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Good Things Are Worth Saving

When Jamie and I started this business I was quick to jump on the China train.  www.alibaba.com was making big inroads in opening up the world to small businesses that wanted to buy in reasonable wholesale quantities without overwhelming minimum orders and take their chances reselling online.     There was a world of shoe shine brushes and softwood pine and cedar boxes were available to us through this portal at some pretty attractive price points. All we had to do was make an order about as difficult as completing an ebay transaction and we’d have the widgets we’d need to sell online in a matter of days.  The first days of searching for product were a flurry of activity checking out samples and fielding dozens of emails.   


I’d had a background in retail before and remembered the glory days in vending before Jerry Garcia died.    Summer tour with the Dead, Lollapalooza, HORDE and up here in Canada there was the ever popular Roadside Attraction with the Tragically Hip.   Sitting in a field under a 10 x 10 KD canopy  listening to Metallica,  Cypress Hill, Hole and the Ramones and stuffing fistfuls of $20 bills into a fanny pack in exchange for some silver we’d picked up in Taxco Mexico or Bangkok.   Back then you could buy a set of silver hoop earrings for about $.30 (by the gram) and sell them for $3 a pair.


We had stuff from all over  the world.   Indonesia and mostly Bali for coconut wood boxes we sold by the dozens.   They would come by the container load, all wrapped in local newspapers and still soaking with humidity and in some cases salt stains.    What we would buy for a dollar we could sell for five.   It was easy.     Batik dresses and sarongs. Yet twenty years down the road, I realized I don’t have any of that stuff.     It all fell apart, chipped, frayed, faded or broke when it hit the ground.   It didn’t last.


My kid’s bikes are the same deal.    I love a good bargain.   I bought the cheap stuff at Walmart and I’m paying the price for it.   These aren’t bicycles.  They’re BSO’s.  Bicycle Shaped Objects.   They look like bicycles and they occasionally ride like bicycles but over time it becomes dramatically apparent that they’re not in it for the long haul.   The bottom brackets fall out and wobble and even the simplest turn of a bolt with a ratchet reveals they’re made from a buttery soft pot metal that just strips the threads away.  This leads to a tired sweaty dad, swearing at various bits of useless components in his backyard.  


This had me rethink our decision to source the cheap stuff.  We’d seen the so called “cedar” shoe valets and read all the amazon.com buyer reviews on shoe shine kits and shine boxes.   They broke.  They cracked.  They didn’t last.    After an afternoon of cursing at a particularly mangled cheap caliper brake I decided we would make our own boxes and make them here.  Make them out of real wood and make them to last.    Vancouver Island has a wealth of gorgeous woods here and we hooked up with our boxmaker in Sooke to see the beautiful grains inherent in Douglas Fir and Yellow Cedar.    We learned the difference between a cheap stain and an oiled waxed finish.     I liked the new boxes.     They were solid.  They had heft.    They would last.  




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We found this old Raleigh BMX out on the curb the other day.    It was made in 1989, the year I started University.    It was made in Canada.  Back then the Internet barely existed except for Pine email and Telnet and the International Business Courses I was taking about China didn’t even really cover the concept of going offshore for cheap production in a massive labour market of people willing to work for so very little.    Back then we still made things in our country.     


We’re going to rebuild this thing.  Strip it down and repaint it.    It’s a great little frame.  It’s solid.  It’s built to last.  It is worth saving.   

Built to Last

I was trying to think of things that I use regularly that have stood the test of time. Perhaps not surprisingly, the list is pretty short.

I’ve had the same clothes dresser for almost 18 years – not very exciting, I know, but maybe that’s why I’ve never replaced it. It does its job just fine, looks ok to me and has never broken – so why get a new one? I figure I’ll have that thing forever. Sadly there aren’t too many other things I own that I can say the same thing about.

Most of my appliances aren’t too old. It seems like that type of thing just isn’t made to last anymore.  I’ve gone through about 3 coffee makers in the last couple of years and 2 or 3 toasters. Just replaced the dishwasher last summer, and I can’t wait to get a new stove and fridge. I do have one good kitchen knife, a Global Chef’s knife, which has served me well for many years.

