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30 years a cobbler

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30 years in the industry.


May 19th 1986 & part way into a Y.T.S (who remembers those!) I was looking for work. I’d applied for 2 jobs, trainee manager at a local Jewellers and shoe repairer at the local cobblers.


On the Sunday my Dad & I where re-varnishing his boat when my Mum came rushing down saying I needed to go for an interview & I was whisked to the shop & offered the job there & then, to start the very next day.


I was also offered the Jewellers Job the same day, but coming from a long line of self-employed the general consensus off opinion was it would be cheaper to start a shoe repairers than a jewellers & that was the basis I became a cobbler.


Just over 3 years later opportunity knocked & my own shop Cobb-Lees became reality. At that point I’d only ever repaired shoes & cut mortice keys (these where done out back with us, whilst cylinder keys where done by counter staff in the shop)


I had to quickly learn key cutting & how to be a “business man” at the tender age of 20!


I spent a lot of the nineties trying to win the punch shoe repairer of the year award, this was probably a critical time really, it made me really focus on the shop image and also take on engraving as a service, again self-taught on the good old Pantograph! I finally won this in 1999 & the publicity was dramatic! This was still at the point where the internet was in its mainstream infancy so local papers & radio where still strong & business boooooooooooomed!


Things changed quite a bit though the noughties the internet flooded our brains! I attempted to get in on the act starting a website “engravablegifts.co.uk” but it never really worked the time spent keeping it up date way outweighed the earnings so I ditched it, but it taught me some valuable information that I was able to employee when it came to shoerepairer.info!


In 2005 I was quite into building car stereo systems, Mp3 was in its early stages and I had a hard drive head unit (long before the days of memory sticks and IPhone!) and was having a software issue. I turned to the internet and found a forum site called “hackmycar.com” which solved my problem. I was spell bound by this interaction with other humans! And searched for such a site or our cobbling world, nothing was out there so I set about creating my own site.


Shoerepairer.info when live in April 2005 but didn’t get its first member until an article was published in cutting edge on the 1st July. I’d deliberately not told anyone about the site. Not even my family for fear of it being a complete white elephant & look at it now!


The forum really changed things for me, the brightest stars cast the deepest shadows & whilst it has helped my professional life purely from a forum that’s helped me expand into various areas it’s also been a burden at times! I’m quite conscience and have spent many sleepless nights worrying about the people members have upset!


I did a spell on the cutting edge committee but about 4 years ago the number of shoe repairers in Lowestoft doubled in a month, with a new independent and another Timpson in a Tesco less than a mile away so I resigned from the committee to focus 100% back on my business.

This period of unease, unrest& reduction in turn over has actually been a blessing its sharpened my game & I’m in a much stronger place now I had 3 bad years, turnover slumped for a while but this year I am doing figures I could never of dreamed off.

I’ve had various shops come & go over the years, so these experiences have given me the tools to deal with the latest wave.


I’ve made some great friends through this site, I meet my wife in my shop & through the running challenge set by Gavin & subsequent triathlon involvement encouraged by Mark & his family I’ve also seen my health improve all because I started shoe repairing!


The future!

Although I’ve been in the industry 30 years, I still have a long way to go before retiring! I took on bike repairs as a service last year & it has been the single biggest wage rise I’ve ever given myself. I would like to give this service half the floor space of my shop unit this year (currently 25% ish) so in the foreseeable future this is an area the needs exploiting.


Long term, I’d really like to get beyond first base. I’ve had 2 trainees during busy periods over the years. I’d like to try to get beyond the one man band. I feel with the sort of work I’m doing if I could leave the shop more freely (collect bikes, put up signs, program keys, change a lock etc.) I could begin to pay for an employee more easily. So this is the next level.


Anyway that’s my little lot.



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Congratulations Lee on 30 years self employment I am just over half that I started working for myself in November 1999 with £500 from my gran and nearly £500 of my own money and a van on the markets in the good old days. Now employ 7 staff and hoping two start 2 more full time staff this month holding interviews next week and hopefully have a team of 10 by the end of the year.



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