Build it and they will come. That’s what Joe Paul, founder of Good Feet Worldwide, was banking on when he opened his first arch-support store in Solana, Calif., in 1992. Initially, he distributed the Alznner brand exclusively, but the store concept spread as friends and family began opening sister locations on their own, and it wasn’t long before Paul and his wife, Rosalin, realized that a more diverse product offering was needed.
After seeking input from foot specialists and researchers, the couple introduced in 2000 a full range of prefabricated arch supports under the Good Feet label, to be sold exclusively through its network of stores, which today numbers more than 140 units in 42 states, as well as in Canada, Puerto Rico and Korea.
The Carlsbad, Calif.-based company was sold to a private investor in 2004, when it also switched to franchising. According to Leigh Woeller, director of marketing, Good Feet now bows 24 to 30 stores annually, with Atlanta, Houston and Tucson, Ariz., among the most recent openings. Initial startup costs range from $91,000 to $190,000 per store, depending on the location. And Good Feet requires a monthly royalty of 5 percent of gross sales from each franchisee, with 2 percent as a management fee and 3 percent for an advertising fund.
To unify the look of its stores, which range from 900 to 1,200 square feet, Good Feet tapped Minneapolis-based retail design specialist Stein LLC to create a new blueprint. According to President Sandy Stein, Good Feet’s original living-room-style format was out of sync with its role as a paramedical facility.
With a budget of just $25,000 per store to be paid for by the franchisee, the firm created a wall graphic highlighting the brand’s proprietary Three-Step System. In addition, the plan called for individual fit stations, where clients can meet privately with specialists. Introduced last spring, the new store design is being rolled out in two doors a week.
THE RIGHT MIX
Good Feet exclusively offers its own custom-fit arch supports, produced in its California factory. About 500,000 pairs are sold annually. The assortment consists of 25 styles in more than 300 sizes for varying levels of support, which are categorized according to the company’s Three-Step System: Exercise, the most supportive versions; Maintain, with less-aggressive styles; and Relax, offering minimal support. The products retail from $60 to $300.
“People are looking for relief from pain,” said Woeller, about the stores’ diverse customer base. She noted, however, that Good Feet staffers are not medical professionals and that customers with serious foot-related problems are directed to first see a doctor.
Though arch supports are the mainstay of the business, Good Feet’s merchandise is rounded out with a modest footwear offering from brands including P.W. Minor, MBT, Spira, Xsensible, Propét, New Balance, Brooks and Cogent, as well as a selection of therapeutic socks and Good Feet-branded foot lotions. SERVICE ISSUES
Each franchisee is provided with a week-long training program at the company’s Franchise Support Center, and an online training certification program is offered for store associates. In addition, Good Feet provides ongoing training resources that include a two-day annual convention and refresher training courses via the Web, DVDs and seminars. In addition, Dean Handt, director of retail operations and development (and owner of three Good Feet stores in Minnesota), offers onsite training at individual stores. Since the arch supports often require a break-in period, sales associates are required to follow up with customers after each sale, at one-, two- and three-week intervals. “We do a lot of follow-up,” Woeller said. “If they’re not comfortable, consumers can come back for something else.”
Woeller said marketing is “pivotal” to communicating the Good Feet message. The company provides its franchisees with ad spots and infomercials for TV and radio. Individual store owners are responsible for their own advertising costs. According to Jeff Ando, director of franchising and a franchise owner in Northern California, initial grand-opening advertising costs can range from $5,800 to $24,250, depending on the market and number of stores.
The company also is getting a little help from a famous face: Emmitt Smith (above, right). A Good Feet employee sent the football legend (and “Dancing With the Stars” contestant) a pair of arch supports after hearing him complain about his aching feet on the TV show. An instant convert, Smith wound up signing on as a Good Feet spokesperson and now appears in ads and on the company’s Website.
Although the tough economy is challenging most retailers, Woeller said Good Feet has not been affected, even with its better price points. “When you’re in pain, you need to feel better in order to go out and do your job,” she said, referring to the benefits of the arch supports. “It’s not a luxury product, it’s something people need to have.”
For brands with removable orthotic options, Good Feet can be an ideal venue.
Geoff Langley, director of sales for Vancouver, British Columbia-based Xsensible, said his brand’s focus on footwear with removable footbeds provides the stability to allow Good Feet arch supports to function properly.
Similarly, Kathy Antinore, product manager for Batavia, N.Y.-based P.W. Minor, said that since her company’s shoes are available in a broad range of depths and widths, they can easily accommodate Good Feet’s wide variety of arch supports.
Neighborhood vibe: Good Feet stores are typically located in strip centers for easy customer access.
Customer base: Men and women of all ages, particularly workers who are on their feet all day.
Competition: Since Good Feet arch supports are personally fitted and not measured according to shoe size, the brand does not compete with over-the-counter or drug-store products. And since the supports are not considered a medical product, Good Feet does not compete with podiatrists either.