Derek Schwartz doesn’t look like your typical pedorthist. Or at least, that’s what many shoppers at his store in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., think. “Customers always have this weird look on their face when they find out I’m the owner,” said Schwartz, 32, who bought 40-year-old Nobile Shoes in 2016 and is preparing to open a second location.
“They say, ‘You look so young. You’re just a baby.’ Some of my employees get a kick out of vouching for me.” In spite of his youthful appearance, Schwartz has a strong track record in footwear. After landing a part-time job in his 20s at Tradehome Shoes in Minnesota, he found himself to be a natural on the selling floor. “I was quite successful selling shoes with some hard work and product knowledge to follow,” said Schwartz, who went on to work for Corey’s Bootery in Kalamazoo, Mich. It was there he was introduced to the pedorthics business. “I recall the second day there when [I was shown] how to do modifications,” he said. “I loved the idea of combining sales and helping people with foot issues, and I loved sitting with customers and getting to know their personal stories.”
Schwartz has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. Funded by his parents, along with the sale of a condo, jeep and motorcycle, he set out to start his own venture. He chose to focus on Florida to meet the needs of a more mature customer base of both locals and sunbirds. “The market in Florida, the demographics and the services in ortho-pedics and specialty shoes all made sense as a lasting career opportunity,” he said.
Today, Nobile Shoes provides footwear for everyday comfort shoppers and pedorthic customers. The 3,000-square-foot store in the NorthMil Plaza shopping center also operates a full-service shoe repair and pedorthics lab where it offers shoe modifications and custom orthotics. In addition to Schwartz, fellow pedorthist John Giovenco is always on-site.
But while Nobile caters to many customers with foot problems, Schwartz hopes to extend his reach to a younger, more fashion-forward audience by freshening up his style selection. “There will be more investment in an inventory with updated looks,” he said.
The store carries a range of brands in the comfort, casual and athletic markets, including Dansko, Merrell, SAS, Birkenstock, Sebago, New Balance and Brooks. Therapeutic lines (which account for about 25 percent of sales) include P.W. Minor, Xelero and Drew.
Schwartz’s second location is set to open this month in Delray Beach, Fla. A former comfort store there became available upon the retirement of its owner. Since it had carried merchandise similar to Nobile’s, the shop offered a readymade clientele. But to build up the business, Schwartz intends to work with local podiatrists and physical therapists on referrals, a successful arrangement he’s developed in Palm Beach Gardens.
The retailer is bullish about his prospects despite today’s doom-and-gloom predictions about the rise of e-commerce. “Hardly any of our clients are internet shoppers,” Schwartz said, noting that many require special fitting services. “We love to educate our customers so they [understand] the basics of shoe buying and orthotics. Those who shop our store are interested in physical health, appreciate being comfortable and seek out the knowledge and services we provide.”
And Schwartz isn’t intimidated by other retailers in the area. “We have a special customer who requires special product, and we have the skills to deliver them,” he said.
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