Heart and sole: Shoe Refresh opens doors in Champaign


Ryan Ash

Brandon Lehman assists customer at his business on Tuesday. Students have received services years before the store opened.

By Salem Isaf, Contributing Writer

Shoe Refresh recently opened its first brick and mortar storefront in Champaign, welcoming changes to the local business.

For the past two and a half years, students have turned to Shoe Refresh to fix up and polish off their dirtied shoes, and the use of this service has become a commonplace on campus.

Before this change, Shoe Refresh founders Brandon Lehman and Julian Carter were operating out of their house in the same kitchen they started the business in.

“A physical face, a storefront, was necessary in order to take that next step,” Lehman said.

The duo said having this store helps make their brand more recognizable and helps put an image to the name Shoe Refresh.

Along with the storefront, Lehman and Carter acquired a warehouse just down the road, which is now used for the actual shoe cleaning.

“It’s perfect for what we want to do,” Carter said.

The warehouse has helped to streamline the cleaning process, and it is much closer to campus than their previous cleaning station, making pickups and drop-offs of shoes quicker and cheaper.

Because they do the cleaning elsewhere, Lehman and Carter reserve the shop for the new side of their business: selling shoes and clothes. However, this shop doesn’t sell just any shoe. They are sticking to a small selection of hype shoes and clothes.

“We’re gonna have all this extra space, we should do something with it,” Lehman said. “We’re not trying to be Footlocker. We want this small, selective, exclusive, boutique high-end feel.”

Lehman and Carter  said They hope to differentiate themselves from online shoe stores and retailers in Chicago by offering free cleanings for in-store purchases.

The founders said hype stores are something a student from the suburbs of Chicago or an international student would be used to seeing at home, but there hasn’t been anything like that for them on campus before now.

Marketing to international students is a specific point of interest for Lehman. One way he has approached this is through a partnership with TeaMoji, a bubble tea cafe on Green Street.

“International students tend to be comfortable spending more money on shoe cleaning and do so more regularly,” said Jeffrey Cheng, TeaMoji’s marketing and branding intern.

There are signs inside of TeaMoji advertising its partnership with Shoe Refresh, and students can bring their shoes to the cafe ready for pick-up and cleaning.

Jack Neumann, junior in AHS and Shoe Refresh Brand Representative to Phi Delta Theta, said the opening of the storefront has created a lot more brand awareness for his customers.

Both customers and founders said they attribute Shoe Refresh’s increased popularity to its active social accounts in the wake of the opening. Its Instagram account is constantly posting updates on new arrivals of sneakers and who’s buying them, particularly University athletes.

“They’re very interactive,” Neumann said. “They always follow people back, and it feels like they’re students, too.”

Lehman and Carter expressed the work they’ve been putting in for the past two years has culminated in this storefront.

“(The storefront is) a chance to have a physical thing that shows the hard work, the fruits of our labor,” Carter said.

Even with all the changes to Shoe Refresh recently, Lehman and Carter emphasize they’re not straying away from their roots.

“We’re a shoe cleaning business; we’ll always be a shoe cleaning business,” Lehman said.

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