By Peter van Aartrijk
Penn Station, New York, is an uber-busy railway station for Amtrak and four commuter train lines. And home to Madison Square Garden. People typically don’t get their shoes shined before Knicks or Rangers games, or before a Kiss reunion concert, but they certainly do as they head off the train to the office or meetings. And most of them will go to Drago.
Drago is a tiny, quaint, and noisy shoeshine shop on the main concourse in Penn Station. Check it out sometime.
I spoke with Drago’s owner recently when I was in town. He said he just signed a new five-year lease. How would you like to pay monthly rent of $20,000 for 350 square feet? He said he’s nervous about the future, especially since he expects rent to go up again; moreover, more machines are replacing the hardworking shiners at Drago.
Drago is an institution for five-buck shoeshines. It’s been at Penn Station for 60 years. When I worked in the city I’d go all the time and sit in one of the 12 or 15 chairs. Sometimes I’d be the only one; sometimes I’d have to wait. This sounds gratuitous, since I’m biased about a lot of stuff I miss in New Yawk (hello, beautiful slice of pizza pie), but I must say I have yet to find a bespoke shoeshine as fast or as good as Drago’s. And the guys who bend over feet all day long are very nice dudes — although it’d help if you spoke Greek or Spanish for meaningful conversation.
If your rent is $20k a month, you need 4,000 customers at $5 a shine every 30 days just to cover that nut — and more since you have other expenses. You’d need 48,000 shines a year just to cover rent; you’d need 240,000 shines in five years. Thus, Drago’s model is a little bit of money from a lot of people.
Some related food for thought:
- If you provide a high-quality service for a low price, maybe it’s time to rethink pricing. If you charge more and have fewer customers, essentially your revenue could be at least the same — probably higher.
- Consider creating a customer experience to combat competition. Never underestimate the emotional power of the human touch and personal service. (Shining shoes is a close cousin to hair styling. And I’m told that people in business conversations generally spend 50% of their time looking down, so nice shoes are as important as your hair!)
- Yes, you can accomplish many, many things online. But location still is important for some businesses.
Drago’s owner expects shoeshine machines ultimately will swallow his business.
“Yeah, but are the machines as good as your guys?” I asked him.
“No,” he replied. “Not yet.”