 2019, when I decided to start buying and reselling used shoes. The circular economy of refurbished goods is something I have been interested for some time now.
When I embarked on this particular endeavor, I uncovered that out of some 60,000 shoe repair stores nationwide, only about 4,000 were still open for business, but that of those who remain, most can barely keep up with the growing demand. In fact, U.S. News and World Reports had recently shared that, “Cobblers face extinction — and are busier than ever.”
I also learned that 80% of the complaints customers had were “no technology, no visibility and no customer experience”. Lucky for us, our conceptual vision to ‘digitize’ an otherwise dusty and dated shoe repair industry solves for these matters all too well. We encourage everyone to check out our innovative and refreshingly fashionable e-commerce platform for “shoe-repair” atTheCobblers.com. The idea was to create a uniquely thorough and convenient marketplace that bridges the gap for the new generation — one that totally reinvents the world of shoe repair.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Nothing good comes easy. What’s key is continuing to forge ahead. Like Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” When I started this whole thing, I knew quite a bit about the business side of things, but the shoe repair industry was not exactly my area of expertise. It only became as much because we decided to digitize and systemize an industry in a way nobody else has. In a way that made our trajectory uniquely ours by way of those things I know a lot about.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Something funny? (pauses and smiles) Well, you may know that I’m actually not a native English speaker…and the industry speak of a cobbler is not one in which I was particularly fluent. So when identifying a particular piece or part of a shoe, for example… let’s just say there was a lot of pointing involved. Then my sometimes thick accent caused my team to laugh a bit at times. Like, I had some difficulty pronouncing a hard ‘H’ sound because the letter ‘H’ is usually silent in French so when I wanted to use a phrase like ‘hassle-free,’ I came dangerously close to pronouncing something quite different, ahem. In any case, I NEVER give up. In fact, I can communicate this phrase almost perfectly now. And in much the same way…if I have anything to do with it, our business The Cobblers will also continue to improve, grow, and mature with time. What I’ve gathered is that all of the difficult lessons learned along the way, often times more serious ones, are every bit as important to one’s character and success as the so called ‘slam dunks’ on a good day.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
It’s hard to give just one example! The Cobblers stands out at every touchpoint!
Most notable is our customer-centric approach. Our innovative online platform and personalized technology help afford a consumer journey that provides superior care to meet consumers’ individual needs as well as unprecedented transparency for our clientele along the way.
And so, our thoughtful use of technology is another big difference. We’ve digitized and systemized the arguably outdated and otherwise archaic process of going to a traditional ‘shoe repair’ store. You could say we’ve taken the whole experience ‘from dusty to digital’.
A third differentiator is our insanely comprehensive menu of service offerings (not to mention the astounding level of expertise per each of our select artisans and their unique disciplines); not only did we ‘resurrect and repackage’ traditional cobbling services in a very thorough and robust e-commerce platform, we beefed up our value proposition with the never-before convenience of finding expert sneaker restoration and customization services in the same place, under one roof — a one-stop shop for nearly all of the items in your closet.
And well, we can’t not mention our exigent work ethic and the personal integrity that goes into every one of our restorations. The level of dedication behind the work is evident and makes for top-quality results. Not only is this our mission, but our promise. Our reputation is our business, so we take the results very seriously.
As for a story, most everyone is blown away by our retail environments as well as the services they receive. Likes kids in a candy store, they can’t wait to bring in their next pair or purse.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
You have to truly love what you do! We most certainly do; it is our unremitting passion for what we have set out to do and the purpose and will with which we toil that gets us up every morning. We believe in our brand and business, and we’re on mission to share it all with the rest of the world.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My carefully selected team members mean everything to me and the success of The Cobblers. I would however point out that our Master Cobbler Guillaume Bertaud and his father Jacques are at the core of our expertise, resources, and operations. It was the acquisition of their generations-old business and loyal clientele that gave us real credibility to stand on and run with. Then, my business partners and core executive team are tremendously important to me. I have a long-lived business relationship with most all of them.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
A good company is a profitable one. A great company is one that is able to weather all sorts of adversity along the way, because it is not only rooted in an original idea or better iteration of something tried and true, but because it is purposeful and stands for something, namely a brand people love, trust and subscribe to forever.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
*I would preface all of it with the importance of assuming a customer-focused point of view. I think I’ve mentioned this already, but can’t emphasize it enough. It’s how we take root. Most of the points to follow can actually be linked back to this, if you think about it.
1. Value Proposition I would say that in order for a business to not only survive, but grow and flourish legitimately, it must begin with a compelling truth or ‘selling idea’ about its products and/or service — a real consumer benefit or ‘value prop’. Examples may consist of any number of things including competitive price points, exceptional products/services, and hopefully a unique and sticky brand personality.
2. Good Personnel and Partners — The company you keep is paramount. Be careful with whom you partner up; be thoughtful about these marriages; the last thing you want to do is create a revolving door of a serial hiring-firing culture. Some of my team members have been with me for ten years, helping me to successfully build other businesses before this one. Which leads me to the next 3 essentials.
3. Shared Respect/Trust — For any partnership to hold, you need three fundamental things to exist between you, your partners or executive team. A) shared respect B) shared responsibility and C) shared vision. Things like trust and loyalty fall under the first of these, our number 3. ’shared respect’.
4. Shared Responsibility — Each member on your company’s team should bring something uniquely theirs to the table, pulling their professional weight adequately, so to speak. As a Founder, you have to know that my individual team members are proactively taking care of all that is delegated unto them. Of course, critical players like trusted investors can be essential staying fiscally solvent, never losing site of your debits and credits, and payroll! In any case, you can’t rule the world alone; I’m only as good as everyone working with me.
