‚Äö?Ñ??We‚Äö?Ñ?¥ve started up a car cleaning service in one of our offices and hope to expand this across the city‚Äö?Ñ??
In Issue 5 of The Pavement
(Sept 2005), we reported on StreetShine
, a social entrepreneurial organisation founded by Nick Grant and Simon Fenton-Jones to offer work to homeless people. At the time we wondered how long it would last.
Today, it's signed up its 14th employee and looks set to become self-financing in the near future. StreetShine is a simple concept: it offers training as a 'shoe shine', the traditional London boot black, and agrees contracts with large corporations, particularly banks, in which they can ply their trade.
We spoke to Fenton-Jones about the milestones StreetShine has passed. "StreetShine employs 14 shoe shiners, working in more than 40 offices. We've set up a permanent stand within Coutts Bank and offer one-hour contracts in small offices. Turnover last year was about ¬¨¬£120,000." This is bodes well for the future. Fenton-Jones said: "StreetShine's aim has always to become self-sufficient and not reliant on grant funding. Recently, we've covered over 60per cent of our costs through revenues, and this is increasing each month."
With their growth, recruitment of hardworking shiners is vital, and this is getting easier as their name spreads. "StreetShine is fairly well known amongst the homeless agencies we work with, especially amongst the work and learning teams," Fenton-Jones said, adding: "We are finding we receive a combination of referrals from individuals and from support workers. Currently we're taking on approximately one person per month and have enough referrals to achieve this."
Retention is another problem for companies which invest in training, and StreetShine is keen to hang on to its workers. "The aim was for people to work with us for up to a year and then move on. Our average retention rate is currently more than one year." One employee has been with them for two and a half years, which confirms that they cater for people who want a long-term career and a job to give them a financial hand-up.
Is there any stigma attached to the work? When we first covered StreetShine, we questioned the nature of the business and whether the work was seen as degrading. Had StreetShine encountered this perception from prospective employees or agencies? "We encounter this less with time," Fenton-Jones said. "As we've proved, this is a viable job that pays reasonably well and which people enjoy; it is highly independent and you spend your day chatting. Funnily enough, I've never had any questions about whether car cleaning is degrading. The reality is, that is harder work and there is much less customer interaction."
This touches on the growth of StreetShine. "We've started up a car cleaning service in one of our offices and hope to expand this across the city." Was this the limit to StreetShine's expansion, or would they consider starting business using other skills they might find amongst readers? Fenton-Jones sees StreetShine sticking to its core business and name: "A lot of organisations provide job coaching etc for people with professional skills. The reason we are becoming more successful is that we have found a niche in the market that is relatively easy to train people to do, but the job also provides a lot of transferable skills, such as communication and customer service. It also taps into the CSR policies of the companies that use us. It's also much easier to find a job once you are already working, and we provide a lot more support than the typical job that our employees have been previously offered."
So StreetShine's doing well. "The main success is that we have a team of people working with us who've been with us some time and who enjoy their work," Fenton-Jones said. And the failures? "There've been a few areas we've tried to provide our service into, such as Government offices, where people simply won't pay for a shoe shine. We now focus on our main market, which is the City." The company's goals are to increase their staff to 20 and become financially self-sustaining. Fenton-Jones is also planning to "change perceptions about shoe shining so that it is seen as a craft that we perform passionately, with skill and pride.
And that's more than can be said about most cleaning McJobs."