When it comes to shoes, sometimes it’s what’s inside that matters.
Insoles — whether for hard-core runners or everyday mall shoppers — have become big business at comfort stores, running independents and other shops. And some insole makers, such as Footbalance, Aetrex and eSoles, have upped the ante with in-store kiosks that can scan the foot, make product suggestions and even mold the insoles. And for the retailers using the devices, that personalized service is paying off with higher sales.
Skinny Raven Sports, a specialty running shop in Anchorage, Alaska, has seen its orthotics sales jump as much as 50 percent since bringing in a Footbalance kiosk earlier this year, according to Andrew Richie, who oversees accessory buying and website management for the shop. “People ask a lot of questions about [the kiosk], and when they see someone else getting their foot scanned, they want to get on right after,” he said. Richie estimated that almost half the store’s consumers have their feet scanned using the machine, and anywhere from a quarter to a third of those shoppers pick up a pair of the insoles.
The iStep system from Aetrex has helped Tyrone, Pa.-based comfort chain Shoe Fly Shoe Stores provide a higher level of customer service since 2003, said treasurer Todd Lewis. “It’s helped us to understand the foot better and put a lot more focus on matching shoes to foot types,” he said. “When you put the focus on proper fitting, price becomes less of a variable. Customers want to buy what’s best.”
And at Cycle Loft in Burlington, Mass., owner and President Jeff Palter said the eSoles’ kiosk has brought in mainstream and athletic customers. Because the footbeds can be used in a wide range of shoes, even customers shopping for bicycles for their kids have taken notice, he said. “It’s prominently displayed, and we’re always talking about it.”
Below, three insole makers reveal how their technology works and who is using it.
Aetrex Worldwide, Teaneck, N.J.
Technology: IStep Wave, a digital foot analysis system, utilizes a wireless technology that creates a multidimensional blueprint of the foot in fewer than 30 seconds. Retailers can place a monitor and iStep scanner, used to measure foot size, arch type and pressure points, anywhere in the store. The scan can then be transmitted to a handheld device, such as a Blackberry or iPhone. Customers can immediately be sent an e-mail or text message of their scans, increasing their involvement in foot health.
Insoles: The system matches customers’ foot types with Aetrex’s Lynco over-the-counter orthotics. Options include versions with metatarsal support, and/or medial posting that gently realigns the rearfoot and controls over-pronation. All orthotics are tri-density with a molded Pedic core to support the arch.
Retail base: More than 5,000 shops — mainly comfort independents and specialty running stores — utilize a non-wireless iStep scanning device, with the potential for these stores to transition to the new wireless system, said CEO Larry Schwartz.
Cost: IStep Wave will be offered free of charge to select retailers carrying Aetrex footwear and orthotics. It also can be rented for $150 to $250 a month, or purchased. Orthotics retail for $60.
Training: DVDs outline usage, and a free online instruction provides video conferencing and in-store training by sales reps.
ESoles LLC, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Technology: The eSoles 3D TruCapture Foot Imaging Kiosk is a do-it-yourself system that generates a foot scan and collects data about a shopper’s planned activities in order to suggest the appropriate insole. First, the customer walks on a pressure mat to gauge weight distribution, foot length, width and arch parameters. Next, they place their foot on a silicon bio-dynamic air pillow that conforms to the contours of the foot in a non-weight-bearing position. The 3-D image is created from the pressure mat data and provides a digital analysis of the individual’s footprint, comparing the data with eSoles’ database of more than 5,000 foot scans. Retail stores can then build an eFit custom footbed from a combination of size and shape variations, or a fully customized ePro version made at company headquarters. Additional footbeds can then be ordered on eSoles.com.
Insoles: The eFit insoles are available in three categories for a range of activities. They mold to the contours of a person’s foot with normal body heat. Metatarsal pads come in different heights to support the foot’s transverse arch and help prevent hot spots and numbness in the forefoot and toe. EFit insoles retail for $70, with ePro at $250.
Retail base: Sports specialty stores, doctors’ offices, rehabilitation facilities and warehouse clubs
Cost: The system is leased to retailers for a yearly fee of $5,000 to $8,000, and includes an initial 100 pairs of eFit footbeds, a POS display and training.
Training: In-store training by eSoles.
Footbalance, Helsinki, Finland (North American office: San Diego)
Technology: The goal of the Footbalance system’s customized inserts is to position the foot in an anatomically correct way. An integrated camera takes pictures of a shopper’s foot and ankle. Computer analysis of the pictures helps store associates guide users to stand on heated insoles and form the product to maintain the user’s foot and ankle in the right position. Once achieved, the associate checks the product to make sure it fits, and, if necessary, cuts the insole to fit the user’s shoes. The entire process should take less than 10 minutes, and the product is ready immediately.
Insoles: Footbalance’s product line includes women’s-specific insoles, ski and winter racing models, as well as product tailored to hiking, dress and casual use. All styles retail between $80 and $120.
Retail base: 300 stores globally, with 30 in the U.S. and Canada
Cost: Units are available for purchase or lease; price by negotiation
Training: Footbalance reps visit retailers for a multi-day training session, offering instruction on the use of the system and how to mold the insoles (during training the rep also oversees the unit in use). In addition to regular visits, tech reps are available on request, and the company is expected to finish a new online training manual and certification process in the third quarter.