Shoeshiner's Journey part11 Mr. Yoshihiro Nishigami (Boston & Rio's Fukuoka)

This is a series of "Shoeshiner's Quest". There are many wonderful shoeshiners in the world! In our 11th installment, we introduce Mr. Etsuhiro Nishigami of Boston & Rio Rios in Fukuoka, Japan. A boy who grew up loving shoes became a shoeshiner. Please enjoy the story of his late-night hotel shoe-shine and his turbulent shoeshine story.

How did Mr. Nishigami get into shoeshine?

Going back really deep, my mother was a shoe lover, and when my mother went to a department store when I was a child, the first thing she would do was run to the shoe department. But at the time, she couldn't buy me shoes that I liked, so she wanted to buy me shoes that I liked as a child.

Since I was a little kid, she bought me Air Jordans, Cortez, and New Balance shoes at the New Balance store. I was so happy when my mother bought me a new pair of shoes that I would sleep with them in my futon.

When I became a university student, I was able to get a part-time job, and I worked at ABC Mart without hesitation. When I started working at the shoe store, I realized that I thought shoes were something to be excited about, but the customers never were. I was shocked to find that many customers bought shoes on sale without even trying them on.

For me, shoes were something that made me excited and happy to buy, but this was not the case for the general public. The same was true for businessmen. So I wondered if there was a way to get people interested in shoes.

What I came up with was to polish businessmen's leather shoes. I thought it would be fun if cleaning leather shoes could trigger an interest in shoes, and that was the start of my life as a shoe polisher.

When I was 21 years old, I told a customer I met at my part-time job at ABC Mart that I was looking for a place where I could polish shoes, and he invited me to come polish shoes at his office.

At that time, I thought my skills were not yet good enough to be paid, so I worked hard to learn the skills while polishing shoes for free.

The people who worked there wore cool suits and looked very bright, and my image of businessmen changed drastically. It was very rewarding to make such people happy through "shoes," which I love, and I learned a lot from them.

It was right around this time that I was beginning my job search. I was thinking about "what I want to do," "who I am," and "what I want to do with my life. What am I going to do with my life? I felt my existence value and satisfaction by making people happy with my shoeshine work, but in reality, I was not getting paid for it, so I did not yet see a future in which I could make a living from shoeshine work.

About six months after I started offering free shoeshine, one person gave me 1,000 yen, saying, "Thank you for all your help. The other person was happy through shoe polishing, which I love, and I even received the money. I felt as if I had been recognized and was very happy! It's the best thing ever! I thought, "This is the best!

Right around that time, I saw a YOUTUBE video of Mr. Hasegawa walking up from the side and polishing shoes. The sight of Mr. Hasegawa working so hard also inspired me and made me want to make shoeshine even more of a career. This was in 2012.

When I received my first money, I decided to stop offering free shoeshine and started charging for the service with two courses: 500 yen and 1,000 yen. But the first time we started charging, we didn't receive a single request for a pair of shoes (laughs).

When I was painfully realizing that they wouldn't give it to me unless it was free, I was told by a senior colleague that he was going to start a shoe-shine company in Fukuoka. My initial business plan was "shoeshine at hotels. At a time when my classmates were busy job hunting, I myself wanted to make shoeshine my career, but I was also reminded that it is not easy to earn money. After much thought, I decided to move to Fukuoka and participate in the establishment of a shoeshine company.

I was involved in the establishment of the company while working part-time at a call center, and the company was finally launched in October 2014. It was a year of waiting. From there, I started starring sales to hotels and in January 2015, I started going to hotels under contract to do shoe polishing. But I didn't get requests for shoe shine easily (laughs).

I thought I had to increase the number of contract hotels, so I did my best in sales. I began a life of sales at hotels during the day and shoeshine at hotels at night. In the first year, I had about 10 contracts, but I was able to increase the number of contracts to 50, and from there business started to turn around properly.

One day, we were promoting our shoeshine service at a contracted hotel. One day, one of the hotel guests (a shoe material wholesaler) said to me, "I see you are using Saphir. I'm going to give a Saphir seminar in Osaka next time. I felt a connection with him and asked him if he would like to come to Osaka. Feeling a connection, I drove to Osaka with a member of my company and got certified as a Saphir shoe care trainer. At that time, I made a connection with Mr. Ota, the director of Saphir (Leboux), and in July 2016, I obtained the highest level of certification, Shoe Care Expert.

The Shoe Care Expert certification requires a written test on the history of Saphir, the characteristics of its creams, and knowledge of leather, followed by a 20-minute practical test on mirror polishing leather shoes, which cannot be obtained without proper skills. While acquiring more specialized knowledge and skills, I went around to hotels at night to polish shoes. By that time, I was polishing over 5,000 pairs of shoes a year, and my days were becoming more and more fulfilling.

When the company was first established, we had an office in an office building and focused on shoe shining at hotels, but we decided that it was time to start shining shoes for people in Fukuoka, so we opened our current store (Boston and Rio's) in April 2018.

The name "Boston Shoe Shiner" comes from the Birkenstock "Boston" model, which was the first shoe I polished. The name "Re Olds" means "to revitalize old things," and it is the name of Shinpei-san's store, Re Olds, where he takes care of our repairs. The name "Re Olds" was added to the name of Shinpei's shop, and it became the name we have now.

In the winter of that year, Yoshitomi, who is now an active member of the shop, changed jobs from SHIPS and joined the shop. I was very happy to have Yoshitomi, who has been my friend since college, because he has something that I don't have.

