SHOELACES and polished leather have been a constant presence in Ron Rauert’s life since he started as a shoeman’s apprentice in his formative years.
So it comes as little surprise that the National Footwear Retailers Association has inducted the veteran Warrnambool businessman into its hall of fame.
Mr Rauert started in the footwear business straight out of school aged 14 in his native Dimboola and within five years operated his own store in Ballarat.
“There were about 60 shoe repair businesses in Ballarat back in the late 1940s because even general stores used to be in on the competition,” the 87-year-old said.
“You needed to be ahead of the rest. If a customer wanted their shoes repaired within two or three hours, that’s what I would do. The working days were long but the rewards were there if you were prepared to work.”
Mr Rauert moved to Warrnambool and opened a Fairy Street store in March 1950. His inexhaustible work ethic and marketing flair meant Rauert’s Shoes moved to the former Cosy Cafe premises in 1954, where it remains to this day.
“They say Liebig Street is Warrnambool’s main street but I’ve always held Fairy Street in high regard,” Mr Rauert said.
“I learnt a lot as an apprentice about presentation. We had a signwriter who put together this beautiful mural of an old woman in a shoe and it just grew from there.”
The landmark Fairy Street store was noted for its elaborate displays and in 1968, Mr Rauert incorporated Uncle Ron’s Train for small children to sit with their parents while they got their shoes fitted.
The train and mural remain a popular fixture nearly five decades on.
“Over time, mothers would come in with their sons or daughters and say they remembered getting their first pair of school shoes on Uncle Ron’s Train,” Mr Rauert said.
Keeping up with footwear fashion was also an important part of his business.
“I used to wear platform shoes when they were popular,” Mr Rauert laughed. “Not because I liked them but because you needed to keep up with the times and showcase all the stock we had.”
His son Peter Rauert took over the business in 1998 after several decades working alongside his father.