Hanoi man makes a fortune by servicing luxury handbags, shoes

By Quynh Nguyen   January 20, 2023 | 05:34 am PT
Trong Nghia's business has got over 6,000 orders to clean shoes and handbags and earned VND800 million in the runup to Tet (the Lunar New Year).

On the morning of January 9, Nghia and 18 of his colleagues were sorting hundreds of shoes and bags for cleaning, repairing or changing accessories at a four-story residence on Doi Can Street in Ba Dinh District.

"The number of customers is quite large, but in the last month of the year we only dare accept a maximum of 400 items a day so that we can complete before Tet," the 31-year-old says.

Nghia, who is from Hanoi, has been collecting shoes since he was a child, and meticulously maintains, washes and shines them regularly whether they are costly or inexpensive.

In the beginning he did not know how to clean them, and did not feel safe about giving them to a shoeshine person.

He then discovered that professional shoe polishing supplies were available overseas, and purchased and used them.

Trong Nghia inspects the shoes quality after they have been cleaned. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Trong Nghia inspects a shoe that has been cleaned. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

"Using cleaning products appropriate for each material not only helps shoes seem fresh but also makes them last longer," he says.

After hearing from several acquaintances that they could not find shoe cleaning services in Hanoi, he decided to open a boutique for cleaning shoes and bags.

At first relatives and friends were skeptical and said cleaning shoes and bags was a luxury for which there was not much demand.

But Nghia remained convinced after seeing that many young people loved expensive things but had no idea about how to properly care for them.

There was no place in Vietnam that could teach them cleaning and mending, and so he and his associates learned from the Internet.

He also signed up for shoe- and bag-making classes to get an understanding about the materials used and techniques.

There were challenges in the beginning since there was a question of trust when handing over expensive products. However, he gradually gained customers’ confidence by providing top-class services, and their word of mouth helped.

The shop was doing well within a year of starting, with the number of customers increasing constantly.

He says the products he gets sometimes cost billions of dong, but, despite being ultra-luxury items, become dirty, discolored, moldy, stinky, scratched, ripped, peeled, and faded over time.

Nghia and his colleagues receive and examine the product and advise the customer about what is needed: cleaning, maintenance or restoration. The item is then sent to the technical staff for working on before they are inspected, packed and delivered back to the owner.

The most difficult and important part is restoring leather and repainting it to match the original texture, elasticity and hue.

Nghia expects mended items to look 90-95% new.

An employee cleans a customers designer bag on January 9, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

A worker cleans a customer's designer bag on January 9, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

The repair time ranges from three to 15 days, depending on the fault.

"However, there are times when we need to dismantle a product and replace all broken components, which could take a long time. Not to mention the fact that many replacement parts need to be purchased overseas."

Seven years after he started Nghia now gets 1,000 items a month on average, with shoe cleaning and maintenance accounting for the bulk.

The number of orders might climb sixfold in the final month of the lunar year, with revenues topping VND800 million.

Phi Hung, 24, one of his staff and an expert in repairing and replacing shoe and bag accessories, says at the end of the year they have to operate at 200% of their capacity to meet demand.

"Normally we only work eight hours. However, despite having 18 people regularly working 12-14 hours now, we are unable to cope."

The cost of repairing, cleaning or replacing accessories ranges from VND90,000 to 500,000, while for bags it is VND500,000-7 million.

Duong Ngoc Long, 26, has been using Nghia's services for seven years and says every two or three months he takes his shoes to Nghia and pays around VND110,000 for a pair.

A customers shoes before and after being cleaned. Photo courtesy of Nghia

A customer's shoes before and after being cleaned. Photo courtesy of Nghia

"I see the cleaning process is professional, the shoes are properly cleaned, and their appearance after cleaning returns to 80-90% of the original. The cost is acceptable.

"So I have been using their services for a long time."

Nghia aims to open more shops across the country and offer training.

"I hope that every pair of shoes, bag and belt that is cleaned is used again rather than being discarded."

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