The Sole of a Business

Yesterday, I met a man who runs a very small shoe repair shop at the University Village shopping center, near my home in Seattle. His name is Mr. Lee, and I want to share a short story about him, because he embodies the potential wonder and beauty of a business.

A couple weeks back, Seattle had a snow storm that was pretty big for us. Roads were shut down, and businesses closed. Then, things warmed up quickly and the snow turned to slush as the precipitation turned to rain. Walking down the street, I started to notice that my right foot was getting wetter and wetter. I had walked a few blocks before I eventually looked down to see that the sole on my right shoe had become detached and was flapping like a flipper – straight out of some old Charlie Chaplin flick. I had to walk home through the slush, flippity-floppity, wetter and wetter.

I’d had these hiking boots for a long time. They were good shoes, and if you can love an old shoe, then I guess, in a way, I loved these shoes. But this right shoe was pretty trashed and I thought about simply throwing them both away.

Then it occurred to me that, maybe, just maybe I could have them repaired.

And so, a week or so later, I finally made it down to Mr. Lee’s shop. I’d gotten there a few minutes before we was to close up for the night. I asked him how much it would be to repair both shoes, and after a little back-and-forth, to confirm what type of sole would be best, he confirmed that it would be $70 and I paid him up-front.

The next day, I went back, and it was clear that he had been waiting to show me the results. He had spent over 3 hours fixing my shoes. He completely rebuilt their bottoms, going way, way beyond what he had assumed it was going to take him to do. The result was…well, how can I say this except to say that it was beautiful. My shoes looked better than they had been in years – almost like new. I was amazed.

Mr. Lee said that there would be no additional charge, but it was clear that he wanted some feedback. He wanted to know if I was happy. He wanted, more than any additional money, to know that I was happy with the work that he’d done. He wanted acknowledgement that I appreciated just how far he’d gone to get this right. He fixed these shoes in the very best way he could, going above and beyond the call of duty, and he wanted to know whether I understood what had happened. I clearly had, and made it extremely clear to him just how much I appreciated what he’d done.

The two of stood there, admiring his work for a few more minutes before it was time for him to close up shop. He’s not a dumb guy or a sucker. He wanted me to let others know how good a job he does there, but that’s not why he did the work that he did.

He did the work the way that he did it, because it gave him meaning to make me happy – to be of service. His whole business is designed around doing just that. I left marveling at this man’s incredibly generous spirit, and the soul of the little company he had built. This man represents the true potential for the enterprise and its ability to serve society.

Thank you, Mr. Lee. I wish there were more of you out there.



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