A Cobblers Trade
(Ron Rauert in 2014)
By way of introduction we discover a local legend in the Australian footwear industry Ron Rauert, a Victorian born and bred cobbler and footwear retailer. Starting young and spending all his life in the footwear trade, this article narrates the story of Ron from young apprentice to entrepreneur and businessman.
Ron retired from the business he built from the ground up on the 5th Aug 1996, 50 years from the day he started business. It was a great and very pleasant surprise for Ron when he was inducted into the Australian National Footwear Retailers Association Hall of fame in 2014.
(Working over a cast iron shoe form)
Back at the beginning it was a young Ron who was offered an apprenticeship in shoe repairing while still at school. He was only 14, living in Dimboola (a country Victorian town) during the war years and the offer of an apprenticeship was one too good to pass up. It was 1941, his boss was very much ‘old school’ and taught Ron from the ground up including all aspects of shoe and surgical repairs. His boss would often say “If it’s worth doing Ron, it’s worth doing well, no matter how long it takes, but remember Ron, try to be quicker next time!”
After 5 years as an apprentice in Dimboola, at age 19, Ron opened his own shoe repair business in the then progressive Ballarat, which had about 60 repair shops at the time. It was 1946, and with his life savings of 150 pounds, Ron fitted his new shop out with second-hand army disposal machinery and built his own repair bench and counter.
“Cobble: to mend or make boots and shoe.
A cobbler is a craftsmen that users leather, jute, wood, rubber and plastic to fashion or repair footwear.
With changes in the apparel and footwear industries to volume production, the traditional cobbler and cordwainers operate at the pointy end of the spectrum, making finely crafted shoes and boots one pair at a time or doing repairs.”
(Rauert's Shoex early 1950's)
At the dawn of the 1950’s, Ron had heard of greener pastures in Warrnambool, Victoria the population at the time being 9000. Opting to make the move he purchased a run down shoe repair business in Fairy St. Ron cleaned up the shop and added his own sparkle and flair.
Over time the business flourished. Within in a few weeks he had an Apprentice, then a tradesman - then another. Within a year of opening the new business in Warnambool, Rauert’s ambition to sell a few shoes paid off as he stocked a few basic work boots, rubber boots and a hand full of men’s shoes and slippers - ‘Nothing too adventurous’ said Ron.
(Traditional Hobnailed Boot)
Business was now really prospering, Ron remembers some Saturday mornings when the little shop was so busy that people lined up in the street. A pair of Hobnailed boots cost 9/6p back then.
In 1955 Ron had out grown the original small shop and purchased a new premises just up the street. At that time he employed six shoe repairers from the mid-1950’s to the early 1960’s. Then, the presence of thongs, synthetic footwear and PVC soles saw the beginning of disposable footwear and fashion. This caused a gradual decline in the industry of shoe repairing. Ron shifted his business emphasis and employed ten full-time sales staff, as the footwear sales side of the business began to take off.
It was the 1960’s and business was really booming. So much so, that the local Hair Dresser next door said, “You’re going to have to do something Ron, people just can’t get served with the queues”. So in 1968 he doubled the size of the store and had the famous “Uncle Ron’s shoe fitting train for kids” made and installed.
(Rauert's Shoex late 1980's)
The 1980’s saw Senator Button’s plan to de-regulate the footwear and clothing textiles industry to make Australia a level playing field with the rest of the world. Cheap footwear poured into Australia and one by one many of Australia’s shoe factories either went off shore or closed down. Today there are only a handful of textiles both clothing and footwear made in Australian factories.
With Ron’s retirement in 1996, his son Peter took over the reins of the business. Peter has sustained Rauerts Shoex as a market leader in Warrnambool, Victoria in what has become a very competitive and ever changing retail environment. The store still employs one full time shoe repairer.