#0004 - Lolo Ndlovu of The Sneaker Shack

Civitas Team

34 ideas from Lolo Ndlovu of The Sneaker Shack on spotting opportunities, testing ideas and customer feedback

Lolo Ndlovu is the founder of The Sneaker Shack, a sneaker laundry service for active and footwear-conscious people. They offer a sneaker cleaning service with a 48-hour turnaround time. From small beginnings, in Maboneng with a single store, they have grown to five locations, four stores in Johannesburg and one in Cape Town. They now service thousands of happy customers. Civitas got the opportunity to sit down with Lolo to discuss his entrepreneurial journey and lessons learned. Below is a list of the most valuable ideas from the interview. 

The best ideas from the discussion

  • Find a simple, yet frustrating problem to solve 
  • Test the idea by just doing it 
  • Start with low pricing to just cover costs 
  • Improve the product with customer feedback
  • Have a lot of customer conversations 
  • Learn from great entrepreneurs in your industry 
  • Plan your business strategy with an exit in mind 

On Spotting the Opportunity

  1. [Lolo on his partner discovering the opportunity] “He has a whole bunch of All-Stars. He was a bit All-Star fan. It was actually just a nuisance to actually have these shoes cleaned properly. He would spend his whole Sunday sitting around and cleaning.” 
  2. [On dirty sneakers] “There was a frustration at the root of it. It was very easy to extend that frustration to a lot of people.”
  3. [On dirty sneakers] “It was such a simple problem that we could fix.” 

On Testing the Opportunity 

  1. “We did as much as we could to the point where I thought I should be slipping away from the family business.”
  2. “When we did start speaking to people they said, of course they would pay.” 
  3. “We went to the drawing board and ironed out the dreams from the actual tangibles… got the real details.” 
  4. “The only way we could test it was by having an actual location and doing it.”
  5. “We jumped straight into MVP.”
  6. “So we launched our first store in Maboneng Precinct, where our rent was incredibly low. We found a shop that would really fit… and we just got going.”
  7. “The only way to get quantifiable market place data is by people actually walking through the door.” 

On Pricing the Product 

  1. “We looked at how many sneakers we needed to do to make the rent… we tried to be realistic about how many customers we could get through the door to cover our costs.” 
  2. “We got to four or five customers a day that worked out to R 80 per pair of shoes cleaned.” 
  3. “We got a feel of the actual costs of running the business and we evolved the pricing from there…. that formed our pricing model.” 

On Growth 

  1. [On getting to break-even] “For the first month, I think the first two months, we didn't quite make the rent.. and then by the third month, that's when we started making the rent.” 
  2. [On when to hire] “We got busy enough that we could add someone else to the team.” 
  3. [On planning for the future] “The next six months we started tabling the idea of actually doing this… that's when we started thinking a little bigger, you know, introducing the big picture, thinking more about the brand itself and different locations.”
  4. “We never really got clever on cleaning until much later.” 

On Having a Great Mentor 

  1. “It was very important having someone guide us and help us make the right decision’s.” 

On Customer Feedback 

  1. “It was a big focus early on.” 
  2. “We have created an atmosphere of feedback.”
  3. “Once a week we sit down with the branch managers and go through all the customer feedback. What are they saying? That’s how we get a lot of our feedback.” 
  4. “We have never done customer surveys… I think it is through conversations that you get the most honest feedback.” 
  5. “[Angry customers] are the biggest source of learning.” 

On Choosing Locations

  1. “There was a lot of people saying Rosebank, Rosebank, Rosebank… we just listened to customer input.”

On Strategy and Vision

  1. “My vision is to have a number of corporate-owned stores.” 
  2. “We borrowed that model from Robbie and what he has done with Nando’s.” 
  3. “I have studied him a lot” [on Robbie Brozen the founder of Nando’s] 
  4. “I take the best of what they're doing and integrate some new stuff and what is unique about our offering.”  
  5. “My personal plan is to retain as much as we can in corporate-owned stores and build that around an exit strategy.” 
  6. [On preparing for an acquisition] ‘If you are going to franchise it is going to make things more complicated.” 
  7. “Something down the line is to get a big player [and partner] that shares our vision and have a network of branch managers.” 

On Operations 

  1. “We have processes in place which every single branch runs and works on.” 
  2. “Operations of the branch are quite autonomous even if the branch manager is not there the processes are.” 
  3. “We focus on the back end first and then bring it into the front end... We need to know that 99.99% of the product that comes out is to standard and we try to close any type of error gap.” 

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