5. Shared Vision — This one is all about clear communication. As our company goes from ‘good to great,’ you have to ask, ‘Are we all on the same page? Do we agree on where we want to go? Where do we see ourselves in the near and long term?’ It is essential that everyone involved in scaling the business is pushing in the same direction, toward the same goals and objectives, with those goals clearly defined. This may include the speed at which you would like your business to scale with benchmarks to meet.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Any time you can find and leverage the “why” or reason for consumers to care, you’re lightyears better off. This is actually how we plan to create a ‘sea change’ or notable change in popular societal perspectives regarding the care for one’s footwear (and accessories) while affecting positive change in the world. Ours is a business that has mass appeal…affecting society at large, while garnering the attention of niche market segments (e.g. sneakerheads, dandies, tastemakers, etc.) with a more particular product or service. That being said, The Cobblers is driven by the purposes of saving people’s shoes and accessories from early retirement…extending their lifespan, if you will, so that consumers may extract the maximum value from these purchases, saving them money, all while saving the planet from gratuitously wasteful practices in the manufacturing of new items and the frivolous consumerism that may come with this. In a world of cold, hard news and impersonal technology, the causal betterment of our human condition is extremely attractive.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Learn from your experiences, and do it better with each go. If you’re doing the same thing you were always doing, chances are you are not evolving. And in an ever-evolving world, change is par for the course. My advice would be to take inventory of what people respond to and how, then continuously reinvent and refine accordingly.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
The secret is to stay on top of- and ahead of- consumer trends/behaviors, making sure to stay innovative, and malleable. Our consumer service offerings intersect with retail goods, accessories and apparel in a sophisticated multi-pronged e-commerce, brick-mortar, B2B and B2C venture that cleverly calibrates in order to meet the demands of our ever- changing world, while remaining profitable. It’s an invariable case of ‘evolve or die.’
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
As someone with a rather extensive background in the technology sector, as well as someone who loves running numbers, I would have to say that keeping a close eye on your financial prize (and accounting books) is critical; the numbers have to make sense on the daily. A lot of people fail because they think it’s enough to simply have a great idea, insight or love for something; that’s all important, don’t get me wrong, but at the end of the day it’s a business and needs to be effectively run as such.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
I’d say our strategy begins with keeping things simple and hassle-free. People just don’t have the time to be bothered with cumbersome online experiences. We add pop-ups to our site for important news, promos or a helpful hand. We remove unnecessary form fields and distractions and make the entire retail process as easy as possible for the user. Then our E-cobblers offer live chats and complimentary video consultations. Our customer care team is great at following up with leads and cultivating our client relations. This is what will make your cash register go ‘cha-ching’. Things like customer retention and sustaining repeat business are not easy, but they are far easier than continuously starting from scratch.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
We do well to create trust by including testimonials, customer reviews, and logos (of the very prestigious brands with whom we work directly and indirectly). These days, total transparency is essential. That, and going above and beyond for your customers, at every turn. We call it ‘surprise and delight’.
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
The world has gotten a lot smaller and continues to do so by the minute. People of humble socio-economic backgrounds now carry 1,000 dollars iPhones in their pocket — an iPhone is something of a luxury product. Goat cheese now comes on pizza, and so on. The point is consumers expect more these days, both in terms of products and services as well as customer service. Our customer experience is rooted in a brand positioned to be synonymous with luxury without all the pretense, just bells and whistles.
Our online shipping kits, for example, come with surprise shoe trees (complimentary) placed even inside our customers’ sneakers, along with branded tissue paper and a little envelope containing a mini insert featuring well-written info about our processes and quality standards. This is stamped and hand-signed with the date by a real life Quality Assurance person, and is sealed with a little “wax kiss”.
Our customer-centric approach puts the customer first, across the board. This also entails a certain level of thoughtful hand-holding along the way, as well as some “laissez-faire” breathability; one of the reasons we keep things so transparent along the way is so that our customer can go about their day without any unneeded stress.
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
We preemptively mitigate the risk of reputational harm by doing our job well. Why give anyone a reason to complain, right? Then, yes, there will always be someone looking to pick a fight who finds fault with the world even when there is seemingly none to find. And, yes, the customer is ALWAYS right, so we make certain to placate any of these matters at their inception, at light speed. Whatever they may find wrong, we make right. It’s as simple as that. There is no room for anything but 5-starts at The Cobblers.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I’d say they either scale too quickly or not quickly enough. It’s a balancing act. One of the things you can very easily control is your payroll; this needs to make sense as an investment, or lack thereof without carelessly hurting anyone or negatively impacting the very real lives they have outside of work. So be realistic in what costs your company can incur without going broke, while evaluating opportunity costs. Your people can be one of your greatest investments.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Well, I’m currently excited about our company, The Cobblers, and who we are becoming. Ultimately, we aim to give back to our community, and beyond; we feel that there is a world of less fortunate people out there who could use a pair of shoes on their feet, to say the least. I don’t really want to spill the beans as they say, but we already have something cooking.
How can our readers further follow you online?
We encourage people to not only visit our website at TheCobblers.combut also follow us on Instagram @thecobblersofficial and on Facebook at The Cobblers. In just a few months we’ve already managed to get a lot of attention on IG, and are steadily building a like- minded community of many admirers and loyal clients that pay it forward, continuing to inspire others about what we do through our social media platforms.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!