In this first in a new series, FN profiles some of the most influential independent shoe stores in the U.S.
These comfort retailers, listed below, remain committed to the well-being of their customers. Not only do they curate a selection of stylish health-minded shoes, but they go above and beyond with their service by continuing to offer the expertise of certified pedorthists.
Owner: Jeff Seidman
Locations: 1 (Arlington Heights, Ill.)
Top brands: SAS, New Balance, Finn, Vionic, Naot, Hoka One One
2019 initiatives: “We’re focused on bringing brands to the store seasonally for events. Since consumers are exposed to more product than we can carry in four walls, events help expand [the selection],” said Seidman.
Competitive tactics: “Pedorthics sets us apart. It’s something shoppers can’t get online — they can’t discuss problems with a [professional]. And it’s easier to come into a store once than to ship shoes back and forth online.”
Owner: Randy Brown
Locations: 1 (Washington, Mo.)
Top brands: New Balance, Brooks, Keen, Birkenstock, Vionic
Competitive tactics: “I’ve developed relationships with orthopedic surgeons, podiatrists and sports medicine doctors to offer patients access to custom orthotic services. Many orthotics labs see razor-thin margins on reimbursements by insurance companies. Since we’re out-of-network, the profit margins on custom orthotics are greater. It covers the cost of our medical marketing and [certified pedorthist] education,” said staff C.Ped Chad Brown.
Owners: Fred and Lori Chiappetta
Locations: 1 (Kenosha, Wis.)
Top brands: New Balance, Dansko, Taos, Birkenstock, Finn Comfort
2019 initiatives: “On our website, we’re [updating] our speed and product page layouts. We’ve also introduced Grind House Reviews, a video series where we tell a story about a product, even cutting shoes in half to detail their construction,” said Fred Chiappetta.
Competitive tactics: “Pedorthics is a dying profession but has extreme growth potential because of the need in the marketplace. The challenge is finding referral sources willing to send customers, as well as operating outside of the insurance networks.”
Owner: Luis Altoro, co-owner and VP
Locations: 1 (Leawood, Kan.)
Top brands: Finn Comfort, Ziera, New Balance, Joya, KyBoot
2019 initiatives: “It’s always been a priority to identify and recruit other health professionals and clinicians as partners,” said Altoro.
Competitive tactics: “We stay on top of vendors’ and products’ therapeutic value that can transcend our customers’ expectations.”
Owner: Robert Schwartz
Locations: 3 (New York)
Top brands: Aetrex, Birkenstock, Christian Dietz, Finn Comfort, Hassia
2019 initiatives: “We’re opening our fourth store in May on Manhattan’s Upper East Side,” said Schwartz.
Competitive tactics: “We’re investing in brands not broadly distributed in the U.S. These allow us to offer better value since there’s no middleman, while increasing our margins. We also hold weekly classes to educate our staff and other pedorthic professionals, and conduct the Eneslow Pedorthic Institute, a two-day summer education program.”
Owner: Dave Levy, co-owner
Locations: 4 (Connecticut)
Top brands: Aetrex, New Balance, Birkenstock, SAS, Taos
Competitive tactics: “We’re shopping Europe for brands that are not on Amazon. There’s a sea of the same stuff in the market. In Europe, we find product that’s cool, and the quality is great,” said Levy.
Owner: Rick Ravel
Locations: 2 (Texas)
Top brands: Vionic, Naot, Finn Comfort, Dansko, Mephisto
2019 initiatives: “To expand our athletic market, we’re planning a running event [coordinated] by a marathoner now working at the store,” said Ravel. “We’re also adding New Balance children’s styles in a range of widths. This could get 30-something parents into the store.”
Competitive tactics: “We do associate training, such as a Skype session with a sales professional from Vionic, to take salesmanship to the next level.”
Owner: Jim Wellehan
Locations: 6 (Maine)
Top brands: Dansko, Birkenstock, New Balance, Keen, Brooks, Merrell
2019 initiatives: “We’re working on cutting our carbon footprint in half by 2020 and are strengthening and standardizing the associate training programs we use,” said Wellehan. “On the technology front, we’re adding a ‘buy online, pick up in-store’ function to our website.”
Owners: Mark Goldsmith, Binyamin Levin, Brian Goldsmith
Locations: 8 (North and South Carolina)
Top brands: Alegria, Birkenstock, Dansko, Vionic, Aetrex
Competitive tactics: “We give customers an experience many stores have [moved] away from, such as measuring feet to make sure shoes fit the foot and not the other way around,” said Brian Goldsmith.
Owners: John Luck and Tom Luck
Locations: 4 (Ohio)
Top brands: Vionic, Taos, Rieker, Dansko, Birkenstock
2019 initiatives: “We’ve looked at our selling process and turned it around 180 degrees. It’s about what the customer expects of us,” said John Luck.
Competitive tactics: “We’re focusing on the [in-store] experience. We want to make it impossible for [other chains] to compete with us.”
Owner: Ken Morgan
Locations: 1 (Madison, Wis.)
Top brands: Naot, Birkenstock, Finn Comfort, Dansko, Mephisto
Competitive tactics: “Customer service, building relationships and sticking to our roots as a sit-and-fit store. We might be higher-priced than the internet, but customers don’t come here to save money — we’re solving problems,” said CEO Jeff Langner.
Owner: Derek Schwartz
Locations: 2 (Florida)
Top brands: Revere, Dansko, Ecco, New Balance, Brooks and Kizik
2019 initiatives: “Weeding out brands and stock that are collecting dust and instead focusing deeper on product that moves,” said Schwartz.
Competitive tactics: “Having the right products to treat customers’ ailments, along with buying stock that delivers better margins and clearing out items to turn inventory quicker.”
Owner: John Schuler, CEO
Locations: 9 (Minnesota)
Top brands: New Balance, Dansko, Haflinger, Ziera, Dunham
2019 initiatives: “Our C.Peds are reaching out to the medical community by [visiting] doctors’ offices,” said Schuler.
Competitive tactics: “It comes back to the customer experience. We have to make sure the experience is a ‘wow.’ We also need to have inventory to compete with the internet. If the customer takes the time to drive to the store, you’d better have what they want.”
Owner: Todd Lewis, president
Locations: 6 (Pennsylvania)
Top brands: New Balance, SAS, Red Wing, Dansko, Vionic
2019 initiatives: “We’re broadening our store’s appeal to a younger customer. We’ve made [our] marketing a little smarter, with more lifestyle photos to reach customers between 35 and 50,” said Lewis.
Competitive tactics: “In the past three years, we’ve closed our three smallest locations and expanded two of our largest. Two of the closed ones were in large cities, but volume was small. Instead of growing them slowly, we reinvested in markets where we’re better established.”
Owner: Jim Sajdak, president and CEO
Locations: 3 (Wisconsin)
Top brands: New Balance, SAS, Earth, Hoka One One, Finn Comfort
2019 initiatives: “We invested in redoing our TV spots on local networks. We also deliver them online through streaming services since not everyone watches network TV anymore,” said Sajdak.
Owner: Ron Waxberg
Locations: 1 (Niles, Ill.)
Top brands: New Balance, Naot, Ziera, Finn Comfort, Drew
2019 initiatives: “A greater focus on social media to introduce a younger audience to our store. We’ve hired some younger people in our marketing department to get on that bandwagon,” said Waxberg.
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