Rob Burnett, CPed aims to get his customers moving comfortably again.
Are retailers the Rodney Dangerfields of pedorthics?
Rob Burnett, CPed, is proud to call himself a retail pedorthist.
“But as a profession, I think pedorthics is getting away from its retailing roots,” added Burnett, who owns a Foot Solutions franchise store in Nicholasville, Ky.
Dangerfield, a popular comic, famously joked, “I don’t get any respect.”
Burnett worries that retail pedorthics is being downgraded “as pedorthics gets more and more medically-oriented. I feel like ever since the ABC/BCP merger the pedorthic profession is losing touch with the customer who does not have a medical condition and does not need a prescription for our services,” Burnett said. “We’re missing out on a large segment of the population with achy feet if we’re requiring everyone to see a doctor before seeing us. We should be expanding our influence to reach these people, not diminishing it.”
The Kentuckian is quick to add that he is not knocking “the guys who work in the labs and make the hard-core shoe modifications. We need them. When the required solution for the customer exceeds my abilities, I refer [the customer] … to a pedorthist who does that type of work all day long. This allows me to spend more time educating customers and problem-solving.”
Burnett says he knows about serious foot ailments. His wife is a podiatrist. He adds that pedorthics retailers who dispense properly-fitted shoes and orthotics that support the feet can often cure minor foot woes and even stave off big problems.
“I do fill prescriptions for the medical community,” he said. “But probably 90% of my business is retail – people just wanting or needing comfortable shoes. A lot of pedorthics is about offloading and relieving pressure, which retailers can do for a lot of people with appropriate shoes and accommodative inserts.”
A different path
While Burnett is glad he is a retail pedorthist, fitting feet to footwear was not his career goal. After he earned a degree in computer and electrical engineering from Purdue University, he got into the computer software business and stayed 15 years.
He took some ribbing when he forsook software for footwear.
“When I got into this, my buddies kidded me and called me Al Bundy,” he said, grinning. “It was all in fun.”
He said he’s having fun as a pedorthist. He was board-certified in 2005.
“I’ve had people cry for joy when I helped them. I’ve had them give me a big hug. I get cards and thank you letters,” he said. “It’s great when you can provide them shoes and orthotics and their feet don’t hurt any more. That gives me a good feeling, too.”
On the right track
He says he also feels good about running a shoe store where the self-service age has not dawned, and never will.
“Most shoe stores today just have minimum wage clerks who grab shoes and never measure feet,” Burnett said. “We’re trying to bring back the old school shoe store aspect.”
Burnett practices what he preaches. Customers are greeted and seated. They are waited on one at a time.
“I tell them sit back and relax,” Burnett said. “I say, ‘I’ll take your shoes off for you.’ I don’t wear a lab coat. I don’t want my customers to feel like they are in a doctor’s office and start getting a little uptight. When I hear laughter from them, I know I’m on the right track.”
The track starts with careful foot measurement. He uses Brannock Devices to size up customers in weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing.
If they need orthotics, he stands them barefoot on a computerized foot scanner. The machine supplies the data needed for technicians to craft custom orthotics at the Foot Solutions lab in Marietta, Ga.
“What we do for our customers sets us apart from other shoe stores,” he said. “The personal service surprises a lot of our first-time customers. They say they haven’t had their feet measured in years. They’ve never had their feet scanned.”
Comfort before fashion
Many also have never worn comfort shoes, Burnett added. Many, too, especially middle-aged women, have sabotaged themselves with poorly-fitting fashion footwear.
“How do you get people out of fashion footwear into sensible shoes? It really comes down to how much pain they are having,” Burnett said. “Our advertising stresses how we can provide relief for people who are in pain. We want people who have foot pain to come to us for solutions to their problems.”
Fashion is one hurdle that Burnett’s customers still face.
“But if they are coming in looking for the latest fashions, we might not be the place for them. If they do, we try to steer them to our shoes that would be appropriate for them,” he said. “We carry some of the comfort shoes they carry in the malls. But the differentiating factor is that we can use these shoes that other people carry to help customers by professionally fitting them.”
Burnett says it is easier for him to get customers to abandon fashion footwear for comfort shoes “because comfort has become stylish. Many of the Eurocomfort shoes have become mainstream. They’re in style.
“But you’ve still got to figure out what the customer really needs. You’ve got to listen and ask the right questions. What kind of symptoms do they have? What problems do they have? What do they want to accomplish with footwear or orthotics?” he said. “All that helps us determine what products are best for them. You don’t want to use all the medical terminology. You want to keep it very simple and easy to understand. You want to gain their trust. If you do the right thing, they will tell their friends and family about you.”
Berry Craig is a correspondent for O&P Business News.