Then he went to Corona Disaster. Orders from hotels dropped to zero, and the number of visitors to the store also dropped to zero due to voluntary restraint from going out. We were all gathered at the store, wondering what to do, when the representative said, "All the stores are closed," as we walked out of the store on the fourth floor and looked at the empty Fukuoka streets. The department stores and underground shopping malls are all closed. That means shoe repair shops are also closed. Since everyone is at home doing housecleaning, wouldn't they be happy if we made flyers, distributed them, and picked them up and delivered them?

With this as a starting point, I created flyers and began posting them. With my family involved, I walked around Fukuoka City and distributed more than 30,000 flyers. The results were quite good. We had customers contacting us saying, "I've been waiting for a flyer like this! Some customers contacted us saying, "I've been waiting for a flyer like this!

The number of customers at the store also increased, and our style of "Shoeshine in the store during the day and at the hotel at night" was getting on track. In October 2022, I was able to visit Saphir's head office in France, which I had longed for, and I was able to see how and what kind of ingredients are used to make cream at the Saphir factory.

In Paris, we were also attended by the daughter of the president of Saphir, and were able to polish shoes in the atelier of Maison Corthy, visit a company that handles leather for HERMES products, polish shoes in a Berluti store, and polish shoes at an event of SAPEUR, a fashionable and elegant gentleman's association. The five-day, four-night overseas training was completely a trip of shoes, leather, and cream (laughs).

Right around that time, I started TikTok to promote shoeshine to the younger generation. Thanks to your support, 24,000 people across Japan have followed me in the past year, and I hope that social networking will help people learn about shoeshine and the appeal of leather shoes.

I polish not only leather shoes but also soccer spikes, ZARA and UNIQLO shoes, and I also upload videos of shoe repairs.

Thank you very much for Mr. Hasegawa's appearance the other day. I would like to promote shoeshine more and more to the younger generation.

What is your passion for shoeshine?

I want people to polish their shoes regularly. I love Saphir's Crem 1925 cream, and I rub Crem 1925 into my shoes. Since Crem 1925 is a cream with only natural ingredients and oils, the nutrients in the leather are not lost and the gloss and moisture last longer. To facilitate the customer's after-sales maintenance, the leather is prepared so that it will shine again as soon as it is polished with a high shine glove.

Polish is applied thoroughly. I try to polish the leather so that the surface is smooth, but the shine is maintained inside the leather. Therefore, I think my polished shoes have a natural connection from the toe to the eyelets.

Are there any shoes or customers who have left a lasting impression on you?

A hotel employee who saw me polishing shoes, became interested in shoes, and asked me, "Can you tell me about some good shoes? He asked me, "Can you tell me some good shoes? He had worn out his leather shoes until then. I am very happy to hear that he has changed his mind about taking care of his shoes and wearing them for a long time after learning about shoe polish. I recommended Scotch Grain. Until then, he had told me that he had been buying shoes at Donki, so I was happy to see that he had come to care about shoes through shoe polishing.

Also, there was a customer who came to us to have his shoes polished because he was looking for a new job. Afterwards, he called us and said, "I got a job because of your polish. Since then, he has continued to come to us for shoe polishing. When he first came to us, he had never had his shoes polished before, and he came to us because he thought he should do something when he was looking for a new job. We recommended shoe trees to him, and now he is taking good care of his shoes.

What do you think of Boston Rio's in the future?

Now that we know that many customers come to Boston Rio's through Tiktok, we would like to communicate with people who are not currently interested in shoes so that they can become more aware of the appeal of shoes through shoe shine. Every day I strive to provide a high level of service, to be able to respond properly to any customer who comes in.

I cannot be specific yet, but we are planning a number of new initiatives. And above all, I want to win the world championship. We receive a lot of support for the shoeshine championships, so my goal is to win the Japan competition first, and then the world competition.

I have noticed that many of the shoes of hotel guests are in an unpolished condition. I can tell by the fact that nothing is removed when I wipe them with cleaner, but if they send their shoes out to be polished, there must be something happening the next day, right?

For example, a wedding or an important business meeting. When I imagine such things while looking at the shoes, I want to support the customer tomorrow, so I polish shoes 24/7, even if it is a late-night request. Hotel polishing is the origin of Boston Andrioles. We want to spread the culture that "if you stay at a hotel in Fukuoka, you can have your shoes polished by Boston & Rio's" and "tomorrow will be a better day if you polish your shoes.

About Saphir's products, what are your favorites?

My favorite is Crem 1925, and I also like polishes. Crem 1925 is a cream made almost exclusively from natural ingredients and contains no water, just oil. It keeps the nutrients in the leather and keeps the leather shiny and moisturized. Polish is also made from the same ingredients as Krem 1925, so it provides a highly transparent mirror polish. I like it because it produces a transparent luster that shows the expression of the leather.

Recently, I have started using CLEANSER. The president of Saphir says, "Saphir uses only natural ingredients in its creams, so why is it necessary to remove all of them? The president of Saphir says, "Saphir only uses natural ingredients in its creams, so why do we need to remove all of them?" It is with this in mind that we developed CLEANSER, which does not remove all of the cream from the leather, but only the wax on the surface. It is just the right amount of wax to be removed. I like using this new product very much.

Mr. Nishigami, who has already had a career of 10 years, still polishes shoes 24 hours a day, and his resilience is admirable. He is a Kyushu boy with few words, but his every word during the interview was infused with quiet passion. What kind of achievements will he make in the upcoming shoeshine championship? We will keep our eyes on Mr. Nishigami and Mr. Boston from now on!

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