Sneaker Laundry finds right fit for a niche business idea

When you’re nurturing a left-of-centre idea for a new business, it helps to find a central location, according to Sneaker Laundry’s Eugene Cheng.

His specialist sneaker care shop, which also repurposes sneakers for people experiencing homelessness, found a home in Little Lonsdale Street in 2017.

‘The city itself has many pockets with such a diverse demographic. Really pinpoint where you want to be at and go for it,’ Eugene said.

Opening a new store can be a steep learning curve for new business owners.

A sneaker being cleaned

Sneaker Laundry

‘As a new business operator, you learn a lot of things around permits especially if you’re changing the use of the space or increasing the floor space of the building,’ said Eugene.

To smooth the path for startups City of Melbourne is streamlining its permits process, cutting red tape and standing alongside businesses every step of the way.

‘It’s not always very clear what you need to do, but City of Melbourne is contactable and has planning officers that are real humans that can give you an answer. So that helped a lot.’

A small business grant of $10,000 from the City of Melbourne helped to take the pressure off so Eugene and the Sneaker Laundry could think bigger.

‘The grant came at a really good time as it helped flick the switch and really buy us some breathing space to ask ourselves “where to from here?”’

‘Cash flow for new businesses is a struggle. It’s not even about growth at that stage, just whether you can continue paying the bills,’ Eugene said.

City of Melbourne has distributed more than $10 million in grants to more than 2000 small businesses, startups, social enterprises and business events since 2020.

So what’s next for the Sneaker Laundry?

‘We’re big on reducing the overconsumption of footwear. The number of sneakers going into landfill each year is excessive. More than 25 million pairs of sports shoes end up in landfill in Australia every year,’ Eugene said.

The team also has plans to step up in size.

‘We are constantly innovating to tackle more problems people face in the sneaker world and won’t be stopping anytime soon.’

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