SneakersClinic: Turning a hobby into a business out of a Hougang HDB flat
Running a business selling sneakers out of a Hougang flat may seem like a ridiculous idea, but this is what Benjamin Lim did with SneakersClinic.
For any youth, mustering up the courage to ask their mother for a five-figure sum can be quite daunting.
Even then, the only response you might get is the classic Singlish phrase, siao ah! Your mother might even ask if you borrowed money from a loan shark – perhaps with her finger incessantly pointing to the temple on your head.
But Benjamin Lim, 26, did exactly that six years ago. Thankfully, his mother kept an open mind and trusted him enough. The result? SneakersClinic, a successful business selling and restoring sneakers.
The former Nanyang Polytechnic student started the business when he was in his final year of his studies. “I had a hobby of collecting sneakers,” Benjamin told Youth.SG. “Then I thought of restoring my sneakers that were older, so that’s how the name SneakersClinic came about.”
As he had studied interior design, Benjamin was naturally good with designing work. It was also why he initially started the business to do restoration work for older sneakers.
Restoring a shoe takes a lot more effort than he thought. Apart from sourcing the different sneaker parts, such as shoe soles, he had to learn how to replace them on the shoes.
“It takes about two days to three weeks to restore a shoe, depending on what needs to be done,” Benjamin shared. “A lot of things I learnt were from trial and error because it’s a craft that does not really exist in Singapore.
“I watched tutorial videos of restoring sneakers that were available on YouTube, so that helped me as well. I also messaged [the experts’] social media pages to ask for more tips.”
Gradually, Benjamin started bringing in sneakers from overseas – which was part of his hobby of collecting shoes – by using his personal savings.
“There were more and more sneakers delivered to our place,” recalled Benjamin’s mother, Soh Sok Moey.
“So I asked him why he was buying so many pairs of shoes! He told me he had the idea of doing the business of repairing sneakers after learning to repair his own. I thought it was a very good idea.”
Sok Moey, a 53-year-old accountant, shared that Benjamin also had the idea of collecting old sneakers that were thrown away by others, to restore and give them to the less fortunate living in third world countries.
“I thought it was nice, and I admired him for thinking about that at such a young age,” she said.
As the business slowly grew, it caught Sok Moey by surprise as Benjamin’s did not have much savings. She added that in the first year, Benjamin hadn’t asked her for money.
“I could see his passion and the amount of effort he put into running it,” Sok Moey said. It was also the reason Sok Moey told Benjamin to register Sneaker Clinic as a proper business after he completed his national service and helped him out financially.
“In life, there will always be difficulties, so if I can, I will just help out. That’s my attitude. He’s my kid, I know he won’t come to me unless he has an issue. If it is within my limit, I will do it for him.
“Who knows, maybe in the future he can provide for me and give me a good life,” she quipped.
To keep his expenses down, Benjamin ran the business out of the family home – a HDB flat in Hougang – with blessings from his parents. There are over 15 shelves in the house in the living room and his siblings’ bedroom, all containing sneakers from major brands such as Addias and Nike.
When asked about the clutter in the house, Sok Moey jokingly replied: “Can I regret it now?”
She added: “Honestly, I don’t regret it. As a parent, I should support my son especially if he is doing good work. While I didn’t expect the business to grow so fast, it’s also quite expensive to rent a warehouse outside and his monthly income might not be enough to cover it.
“He’s had his difficulties, but he has carried on. I hope that he can continue pushing himself.”
Benjamin told Youth.SG that he makes between $1,500 and $3,000 per month on average. During festive seasons like Christmas and Chinese New Year, the amount of orders increases and he can sell up to 120 pairs of sneakers in a month, compared to the usual 80 to 100 pairs.
He plans to expand his business to cater for regional clients, and do more pop-up shops during events like Sole Superior and Sneaker Con to increase his brand awareness.
“With more customers coming in from Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, it will be good for me,” he said. “Of course, I would also like to have a shop front of my own, but economically, it’s not feasible right now.”
What about the five-figure sum Sok Moey loaned to Benjamin, then? “Most of the amount I gave him has been returned,” said Sok Moey. “He has been giving me an allowance every month from what he earns, besides the amount he returns to me for the loan.
“I’ve seen the way he has grown from a shy boy who doesn’t dare to speak to customers, till now with the capability of handling everything on his own. Hopefully, he won’t be stressed out, and the business can be profitable and help the society.”