The Cobblers founder Warren Barthes used to work in the telecommunications industry before venturing into fashion. His new company is the fruit of his mission to “revolutionize an entire industry,” by offering “wildly updated ‘shoe repair’ concept stores and a robust e-commerce platform” that gives fashionable people an unlimited set of fashion services.
Warren Barthes took the long road to The Cobblers. At just 16 years old, he quit school in 1998 to join his brothers in launching the Vip Telecom Company, which was a “retail chain in the South of France” that sells mobile phones. His road to becoming a successful entrepreneur began early.
Several decades later, Warren Barthes began The Cobblers. The company is composed of a “handful of no-nonsense entrepreneurs,” and follows a concept of examining “popular consumer demand in order to understand and perhaps solve the conundrum that is keeping sneakers clean, shoes shiny, and people presentable, head to toe.”
At The Cobblers, Warren Barthes also gets to showcase his expertise in “refurbished goods.” Through his company, he aims to “satisfy a now seemingly insatiable demand for traditional cobbler services,” and at the same time to cater to an “explosive ‘sneakerhead’ culture around the globe.”
Under Warren Barthes’ vision, The Cobblers offers “consumer services” alongside “retail goods, accessories and apparel.” So, all at the same time, the company is a “sophisticated multi-pronged e-commerce, brick-mortar, B2B and B2C venture.”
Nothing good comes easy. What’s key is continuing to forge ahead. Warren Barthes, The Cobblers
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Warren Barthes: The concept of “The Cobblers” was born in November of 2019, when I decided to start buying and reselling used shoes. The circular economy of refurbished goods is something I have been interested for some time now.
When I embarked on this particular endeavor, I uncovered that out of some 60,000 shoe repair stores nationwide, only about 4,000 were still open for business, but that of those who remain, most can barely keep up with the growing demand. In fact, U.S. News and World Reports had recently shared that, “Cobblers face extinction — and are busier than ever.”
I also learned that 80% of the complaints customers had were “no technology, no visibility and no customer experience”. Lucky for us, our conceptual vision to ‘digitize’ an otherwise dusty and dated shoe repair industry solves for these matters all too well. We encourage everyone to check out our innovative and refreshingly fashionable e-commerce platform for “shoe-repair” at TheCobblers.com. The idea was to create a uniquely thorough and convenient marketplace that bridges the gap for the new generation — one that totally reinvents the world of shoe repair.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Warren Barthes: Nothing good comes easy. What’s key is continuing to forge ahead. Like Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” When I started this whole thing, I knew quite a bit about the business side of things, but the shoe repair industry was not exactly my area of expertise. It only became as much because we decided to digitize and systemize an industry in a way nobody else has. In a way that made our trajectory uniquely ours by way of those things I know a lot about.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Warren Barthes: Something funny? (pauses and smiles) Well, you may know that I’m actually not a native English speaker…and the industry speak of a cobbler is not one in which I was particularly fluent. So when identifying a particular piece or part of a shoe, for example… let’s just say there was a lot of pointing involved. Then my sometimes thick accent caused my team to laugh a bit at times. Like, I had some difficulty pronouncing a hard ‘H’ sound because the letter ‘H’ is usually silent in French so when I wanted to use a phrase like ‘hassle-free,’ I came dangerously close to pronouncing something quite different, ahem. In any case, I NEVER give up. In fact, I can communicate this phrase almost perfectly now. And in much the same way…if I have anything to do with it, our business The Cobblers will also continue to improve, grow, and mature with time. What I’ve gathered is that all of the difficult lessons learned along the way, often times more serious ones, are every bit as important to one’s character and success as the so called ‘slam dunks’ on a good day.
It is essential that everyone involved in scaling the business is pushing in the same direction, toward the same goals and objectives, with those goals clearly defined.
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
*I would preface all of it with the importance of assuming a customer-focused point of view. I think I’ve mentioned this already, but can’t emphasize it enough. It’s how we take root. Most of the points to follow can actually be linked back to this, if you think about it.
- Value Proposition I would say that in order for a business to not only survive, but grow and flourish legitimately, it must begin with a compelling truth or ‘selling idea’ about its products and/or service — a real consumer benefit or ‘value prop’. Examples may consist of any number of things including competitive price points, exceptional products/services, and hopefully a unique and sticky brand personality.
- Good Personnel and Partners — The company you keep is paramount. Be careful with whom you partner up; be thoughtful about these marriages; the last thing you want to do is create a revolving door of a serial hiring-firing culture. Some of my team members have been with me for ten years, helping me to successfully build other businesses before this one. Which leads me to the next 3 essentials.
- Shared Respect/Trust — For any partnership to hold, you need three fundamental things to exist between you, your partners or executive team. A) shared respect B) shared responsibility and C) shared vision. Things like trust and loyalty fall under the first of these, our number 3. ’shared respect’.
- Shared Responsibility — Each member on your company’s team should bring something uniquely theirs to the table, pulling their professional weight adequately, so to speak. As a Founder, you have to know that my individual team members are proactively taking care of all that is delegated unto them. Of course, critical players like trusted investors can be essential staying fiscally solvent, never losing site of your debits and credits, and payroll! In any case, you can’t rule the world alone; I’m only as good as everyone working with me.
- Shared Vision — This one is all about clear communication. As our company goes from ‘good to great,’ you have to ask, ‘Are we all on the same page? Do we agree on where we want to go? Where do we see ourselves in the near and long term?’ It is essential that everyone involved in scaling the business is pushing in the same direction, toward the same goals and objectives, with those goals clearly defined. This may include the speed at which you would like your business to scale with benchmarks to meet.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Warren Barthes: Any time you can find and leverage the “why” or reason for consumers to care, you’re lightyears better off. This is actually how we plan to create a ‘sea change’ or notable change in popular societal perspectives regarding the care for one’s footwear (and accessories) while affecting positive change in the world. Ours is a business that has mass appeal…affecting society at large, while garnering the attention of niche market segments (e.g. sneakerheads, dandies, tastemakers, etc.) with a more particular product or service. That being said, The Cobblers is driven by the purposes of saving people’s shoes and accessories from early retirement…extending their lifespan, if you will, so that consumers may extract the maximum value from these purchases, saving them money, all while saving the planet from gratuitously wasteful practices in the manufacturing of new items and the frivolous consumerism that may come with this. In a world of cold, hard news and impersonal technology, the causal betterment of our human condition is extremely attractive.
I’d say our strategy begins with keeping things simple and hassle-free. Warren Barthes
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Warren Barthes: I’d say our strategy begins with keeping things simple and hassle-free. People just don’t have the time to be bothered with cumbersome online experiences. We add pop-ups to our site for important news, promos or a helpful hand. We remove unnecessary form fields and distractions and make the entire retail process as easy as possible for the user. Then our E-cobblers offer live chats and complimentary video consultations. Our customer care team is great at following up with leads and cultivating our client relations. This is what will make your cash register go ‘cha-ching’. Things like customer retention and sustaining repeat business are not easy, but they are far easier than continuously starting from scratch.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Warren Barthes: We do well to create trust by including testimonials, customer reviews, and logos (of the very prestigious brands with whom we work directly and indirectly). These days, total transparency is essential. That, and going above and beyond for your customers, at every turn. We call it ‘surprise and delight’.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Warren Barthes: We encourage people to not only visit The Cobblers’ website but also follow us on Instagram and on Facebook at The Cobblers. In just a few months we’ve already managed to get a lot of attention on IG, and are steadily building a like- minded community of many admirers and loyal clients that pay it forward, continuing to inspire others about what we do through our social media platforms.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!