Big Top shop revives an old craft
A TINY shop at Big Top Shopping Centre is reviving the age-old craft of cobbling.
Cobblers & Co owner Jon Hope learned his trade from cobblers and bootmakers over a 30-year career, reviving his formerly Brisbane-based business at a tiny shopfront in the gateway to Big Top, Maroochydore, a year ago.
He says it's astonishing how traditional craftsmen can repair the most damaged boot, shoe or sandal. But few people nowadays know help is at hand and tend to throw shoes out.
"Cobbling has begun to dilute a lot," he said.
"The common chain you'll see in the shopping centres do the basics - but we do restorations and quite a bit more. They pretty much slap a heel or a sole on.
"Dog-eaten shoes" are one of his most common cobbling jobs, Jon says.
"It's often the Achilles heel that's mangled to pieces," he said.
"The dog loves the owner's scent so they chew into that, and the shoe gets thrown out. But it's quite possible we can restore those to quite a high standard."
Cobblers & Co is to modern cobbling what an à la carte
restaurant is to fast food, Jon said.
Instead of rejecting jobs that are difficult, Jon will study a shoe, melding new panels seamlessly with the original shoe instead of "patching things up".
"Melding is a method of almost like welding," he said. "It's like melting and welding. The whole idea behind this is to not have a blatant patch which looks pretty agricultural.
"I try to achieve repairs or restorations to a point where it's hardly noticeable.
"It adds a bit of finesse and style."
Unlike bootmakers, which are a dying breed because it's very tricky and time-consuming work Jon says, cobblers don't make shoes from scratch.
Nonetheless he has the skills in some circumstances and has replicated sandals and even re-upholstered antique bags.
"The personalised service means I would bend over backwards to help them, I'd try and help someone who might be prepared to duplicate a brand new pair," he said. "That's part of our service."
Like most cobblers, he's a master of other detailed crafts including key cutting, engraving, blade sharpening and watch fixing and battery replacement.
His small shop stocks all his favourite shoe care products, laces and accessories.
He also sells a range of generic battery operated car, gate and garage keys, often saving customers hundreds of dollars compared to brand name automatic keys.
He said customers at Big Top had been welcoming, and were often amazed at what he and colleague Jo, who works at the shop, could do.
The contrast with a cobbling franchise in a shopping centre was stark, and customers remembered their good experience, he said.
"These franchise groups they do a basic crash training course, so anyone can learn," he said. "I can teach people to put top lifts on stiletto heels in a jiffy, and to re-sole a shoe. It doesn't require much skill. A little bit but not a lot."
He said service was the most important part of running a successful business.
"Whoever is serving you, you do notice when a guy or a girl behind the counter is having a miserable time.
"They don't want to be there, they're not smiling. The checkout people say, 'G'day, how are you?', but they're not even looking at you sometimes.
"When we're serving customers it's like we're serving our family or friends, and I think these days you lose that.
"I enjoy talking to customers and passing on some advice from my experience in relation to polishes and what's best for that particular shoe.
"It is selling, because I want a sale, but I'm not there to sell the product."
Cobblers & Co is celebrating its first birthday at Big Top Shopping Centre this month.
The business has a 15-year history, originally being based in the Brisbane suburb of Red Hill near an historic Cobb & Co Coaches building which inspired Cobblers & Co's name.