My pair of shoes got dirty and I decided to take it to Shoe Vival in center Thimphu, opposite the Clock Tower Square. First time when I saw their poster in the street I was a bit skeptical whether they could deliver what they promised. Now, I understand why it is called Bhutan's First Footwear Laundry and Refurbishing Service and not simply a shoe shine service. My shoes look much better than before and I only paid $4 for the service that includes free pick-up and delivery.
Shoe Vival is a clean little place where footwear in bad state of repair receives not only stitch and glue but also washing and sterilization. In that compartment sits a tallish young man and some several pairs of shoes, mostly ragged and worn-out. Mr. Dawa Dakpa, a college dropout, works with his two colleagues at Shoe Vival. On one side of the wall hangs the ornately framed certificate that testifies their professionalism. Last November, Dawa’s innovative shoe laundry service was among 11 other business start ups selected by the Loden Foundation for support.
Dawa studied India, but did not graduate. "I got into serious drinking habit, which is why I could not complete my graduation," he says in a muted tone that suggests regret. However, after returning home, he found many jobless youth loitering in the town. It dawned on him then that he should do something on his own.
Sandeep Gajakas of The Shoe Laundry, Mumbai (India), who trained Dawa in the art of shoe-cleaning, believes that this business model works due to its simplicity. "Everybody wears shoes; they get dirty and need repairs. Somebody has got to do it nicely." he says.
When Dawa contacted Sandeep with the proposal, he wasn't sure if there was going to be a market at all. If he had any doubts earlier, all of them vanished after he came to Bhutan and saw the lifestyle of the youth here.
"I honestly did not expect the kind of night life that I saw there. The youth are fashion conscious and willing to spend on products and services," he says.
Last time when I met with Dawa he was proud to tell me about a sports event where he had the opportunity to promote his new business through large banners and about his first commercial he just finished shooting with one of the most popular local comedians. Listening to him, I secretly looked at his shoes which looked shiny, happy and tip-top and I wondered what sort of marketing advice I could give to this young businessman at our next coaching session which he didn't know yet?
This post is based on personal experience and an article in the Bhutan Observer.