Bob Galvin has taken a shine to Washington.
After 10 years of painting cars and peddling shoeshines on the streets of Boston and Washington, Galvin is the president of Bootblack Inc., a growing chain of high-class shoeshine stands located in some of the area's most heavily traveled and prestigious locations: Georgetown Park, International Square, the Sheraton-Washington Hotel and Crystal City Underground.
"I was bored with TV and wanted to do something other than paint cars," said Galvin of his initial venture.
For someone who was merely looking to escape boredom, Galvin has done fairly well in his first 15 months of operation. He is wary of explaining the details and figures connected with his operation, but says the Georgetown Park stand alone grossed $52,000 and realized a 20 percent profit in 1982.
"I've been making a profit with this business since day one," Galvin said. "You can put a stand together for $15,000 and still pull in a healthy bottom line." And, he adds, during a good week his four stands collectively can bring in up to $3,000.
Galvin, 26, has little time on his hands these days. In addition to overseeing his growing business, he also manages Four Seasons, the retail department store at Andrews Air Force base.
Galvin's wheeler-dealer style reflects his haphazard introduction to Washington private enterprise. He considers himself "just lucky" and says his introduction to his first financial backer was coincidental.
"I was peddling shoeshines on a corner of M Street in Georgetown with my cousin John," when he attracted the attention of Philip Ross, vice president of development for Western Development Corp., the initial owners of Georgetown Park. Galvin sold Ross a shine, got his business card and called him every six months until a deal was sealed.
"Bob is a show in himself," said Ross in describing their first meeting. He said Galvin, who was dressed in a candy-striped coat, pulled his customer and future backer from the sidewalk with a cane.
About 15 months later, Ross set Galvin up in his first antique shoeshine stand in Georgetown Park, then just opened. Galvin invested the $8,000 he had saved for a Porsche, and Western Development Corp. picked up the difference in the $15,000 tab. The result was the complete shine stand and sundry display cases that now adjoin it. hile other Georgetown Park vendors of comparable size pay about $15,000 per year in rent, Galvin said he pays only a percentage of his monthly take. In 1982, he paid $8,300. The management of Georgetown Park still maintains complete ownership of the stand in return for their original investment and Galvin and his brother, Richard, run the operation.
But the former Bostonian wanted to be an owner as well as a manager. Galvin said he used another $4,000 in savings and family loans to launch Bootblack Inc. in International Square, with the developers giving him the difference through "construction allowances." He now owns his stands in International Square and Crystal City Underground.
Galvin's overhead is low and uncomplicated compared to many new businesses. Both the salaries of his four employes and the rents on his floor space are proportional to the amount of business the stands bring in. He stocks a low inventory, too.
Galvin buys Lincoln brand shoe polish by the gross (about $1 per can); high-nap rags, 100 at a time and brushes, only 12 at a time. He said he wangled a deal on brown tuxedos for his fellow bootblacks and he keeps a couple in reserve. The cigarettes, cigars and candy he sells as a side to the Georgetown Park operation come from two local distributors.
The most expensive items purchased by Bootblack Inc., are the custom-built stands themselves, which cost up to $15,000.
Galvin has put together a family business. He employs his brother, father and cousins. They shine the shoes, he wheels the deals. And Galvin says he keeps a tight rein on his staff.
"If he's a bum, you get rid of him," he said. "If he makes good money and establishes a clientele, you make him your partner. When the big numbers start adding up--well, that's good.
"Everything on my stands is split 50-50--negotiable," he said. "My employe's percentage depends on how long he's been working on the stand and how well he's proved himself. Then, we can decide on a salary."
Brother Richard Galvin has run the Georgetown Park stand since he left the University of Florida last December. Cousins John and Steve Galvin work the stands at International Square and Crystal City Underground. Former busboy and friend Pat Thong Kum works the Sheraton-Washington location.
Galvin requires his "partners" to look sharp, dress sharp and follow a prescribed formula for the ultimate five-minute shine. They average 35 shines per day and take home from $200 to $300 a week--one half of the price of the shine plus their tip.
"I like my job--it's not bad and Bob is a good boss," says Kum, who sometimes works a seven-day week at the hotel when there are several conventions booked. Kum hopes to stay with Bootblack Inc. eventually to specialize in shoe repair.
"I'm as unique as the mall and probably the best-educated shoeshine person in America," boasts Richard Galvin, 25. He said his business and clientele keep growing in the swank Georgetown mall, although he sometimes works 60 hours per week and has little time for a social life. alvin has more projects in the works. He doesn't like to talk about the details, but sums them up in general terms. He said "the carpenters are ready to begin construction" of a newsstand--'Good News'--in Towson Plaza, outside Baltimore.
He also is negotiating a contract for a shoe-repair business with a major local department store and hopes to have it in operation by the end of the summer. Very tentative plans are in the works to open shoeshine stands in Boston's new Copley Plaza and "something in Harrisburg, Pa., I think," he said.
Though some businessmen might balk at Galvin's slap-dash business style, the young entrepreneur seems quite at home with his undertaking.
"I'm an easy guy," says Galvin. "I don't want to make a lot of money, just a little bit from everybody."