Where in London do you live and/or work?
I live outside of London in Berkshire in a town called Warfield, so I commute from Bracknell to Waterloo. We recently opened our second location in The Royal Exchange [the original TopShine is located in Burlington Arcade]. I’ve been a huge admirer of this location for many years and finally the opportunity came up last year, and I was overwhelmed when they allowed us to provide our shoe shine service to customers inside the courtyard of this historic building. In the past, we used to be outside but in bad weather that wasn’t pleasant and didn’t really work. Now that we have been given this opportunity inside the courtyard we can look forward to the future ahead providing shoe shine service to our customers all year round.
What’s your earliest memory of London?
I arrived in the UK in 2001 and my first memory – and something that I’ll always remember – was cars driving on the left-hand side. It was difficult to get used to it because, for someone from south Europe, we automatically turn our heads to the right but now I had to turn left. So that was a little bit weird – I’m glad I didn’t get any injuries!
What makes London special to you and why did you move here?
Initially it was just to come and study English, then pick up a business idea to establish back in Greece, where I lived with my family from 1996. I’m originally from Albania, we moved to Greece during the difficult times Albania was experiencing at that time and then, five years later, I decided to came in the UK. Once I arrived in London, I was overwhelmed; it was too good to leave. London is diverse and there are lots of opportunities for everyone; there are lots of people from different backgrounds. And it’s stunning. I love beautiful cities and I can’t think of a city more beautiful than London. It’s something that we shouldn’t take for granted.
How would you describe London in three words?
Diverse, cosmopolitan, beautiful.
What are your favourite things to do in the City?
I used to come to the City in the early 2000s. The business started in Jermyn Street and eventually had to move near Moorgate. I used to take a little footrest stool with me around so I could offer shoeshine services to customers next to a coffee shop. Later on I decided to visit client in their offices and that continued for about five years. What I love about the City – and I still love it now – is the architecture. We are in one of the most iconic buildings, The Royal Exchange, but everywhere you turn in the City there’s history and old-meets-new architecture. There are so many beautiful historical buildings and skyscrapers around. I also love the small artisan shops around the area too.
What is the concept of TopShine?
It’s my brand, and my wife came up with my name. She suggested including something with my name, so we used part of my family name in ‘TopShine’ (Topi is my family name). All the shoe care products that I use are TopShine, but it’s the service that I’m very passionate about. The concept is the service and the culture of a shoeshine service that we had in the past, where a gentleman would have three or four pairs of shoes and they would maintain and look after them by shining them regularly. That culture looks like its slowly fading away, so I thought, if the demand is there, we just need to be more out there. So I decided to get a box, but I wanted more comfort and style, so I had the throne chair made, which looks very presentable. And in places like The Royal Exchange, you’ve got to look at the interior and match it as much as you can without losing the service and passion. I recently became a franchise, which I’m hoping will kickstart with more people coming back to the offices now.
Who would be your dream client?
For us, everyone is a dream client. I can’t pinpoint one person. Everyone that comes into our chair is a dream client; they’ve made an effort to support us and to have their shoes done professionally. Everyone can polish their shoes, don’t get me wrong, it’s not rocket science. But we are good at what we do. It’s a service that I’m very passionate about and proud of and have been doing for 20 years.
What’s your usual morning routine?
Because I live an hour and a half from London, I could catch the early train and be at work by 8:30. But that would mean missing precious time with my wife and three kids. So I get a later train so that I can have breakfast with them before they go to school. Sometimes I don’t get home until late, so I want to have a glimpse of the family at least once a day. That’s very important for me and for them. I cycle to the train station and then walk from Waterloo to Burlington Arcade, or take the City line to come to The Royal Exchange. At work I meet and greet lots of clients – new clients and old – maybe some familiar faces that I’ve seen either here or in Burlington Arcade. And we make them feel special. I’m always interested in getting to know them: what they do and why they’re good at it. There are so many different characters and different personalities.
London is diverse and there are lots of opportunities for everyone
What do you like to do outside of work?
My hobby is coaching football. I coach under-10s boys and girls, including my own son. During my commute to work I plan my training sessions and preparation for the match day and listen to coaches’ podcasts. It’s a bit boring, but the more I learn from professional coaches, the more I can improve, and the more I improve the more I can pass on to the kids so that they can become better players. And it’s not just about playing football; at this age, they learn life skills and build their confidence by learning to play as a team and how to be a good winner or loser.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
That would be my mum’s advice: you decide how your day is going to be. At first, I didn’t really think much of it but now I understand the meaning behind it. People will always give you stress but it’s up to you how you decide to handle that stress or accept that negativity. It’s another way of saying that, when people throw lemons, you can either eat them and be sour, or you can make lemonade. Although in my case it would be a gin and tonic!
Top Shine services are available at The Royal Exchange from 10am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. Discover more at shoeshineservice.co.uk