I have trinkets and keepsakes that I’ve had since I was a kid, but to me those don’t count, as they aren’t used on a regular basis. I’m not the type to keep a car running forever, and it’s the kind of thing you tend to trade in for a newer model.

In the living room, the TV is about 5 years old, which may be a good run for a TV these days, but I remember having the same TV for about 20 years growing up.  My PS3 has held up pretty good since 2008 – maybe I’ll still be able to play Killzone on it in 10 years, but it’s doubtful.

I suppose one important factor in the longevity of things is how complicated they are and how easily they can be fixed. As more things become computerized and sealed up so you can’t get at the insides, the tougher it is to make them last.

I dropped my iPhone a few weeks ago and smashed the glass on the back. That was almost enough of an excuse for me to go ahead and get a brand spanking new phone. I was almost glad, in fact, that I’d broken it because I really did want a new Nexus 5.  My iPhone 4 is now a few years old, won't run the latest apps, and won’t sync with my FitBit.

But it has survived numerous drops and bashes, including being dropped in the toilet (a couple days in a bag if rice revived it). So, I figured why not try and fix it since I mainly just use it for phone calls and text messages. If I’m honest with myself I don’t really need a new phone.

So I went on Amazon and found a replacement back for about 7 dollars. It came in the mail just yesterday and it took about 2 minutes to get the old back off and pop the new one into place. Now my phone looks good as new and I figure I can get a couple more years out of it.  Not bad for something used every single day. And I must say it felt good to fix something myself and only spend a few bucks on it. A new phone would have set me back a few hundred. That’s more money in my pocket for the important things in life, like beer and cigars. 

Anyway, all of this musing is a long way to say that there are really very few products that seem to be made to last, are easy to fix, and can survive regular daily or weekly use. It seems to be a disappearing value in a throw away society.

So at shinekits, we want to buck that trend and that’s why our shoe shine kits are built to last. We want you to be able to use it on a regular basis and then pass it onto your kids who will also get a lifetime of use from it. It’s a solid, sturdy piece of construction.

What things do you own that have stood the test of time and will be passed on to the next generation? Let us know in the comments.

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Quality goods that last a lifetime.

shinekits.com

Shine your damn shoes.

char·ac·ter

  [kar-ik-ter] 

noun

  1. the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing. 

It kind of seems like a no-brainer that taking pride in your stuff and keeping it in good shape is a reflection of a person’s character. Anyone with money can buy a fancy pair of leather footwear, but it takes character to roll up your sleeves, pull out your shoe shine kit and get to work making them look like brand new.

Whatever your opinions may be of the military, there’s a reason why a soldiers quality is reflected in how well he or she shines their boots. It says something about how well they will go about their other duties. Will they handle a task with patience, dedication and attention to detail, or will they do a slap dash, substandard job?

We’ll be the first to admit that we have a bit of an uphill battle against us.  The days when everyone wore leather shoes and boots on a daily basis are in the past.  Now sneakers, sandals, Vans and Crocs rule the day.

And you know what? We have nothing against that. It’s summertime and I’ll be wearing my own beat up, yet trusty, Columbia sandals most days. And there’s nothing like the feeling of your bare feet in the sand and the water when the chance permits.

Nevertheless, everyone needs at least one good pair of leather shoes or boots. Maybe it’s for that important job interview, a wedding (your own?) or a special get together with friends and family. 

A good pair of well maintained leather shoes says something about you; that you care about your appearance and recognize there are times when what you wear can be a reflection of your mindset. Leather footwear, properly maintained, shows that you have respect for the occasion at hand, and respect for yourself and others. 

It can seem sometimes like we live in a throwaway society. It’s easy to buy something on your credit card and if it breaks down or gets old you just buy a new one. But there was a time when people knew how to look after their possessions, how to properly maintain things, and fix them when they broke. 

