If you walk into the Shoe Room, a high end Doncaster shoe shop on Priory Walk, the chances are you’ll see owner Richard Smith with an open tin of polish.
The sight of Richard at the counter with a pair of shoes and cloth polishing accessory on his finger is a frequent sight in quieter moments at the store. And it has been a boon for charity.
The money he has raised through his efforts, in exchange for donations, is around £2,000 for the Brain Tumour Charity. He is currently looking for a local cause to back.
He and wife Michelle are both from Doncaster and keen to support the town.
That is why when they opened the Shoe Room nearly a year ago, in November 2017, they wanted to base themselves in Doncaster town centre.
A year on they have customers coming from all across the country to pick up top name brands including Loake, Trickers, Cheaney, Fairfax and Favor, and Barkers.
Internet sales have seen customers from as far afield as Australia, although the firm cannot sell all brands abroad.
And they have seen their range of brands increase from just shoes to designer clothing lines.
For Richard, the shoe industry has been a change of direction.
After doing manual work when he first left school, he got a job driving tankers for the BOC.
But while he was on leave waiting for an operation on a shoulder, he started spending time with a close friend who ran a cobblers and shoe business.
He developed an interest in shoes, and later, when offered redundancy, he entered into a business relationship with his friend.
That relationship turned sour, and their partnership ended acrimoniously. But after the split, Richard and Michelle went into business themselves, opening their own store.
Richard said: “It’s our 12th year in selling shoes in Doncaster. We don’t do repairs on site here, but we do send them back to the manufactures for total refurbishment.
“Since we first opened, we have added a select range of clothing and accessories which compliment perfectly the shoes that we sell.
Michelle, who studied catering at college, said: “We have a website as well, but it’s only been live since March. We need a website in order to compete with not just other retailers but the manufacturers themselves”.
“Although we have to have a website, our passion is for face to face customer service said Richard. “We want to serve customers in the shop. When people come in, we have tea and coffee on tap and our store even has its own drinks cooler. Customers can enjoy a glass of wine, beer, whiskey or even a refreshing gin and tonic, all complimentary .We think it is all about a retail experience.
“If someone does not buy, we would hope that they think of us when they to want to buy. We have a great depth of knowledge and understanding about shoes and the products we stock through years of working them, so we are in the best position to give the best advice.
“We wanted to set up a shop in Doncaster, because this is where we live. Doncaster gets a lot of negative press and has its issues, but we genuinely believe in Doncaster and its people. There is more than enough affluence in and around our town to support a shop like this.
“What we have to do as retailers is show people they don’t have to go to Meadowhall, Leeds or Sheffield, they can get what they want here. We have the Frenchgate Centre as a destination shopping centre too. I think Doncaster has a bit of everything for everyone.
“Because we have a very large range of several luxury brands, we are effectively a ‘destination shop’. This, complimented by the unrivalled service we give means people travel to us from far and wide to get their shoes. We’ve had visitors from as far afield as Leeds, Manchester, Oxford and Kent, all coming to Doncaster to buy shoes.
“Our idea of what makes good shoes, is the quality of materials, the construction methods and many generations of skills passed down through families. Take highly regarded brand ‘Trickers’ as an example. They’ve been making shoes since 1829, so for near 200 years making shoe in England by hand, and they make some of the world’s finest.
“We don’t sell cheap shoes – we’re selling shoes that are made to last, shoes that are designed to be worn and repaired times many. Shoes that can last a lifetime if they’re looked after properly..
“When people talk about expensive, I use the word quality.
“We are Doncaster people who believe in Doncaster – it’s our town and we believe in the place. We believe there is demand for the best products and the best service.”