CINCINNATI - What does it take for a family business to survive and thrive for 25 years or more? Our weekly feature shares the secrets to success of local businesses with staying power.
Mt. Lookout Shoe Repair
- What: Shoe and boot care and repair; purse custom repairs; belt-shortening and lengthening; luggage repair and more
- Where: 3152 Linwood Ave., Mount Lookout
- Founded: April 1, 1985, by Mike Burns
- Number of Employees: Six
"I can fix any equipment, I can fix anything, plus I had the basics, if I didn’t know how to do it, I would find out how to do it." -- Mike Burns
In trying to sum up Mt. Lookout Shoe Repair's services, you might do better ask, "What don't you fix?" In addition to the obvious (shoes and belts), there's more. Much more:
- clothing repair for snaps and zippers
- orthopedic prescription work
- athletic equipment repair
- key cutting
- knife sharpening
- custom repair for a variety of other articles
Growing up, Mike Burns said his family faced financial challenges. At age 13, he went to work for Rand Shoe Repair in downtown Cincinnati to help his mother and father support the family.
He said during his first week he made more than $100, which seemed like and enormous amount of money at the time. As he continued to work at the business, he learned from the best teachers in the industry.
Burns said. "I was really lucky, because the two guys who taught me were really good. They were a dying breed."
With a natural inclination for repair, Burns realized he'd found his calling. He decided to open his own business in 1985 and chose Mt. Lookout as the ideal location. As a new business owner, he explained he faced a number of challenges initially, but credits his employees, some of whom have been working with him for more than 20 years for his continued success.
Meet the Boss, Mike Burns
Mike Burns lives with his family in Mt. Lookout. He has been working in the shoe repair industry for 41 years.
1. Who are your customers?
Mostly people from Mt. Lookout, Hyde Park and Indian Hill, and contract work for Widmer’s Cleaners for all around the city. I also work on boots for the Cincinnati Police Department motor cycle and horse unit.
2. What’s the great thing about doing business in Mt. Lookout?
Doing business here is great for me and my family, it’s sort of been a two-way street. I raised my kids out of here. I sent them to college out of here. The neighborhood is awesome – I just love Mt. Lookout. I bought houses down here. Mount Lookout is just a great area, I can’t say enough about it.
3. What’s challenging about doing business in this region?
I would say one of the challenges is keeping your employee happy. Employees in this business are everything, and I have really good ones. In the slow times I wouldn’t even take a paycheck, I would pay them before I pay myself.
Another challenge these days is getting parts for the shoes because everything is made overseas. When I started there were 150,000 shoe repairs and now it’s down to 3,500 in the United States. So now the companies I buy from, they’re all in a big battle for business, so there’s big business trying to keep shoe repair as their customer.
4. What has proven to be the key to your business’s longevity?
The secret to my success is I guarantee everything. If I a customer has a problem, I will ask them what would make you happy? Just keeping the customer happy and doing what you say you’ll do and trying to have it ready on time.
Owning your own business and making it successful doesn’t mean 9 to 5. You have to work 10 to 14 hours a day. I just remodeled my store and we worked 41 hours in three day. So It’s just those kinds of things, the overtime and the time you have to put into it is part of being successful.
5. Fill in the blank: “I bet you didn’t know…” about Mt. Lookout Shoe Repair.
This isn’t a normal shoe repair. You name it we fix it. Shoes are probably only 45 percent of our business. The biggest challenge for me everyday is I don’t know what’s going to come through the door. I just had a guy bring a Civil War sandwich holder and a water bottle holder.
Then I had a guy from Widmer's bring me in an old telescope in a holder that the strap came loose on it. I have to take it all apart, but I’m up for the challenge - and I’m going to fix it, because I can.
Connect with Mt. Lookout Shoe Repair by phone: (513) 871-8160
CORRECTION: The fifth photo above originally identified the employee as John Nuby. He is Matt Switzer. We regret the error.