The Proud Shoeshiner

YOU MEET memorable characters on the road.

“Pardon me, Sir, I couldn’t help but notice those fine shoes you’re wearing. Give me five minutes; I’d be honored to keep them properly protected for you.” The giant man grinned widely. His huge, laughing eyes glanced admiringly at my slick lizard loafers.

His shoeshine stand was in a corner of the hotel. Rather than wait for passers–by to notice him, he was inside the bar soliciting new customers. The shoeshine man was PROSPECTING! He wore a crisp shirt, silk tie and ostrich boots; there were no cordovan stains on him that I could see. He was a “leather care specialist.” Hmmm, that’s different,” I thought. “WOW!” The man next to me loudly exclaimed, “A real go–getter! I wish he worked for me.” Other agreed as we quickly removed our shoes.

I’m a shoe care aficionado, having traversed almost every airport in America. Most shoeshine guys I come across have smooth hands and hum along to gospel music or rap, popping the shoe cloth in syncopated rhythm. Most are engaging, but I notice them first…and then take a seat. They always tap the bottom of my shoe when they’re finished. I’ve never been cold called by a shoeshine person. It’s been a long while since anyone tried to market me anything in person. Wish he worked for Metro Brokers!

Later, while buffing my second pair of shoes, he told me his life story. His name was Marty (no kidding). He’d been shining shoes since he was eight, got into gangs as a teen, was a crack head for 30 years, and been in prison twice! Miraculously, he turned his life around. Somebody “prospected” him, he professed. Now he was sharing his story as part of a prison ministry, counseling fatherless teens, “and still shining.” I was sure he wanted to proselytize me, but he didn’t.  “Shining is what I do best,” he said, as if reading my mind. “People hate sunburners. But they’ll stare at things that glow.”

I watched him apply the polish (he wore clean surgical gloves), taking care not to get any on my socks. Each circular rub was purposeful, penetrating the leather to bring out the shine hiding underneath. Beads of perspiration dotted his brow. He hummed Motown. Another man showed up, a regular who leaves his shoes every week. “I’ll be taking these to the shoemaker for him,” Marty said, “I don’t make no extra. But I want my clients coming to me for all their shoe needs. Think of shoes, think of Marty!”

Which got me thinking about our own role, in life, in business, and how effectively we interact with others. Do we exude similar pride and professionalism in our daily doings? Do joy, self–confidence, sincerity, empathy glow just as warmly from inside you and me; attracting folks to gladly take a chair and let us serve them? Or are we too busy to bother nurturing lifelong clients; instead sifting through anonymous leads for a onetime, desperate deal? Are we shining or sunburning?

A big benefit of being in real estate are the new friendships we acquire in helping people fulfill their dreams. We don’t always think of our role as being a “real estate genie,” but that’s precisely what we do. We help people realize big dreams, of shelter, security, safety, love, and contentment. They want us to get them across that rickety bridge of financing, forms, fear, and indecision that stand perilously in their way. It’s a most gratifying role IF we view it more like a ministry, not just a job. We must get out of our faceless cubicles and tell our story with passion and confidence. My shoeshine friend, Marty, sees purpose and value in what he does. Do you? Like other turnaround stories, his is one redemption and redirection, but also one of subtlety and pride in how he gives service. To others…by glowing on them.

Written by Marty Rueter