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Tom Park OWNER Leather Soul


YOUNGprofessional

[ BY JO A RCHIBA L D | P HOTO BY DAV E MI YA MOTO ]

THE

SOLE MAN • Tom Park •

When you open the door to Leather Soul, you’re greeted with an earthy bouquet of fine leather. The scent is strong and the store is handsomely appointed, speaking of refined craftsmanship and impeccable taste. Leather Soul strives to be the perfect fit for gentlemen who insist on quality, comfort and style. The soul of Leather Soul is owner Tom Park. His bedroom closet testifies to his passion for shoes, with approximately fifty pairs of Aldens, fifteen Edward Greens, six John Lobbs, and several bespoke shoes by George Cleverley. Tom’s infatuation began at the age of 5 when he received his first pair of Nike Air Jordans. Shoes captivated him, and as a young man he insisted on wearing the latest styles. When he got a job at a luxury shoe store during college, he knew he’d found his calling. The entrepreneurial streak comes from his mother, who ran her own floral shop for twentyfive years. She showed him that in business you get back what you put in. “She taught me to work hard and love what I do,” he smiles. “I love shoes.” Today Leather Soul is a thriving business with $4 million in annual sales and a devoted following at its locations in Waikiki and Beverly Hills. But the young owner is honest about the challenges he faced. “It’s not easy to start a business when you’re 26,” says Tom, now an established retailer at the age of 33. “People don’t take you seriously when you’re young. They don’t want to give you the time of day.” Tom recalls attending shoe trade shows and being dismissed by the very shoemakers he most respected when he approached them about selling their lines in his store. Yet, he adds, with a tinge of pride, “A couple of years later, they came to me.” Now seven years old, Leather Soul is the exclusive US retailer of highly respected brands George Cleverley and Saint Crispin’s. It’s also one of the few retailers to boast a design partnership with the prestigious Alden Shoe Company of New England. After visiting the Alden factory last year, Tom suggested reissuing a vintage slip-on chukka boot, this time in shell cordovan leather, a soft,

supple and durable leather that takes over six months to fashion. Retailing at $625, the handcrafted shoe sold out quickly, with more buyers on a waiting list that will take over a year to clear. When asked what wisdom he’d like to share, Tom returns to themes of persistence and growth “within reason.” In 2004 he started modestly with money he had saved, opening a 500-squarefoot space in downtown Honolulu and marketing to local businessmen. The local response was lukewarm, and it wasn’t until a Japanese tourist sought out his store and spent $900 that Tom saw Leather Soul’s true potential. Two years later he closed his downtown store and tested the waters with a 200-squarefoot office space off Kalakaua Avenue. Open only four hours a day, the tiny location quickly outsold his larger shop. Leather Soul was evolving into a destination store, and once again Tom made his next move, relocating— within reason—to the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. Although Leather Soul’s revenue easily qualified for a high-traffic, street-level space, Tom preferred the intimacy and exclusivity of being off the beaten path. “We’re not sell, sell, sell,” he says. “We want to form relationships. We want them to find the right shoes and the right fit.” As it turns out, Leather Soul’s hand-picked team of seven has nurtured relationships so well that customers bring gifts to the store and even take the employees out to dinner. Leather Soul’s blog also plays a large role in customer communications. With an average of almost four thousand hits a day, Park regularly updates the blog with the latest styles. If he’s a week late—he laughs—the customers remind him. Last year Leather Soul opened a second store on Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. Park considered a third location in New York, but the Hawai‘i store was doing so well that he decided the extra work wasn’t worth it. He tries to maintain a balanced life, spending time with his wife, son and daughter. In fact, on the day of our interview, he was just a busy dad getting ready to move his family into a new home—and you can bet he took extra care moving the shoes. ◗

“We’re not sell, sell, sell. We want to form relationships. We want them to find the right shoes and the right fit.”

Leather Soul • 808.922.0777 • info@leathersoul.com • LeatherSoul.com • 2233 Kalakaua Avenue, #301, Honolulu, HI 96815

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Tom Park for Pacific Edge Magazine