Granted, fast moving technology makes that kind of hands on attitude more difficult.  It's not as easy to fix your own car now that they are mostly computerized, and it's tricky to repair your own Xbox if it breaks on you.

But you can damn well get a nice pair of shoes, shine them regularly and make them last forever.  That’s one simple way to say that you are a person who recognizes the value in having things of quality and making them last. We’d like to think that if everyone did that, there would be a bit more character in the world.

If character is the sum of all the things you do, let shining your shoes be one of those things.

On Pocketknives, Gentlemen and Fathers

Had coffee with a friend and veteran clothier at his shop in downtown Victoria a few weeks ago to talk about the Shinekits project Jamie and I were launching this month.     We got to chatting about our decision to carry pocket knives. I'd just discovered Grohmann knives in Pictou, Nova Scotia and was absolutely delighted we had the chance to start selling their Canadian made Rosewood folding lock blade.    I didn't have the samples in hand yet but i did have some shots on the iPhone to show him.  


"You know, the true sign of any gentleman was having a pocket knife."  He said. "Back then the only man who could afford to keep a horse was a gentleman. They were a tremendously ruinous expense and only the wealthiest people could have them.  If you had a horse you had to carry a pocket knife to dig stones out of their hooves to keep them from going lame.    Carrying a good folding knife was the measure of a man."


I don't do horses.  They're not my thing.  Had one go nuts on me my first time in the saddle up in Wiarton, Ontario and got taken for a terrifying gallop through the woods. Apparently they don't always stop when you pull on the reigns and say Whoah!   Got thrown off hard and ended up cooking several rubbery shifts on a mix of Midol and Jameson's at my old restaurant for two weeks afterwards.  Given my aversion to further equine pursuits, I didn't see myself digging any stones out of hooves in the foreseeable future.   


Yet, lately I've begun carrying a pocket knife again.   I've got my grandfather's old ivory-handled 3 inch single folder.   It's faded and cracked on one side and the high carbon steel is a dull pallid grey.   My gravy can this thing take an edge.   I keep it shaving sharp with an Arkansas stone and an old belt for a strop.  I’ve done a few too many sharpness tests and now I’ve got bare patches on my arm.   

 

My Grandfathers Pocket Knife

With three little girls on the go it certainly comes in handy.   In any given month there's at least two birthday parties to attend.   That means bags of chips and gummy bears to cut open, and slab cakes from Costco to slice into.  For our own birthday parties we burn CD's of the girl's favourite pop songs and print off custom covers that need cropping with a steel ruler to fit into the jewel case.   That’s a fun task to do 18 times 30 minutes before a party.   I've eased off the brake callipers on my eldest's BMX when she's out shredding at the Cecilia Ravine park  and carved many a good marshmallow roasting stick for cookouts on the beach at Parksville.  I’ve cleaned up 6 year old fingernails dirty enough to grow potatoes in and I’ve dug splinters out of little feet that didn’t listen when they were climbing on driftwood logs at Willows Beach without their sandals.   A gentleman may no longer need to carry a knife these days but a dad sure does.  Now I just need to use it to cut the foil off this bottle of Tempranillo and pour myself a glass while I barbecue these ribs!  Happy Father’s day to all.   

On being a startup Dad on Father's Day

I'll admit that sometimes as a guy trying to get a business off the ground, I feel like less of a man.  Running a startup will do that to you.

When you fall back on your wife or significant other to be the main breadwinner, when you sacrifice stability and safety to chase a dream, you are often putting your loved ones in jeopardy.  It can make you feel like a loser, that somehow you're letting your family down.

 

It's so tempting to tell yourself that if you could just suck it up like everyone else and hold down that 9 to 5 job and bring in a steady paycheck, your family would be so much better off. 

How do we reconcile our traditional ideas of manliness; the notion of a man as the steady rock that looks after and provides for everyone, versus the startup ideal of a man who will put everything on the line to achieve his vision?

