Foot in the door

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Chances are, the shoes on your feet are the wrong size for you, according to the American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society.

The organization reports 88 percent of Americans wear the wrong size shoes, and 73 percent of those will have to go to a foot specialist during their lifetime. In non-shoe wearing societies, only about 2 percent of people need to see doctors for foot pain.

”Shoes have the potential to do a lot of damage,” says John Luck, vice president, medical relations for Lucky Shoes, a 13-store chain in Northeast Ohio. ”They did a study on rickshaw runners, people who run for 20 miles on concrete a day, and they had no incidence of foot pain, no incidence of calluses, no corns, no heel pain. You take the average 40-year-old in the United States and they’re going to have one of those conditions.”

With all those people walking around with sore feet and ankles, John and his father, Tom, the company’s president, thought of a unique marketing initiative to bring more customers into their shoe stores. The Lucks attended a training seminar and met two men who were certified pedorthists, medical professionals who help create or modify footwear and custom devices based on a doctor’s advice. They are often called ”pharmacists of the foot.”

”Since doctors of most types only get a total of one credit hour of footwear (during their training), they really don’t know what’s available,” Tom Luck says. ”What we’re trying to do is make them aware of the products available.”

Luck realized if pedorthists were stationed in his stores, it would not only increase customer traffic, it would increase sales of the more expensive orthopedic shoes he carries. Here’s how Lucky Shoes marketed its pedorthist program.

Partnering

After going back to school to earn pedorthist certification, John Luck and the company’s advertising director designed pamphlets and other promotional materials to display in doctors’ and physical therapy offices. With few stores in the area offering the same service, Lucky has a market advantage with four foot specialists serving the chain.

Strategic new hires

Tom Luck hired Joe D’Avello, former president of Rivlin’s Shoes in Akron, who became a certified pedorthist shortly after the certification program was created in 1972. At Lucky, he builds on the network of orthopedic surgeons and podiatrists he’s met over almost 40 years in the industry to bring in new customers as referrals.

Word-of-mouth

With 88 percent of Americans walking around in the wrong size shoes, people are bound to talk about their sore feet with their neighbors and co-workers. But nobody likes going to the doctor.

That’s why consulting one of Lucky’s pedorthists doesn’t require a doctor’s prescription. Luck can recommend specialty footwear or shoe inserts based on his expertise, but if a problem is serious enough, he’ll recommend the customer see a doctor.

”You can go anywhere and buy a pair of shoes, but you can’t go anywhere and get fit in a pair of shoes by a professional,” Tom Luck says. ”Now we’ve gone the next level. We have the certified pedorthists where we are working with the doctors.

”Our marketing today is really directed more toward doctor and doctor referrals.” How to reach: Lucky Shoes, www.luckyshoes.com

Morgan Lewis Jr. ([email protected]) is senior reporter at SBN Magazine.