You can follow Elon Musk on Twitter. Or read every word Warren Buffett writes. But you'll learn just as much about how to succeed in business by visiting a small shoe repair shop in Passaic, N.J. and talking to Reynaldo Acuna.

Acuna, an immigrant from Peru, has owned VIP Shoe Repair since 1994. And, at first glance, his shop has none of the trappings of a successful business. He doesn't host a website. He's not on social media. In fact, his shop doesn't even have a telephone or air conditioning.

But, according to a profile in The Herald News, what Acuna does have is an acute sense of who his customers are and how to meet their needs. In fact, although Acuna doesn't read business books or follow management trends, this customer focus has made his shop successful.

Even before Acuna bought the shop--when he was still just an employee--he had a strong understanding of his potential clientele. Acuna's boss was a man named Donny DeSoza, who owned two cobbler shops, one in downtown Passaic and one on the south side. For several years, Acuna worked nights and weekends as an apprentice cobbler for DeSoza.

When DeSoza decided to sell the stores and move to Brazil, he offered Acuna the opportunity to buy either shop for $10,000.

As writer Christopher Maag explains, "The downtown store had more traffic, and made more money. But it sat next to a Payless and other low-end shoe stores, Acuna said, and many people in the neighborhood viewed shoes as disposable."

The Main Avenue shop, on the other hand, had customers who took care of their shoes. Writes Maag, "Many customers were members of the conservative Jewish community of Passaic and Clifton. And they were reliable, always picking up their repaired shoes by sundown on Friday, in time for Shabbat."

Today, Acuna's business is centered around his core clientele. So he is acutely aware of Jewish calendar.

"On Fridays, the busiest day of errands for many observant Jews," writes Maag, Acuna "eats a heavy breakfast, and works through lunch, to stay open all day. He works every Easter and Christmas. He takes eight days of vacation all year, four in the spring, during Passover, and four in the fall, during Sukkot."

Says Acuna of his Jewish customers: "They depend on me and I depend on them."

As a result, Acuna's shop is more popular than ever. He used to work part time for his son Harry, who owns a moving company. But lately Acuna has enough repair orders to keep him busy every day.

Customers may not be able to follow Acuna on Instagram, but they know that, when they drop their shoes off at his shop, he'll take care of his needs.

The result? Says Acuna, "I make a living, and I don't have a boss. I'm the boss."

Published on: Aug 20, 2017
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