Helsinki’s most famous shoe shop survives through tenacity

Jun 2, 2022

Over the past five decades, Harri Hasa, the owner of Alppilan Kenkä, has experienced recessions, financial crises and a pandemic. This is how the 73-year-old shopkeeper has managed on his difficult entrepreneurial path.

On Porvoonkatu in Helsinki, there is a 56-year-old brick-and-mortar shop that is already a legend. And so is its owner. Harri Hasa has been running Alppilan Kenkä since 1978, the year he bought the family business from his parents.

“I worked in the shoe shop since I was a young boy, and in the process I learned a lot about making sales and the shoe industry. My father paid me a little better than average to keep me from seeking greener pastures. Apparently it worked, since I’m still here,” says 73-year-old Harri, amused.

The path he chose has not been smooth. Fifteen years ago, Alppilan Kenkä still had three shops and a turnover of over one million euros. In the 1990s, the economy was shaken by the recession and in 2007 by the financial crisis. Hasa had to give up two shops and their staff. He has been a sole entrepreneur for almost ten years now.

“Twice I have lost my home, but my company has never gone bankrupt yet. I’ve always wanted to pay my debts and expenses conscientiously.”

Hasa cannot be accused for lack of tenacity. When the pandemic forced the customers home a couple of years ago and the company’s bottom line was once again hanging in the balance, Hasa was forced to close the shop for a month. Soon, however, he decided to keep the shop open, even for one customer at a time.

In the window of his shoe shop, Hasa hung large yellow signs with the appeal to “Save Alppilan Kenkä”. He had to try everything.

“It worked well and made Helsinki residents come shopping in droves. I’m grateful to every customer who wants to keep small shops in business.”

Entrepreneur wishes for lower costs

In recent years, small brick-and-mortar shops have closed for more than just because of the pandemic. Many people think this is due to the growth of e-commerce, but Hasa has a different theory.

“It’s hypermarkets like Prisma and Citymarket that do the most harm to brick-and-mortar shops. And I do understand customers; it’s convenient to buy shoes and clothes during grocery shopping. However, for us small entrepreneurs, it’s a bit of a bad thing. Consumers also suffer as the choice of products becomes more limited.”

Hasa has kept the range of Alppilan Kenkä varied by closely following customers’ wishes and global shoe trends.

“The demand for heels is down. Women now wear sneakers with party dresses, and they are also used as work shoes in various service sectors, and so I’ve increased my selection of sneakers.”

Hasa believes that if the cost structure of entrepreneurship were adjusted, entrepreneurs would be in a better position to prosper.

“Employer contributions could be lower for businesses with fewer than five employees. This would encourage small entrepreneurs to hire workers which, in turn, would benefit the state treasury through tax revenue. In the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, the wages of people on low incomes should be increased anyway so that people would have more purchasing power and money would keep moving. In the end, it would benefit everyone.”

New customers and ideas for brick-and-mortar shops

Timo Suokas, Senior Business Advisor at NewCo Helsinki, agrees on the importance of encouraging small entrepreneurs.

“Micro-enterprises with fewer than ten employees are significant employers in Finland. They also hold on to their staff during difficult times and do not easily dismiss employees. And that is why small businesses deserve all possible support,” says Suokas.

Timo Suokas

Timo Suokas, Senior Business Advisor.

Over the past few years, the pandemic has put many brick-and-mortar shops like Alppilan Kenkä in a tight spot. In the opinion of Suokas, Harri Hasa has acted wisely in using all means to maintain sales.

“Entrepreneurs must be alert and market their products open-mindedly. The ‘Save Alppilan Kenkä’ campaign is a good example of the value of creative marketing. It’s not enough for the company to be on social media and the internet – it’s more important to think about the way you do things there and how to get people’s attention.”

The biggest challenge for long-established brick-and-mortar shops is often developing their business and attracting new customers. Timo Suokas reminds that networking is also important for experienced entrepreneurs.

“Even if you exchange ideas with an entrepreneur in a completely different field, you can always gain ideas, peer support and a new enthusiasm for the work.”

NewCo Helsinki regularly organises events for entrepreneurs where they can receive and share information and, above all, network with other entrepreneurs. Information about upcoming events can be found on our event calendar.

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