Let's start with the obvious, ageist (yep, I'll say it) idea that startups are a young man's game. It's no secret that a young guy, unencumbered by family and duties, has a lot more time to spend on his dream than the married man with kids.  I remember the days when I could work for 15 hours straight and had no one to answer to, but somehow I think there's something about having people to answer to that makes you a better entrepreneur. It forces you to really consider whether what you are doing is adding to the success of the project or is just some cool feature nobody will actually ever use.

Time is another factor - a single man has unlimited time. As a dad, you have less time, so you have to make that time count. You can zero in on what is most important and get it done, knowing that there are other things out there that count as much.

A man with kids and a family understands the importance of time - that it can go by faster than you expected and you better make it count. What's more important; a day spent working or a day spent creating memories with your family?

In fact, I'd propose that being a dad gives you an insight into what matters that can give you an edge. It teaches you to ignore the trivial and focus on solving the problems that bring the greatest gains. A business in some ways is like your children - you have to nurture it and understand it, refine it and polish it to make it the best it can be.

Ultimately, a man knows what's most important and works so that he can make his family the priority. The faster you can solve a problem and get things done, the sooner you can spend time with your loved ones.
That's a benefit that comes with experience and wisdom that the young often don't understand.

So, if you're a dad and anyone questions whether working on your startup is selfish or harmful to your loved ones, tell them that it's because you 
value your family that you want to show them to never give up on your dreams. You can be a great father and a great entrepreneur and find time to do both.

But, of course, when Mother's day rolls around, never forget that great partner that helped you make those dreams come true.

Oak Watch Box

Our box maker Roger has been busy out at his studio in Sooke. 

He also happens to have a very fine Rolex Submariner.

Look for our new oak watch box coming soon!

 

Girls shoes are shined and ready for school

It's amazing the abuse a pair of Geox can take when they're exposed to the rigours of the playground here in the Pacific Northwest.  

Every day my daughter's shoes come home from school looking much the worse for wear.    Every morning they're set to rights with a generous application of our beeswax based polish.

The stain coverage fills in the fades on the leather and the oils nourish and soften.    With a few quick strokes our horse hair brush shoes can be made fresh again in hardly any time at all.

Dad even had time to get his own done this morning.  

 

Craftsmanship - Tale of the Shoeshine Man

This Buck 65 tune sums up what shinekits.com is all about. It's become our unofficial theme song.

 

Most folks spend their days daydreaming or finding clues
My whole life I've been here at the train station shining shoes
I started when I was nine, on my own and taught myself
No complaints, I'm doing pretty good and I got my health
Memories and calluses, my hearing's probably next to go
Sometimes I do a little handy work for extra dough
But mostly this here is how I spend my time
And I've perfected a technique I call the dry shine
Some guys use lots of water on the shoe but then
When it's out in the open air it's gone in ten minutes
That whole approach to the job is dumb, in fact
Dollars to donuts, that customer won't be coming back
This is the most common mistake of the amateurs
Going for big numbers to satisfy their managers
Anyway, the dry shine, the first thing I mean to do
And this part is very important, I clean the shoe
The residue and old polish to keep the shoe from being ruined
All you need to do is use a rag with some cleaning fluid
If the shoe's all caked up with gunk you need to think
The shoe can't breathe and that's what causes the feet to stink
They took Carfoine off the market, I believe
It was a few years ago cause that leather couldn't breathe
Now once you've cleaned the shoe and it's dried
Your base coat of polish can now be applied
Then you brush, cause what that tends to do
Is clean the shoe a little more and gets rid of the residue
And then you do the second coat just like the first one
You brush it, you rag it, and voila, your work is done
And that's it, you treat each shoe like it's special
Care about your work, and be a professional
There's a right way to go about your job and a wrong one
I find this way is much better in the long run
It ain't about the dollar or trying to go fast
Unless you take pride in what you're doing, it won't last
Craftsmanship is a quality that some lack
You got to give people a reason for them to come back

The world's a different place than what I was introduced to
They don't wear shineable shoes like they used to
Casual clothes in the office, what is this
The villain in sneakers is killing my business