Education: Robert M. Palmer, M.D., Institute of Biomechanics, Elwood, Ind.
Background: Habre joined the family-owned business at 16, working his way from delivery driver to sales. After eventually becoming operations manager, he found himself dealing with customers and co-workers twice his age. “I needed to find ways to distinguish myself and get past my lack of gray hair,” he said, noting that becoming a certified pedorthist would add to his credibility. “It also gave me the opportunity to increase the stores’ level of customer service and employee education.” Habre, the youngest in his pedorthics class, was also the store’s first certified pedorthist, though now longtime sales associate Greg Aalvik also has the same certification. And although Shoe Mill was already recognized for its fitting expertise, having experts on staff has improved the business.
Age matters: Habre said customers with children his age are more likely to trust him. “[Older customers] think, ‘What does he know that I don’t?’” he said. But Habre routinely visits the store’s seven locations to make his influence felt across the board. “I’m able to ensure [the shopping] experience stays fresh and young.”
Industry challenges: Many podiatrists worry about pedorthists taking a share of their orthotics business, Habre said. To avoid such conflicts, the store has a policy not to dispense orthotics to customers under a doctor’s care without a referral. “We’re clear about the boundaries. And we are concerned with our reputation in the [medical] community.”
Tactics: Habre familiarizes podiatrists with the store’s product offering at local organizations such as the Oregon Podiatric Medical Association and Oregon Physical Therapy Association.
Dave Sajdak, 24, manager Stan’s Fit for Your Feet, Brookfield, Wis. (three locations)
Education: Northwestern University Prosthetics — Orthotics Center, Chicago
Background: Sajdak followed in his father Jim Sajdak’s footsteps to become a certified pedorthist, which has given him a broader vision for the business. “My education inspired us to look at pedorthics in a different way,” he said. “It’s more about wellness, whereas we’d been very diabetic [oriented]. I challenged my father to use [our] pedorthic knowledge for a broader customer [base].”
Age matters: Sajdak is the youngest sales associate at the store’s Glendale location, where he’s been manager for three years. The wide age span makes for a more diverse team; however, when working with customers, his age has been a challenge. “You have to prove yourself, [especially] if a [customer] wants to see the manager,” he said. “But once they start talking to me, they’re surprised when they realize I know more than they thought.” Sajdak is one of five staff pedorthists and the most recent to be certified. “There are new tricks in casting,” he said. “I’ve taught one of our pedorthists who needed a refresher on the subject.”
Industry challenges: “Pedorthics scares people,” said Sajdak, referring to the medical implications. To change those views, Stan’s promotes the wellness side of pedorthics. “It’s about wellness of the whole body and feet. People are more health savvy and want to be proactive.” Sajdak also has seen an uptick in younger customers. Even parents are bringing their children into the store with questions about foot pronation, he said.
Tactics: Sajdak gives presentations on foot health and wellness at area hospitals, health clubs and corporations.
Matt Bertrand, 26, store manager, Bergeron Shoes, Sanford, Maine
Education: Oklahoma State University, Okmulgee, Okla.
Background: When his 30-year-old uncle, a certified pedorthist at the family-owned store, died four years ago, Bertrand was asked by his grandfather, Dick Bergeron, to come on board. With no prior industry experience, Bertrand worked in the store’s lab alongside his grandmother, Marie Bergeron, also a pedorthist. “[Shoe modification] is a form of art,” said Bertrand. “My grandmother taught me to think outside the box to create shoes for people who can’t wear off-the-shelf looks. It’s excellent to help someone walk again without pain.”
Age matters: Bertrand said he sometimes encounters skepticism from consumers regarding his experience. “There’s no better feeling than proving someone wrong,” he said. “I get customers who say, ‘You’re [only] 26,’ but it takes just a few minutes to build up their confidence. They respect me more after.” Because more young people are coming into the store with foot issues connected to running, Bertrand is expanding the store’s footwear offering in that category. “We have the education to know what [runners] need,” he said.
Industry challenges: The selection of fashionable comfort looks has been limited, said Bertrand. However, over the past two years, he’s noticed the offering growing. “[Vendors] are understanding that women may be 80, but want to look 30.” The biggest change has been in sandals, with a broader choice in removable footbed looks.“It’s a legitimate [category] now,” he said.
Tactics: Bertrand is reaching out to consumers through area physical therapists, who sometimes refer clients to doctors for shoe modification and over-the-counter orthotics.