What do two professional football stars and an Academy Award-winning actor have in common? They were fitted for footwear at Dale’s Shoes, an ABC-accredited pedorthics facility in Daytona Beach, Fla.
“Larry Czonka came in,” owner Russell Dotson, CPed said. “Dick Butkus brought his mother in for shoes, but he bought shoes himself, too.”
Czonka was a bruising fullback for the Miami Dolphins. Butkus was a bone-jarring Chicago Bears linebacker. Both are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Paul Newman was the other celebrity customer.
So far, fame has eluded the rest of Russell’s clientele, but everybody gets the same personal service, he said.
“Service is what sets us apart,” Russell said. “People will still pay more for service. But pedorthics has also made a huge difference in our business.”
Pedorthics, he added, is “based on knowledge and concern. It takes both. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you don’t also have concern, you won’t be able to transmit that knowledge [to the client or patient]. If you have concern but not knowledge, you are liable to steer them wrong.”
Russell’s father, Dale Dotson, steered him into the shoe business. Dale owned a chain of shoe stores across the Sunshine State, including one in Russell’s native Tampa.
The Daytona Beach store is the only one left. It is almost in the shadow of the storied, high-banked Daytona International Speedway, also home of the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s premier auto race.
“The races are great for the local economy, but not necessarily for us,” he said, grinning. “We close on race days and rent out spaces on our parking lot for fans.”
Otherwise, the store welcomes customers 7 days a week, except on holidays. The staff includes a pair of board-certified pedorthists and three ABC-certified therapeutic shoe fitters.
Russell is the head of a two-CPed family. His son, Daniel Dotson, 24, was certified at age 21. He mainly works in the store’s fully-equipped pedorthics lab.
“Daniel became a CPed 2 years before I did,” Russell said.
Dale’s Shoes opened in Daytona in 1976. Russell shifted the business to its current location in 1991.
“The fact that we’re an established business helps us,” he said. “We’re a destination store. People know where we are. But today it would be difficult to start a shoe store with a $1.5 million inventory unless you had deep pockets.”
Dale operated retail stores, but stressed comfort and fit, Russell said, adding, “We went into pedorthics in 2006 because we were at a point where we needed something to set us apart. We wanted to compete at a higher level than the department stores or the box stores. We always carried a variety of sizes and widths. Rare is the person who walks through my door that I can’t fit in something.”
As their reputation has grown, so have the referrals.
“But there is much more to pedorthics. We do a lot that doesn’t involve insurance,” Daniel said. “It is really rewarding to help people who have problems with their feet.”
Sadly, more than a few foot woes are self-inflicted, Russell said.
Feet get measured with Brannock devices before they go into new shoes at Russell’s store, where most clients or shoppers are middle-aged or older, he said.
“The twenty-somethings or younger don’t come to our store unless they have a particular problem,” he said.
Russell said he and his staff take time to educate clients and customers about how the right shoe or orthotic – or both – can help fight foot pain. He and Daniel also preach pedorthics outside the store.
“Daniel went on a medically oriented radio show,” Russell said. “We go to assisted care facilities and to doctor’s offices and hospitals. We introduce ourselves to podiatrists. Some podiatrists understand what an asset we can be to their practices. Others see us as interlopers who are out to usurp them without having the education they have. But gradually we are educating the medical community that we are health care professionals ourselves.”
Russell won over the brass at the local Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital.
“We are now doing all the diabetic fittings for them,” he said. “It is a pleasure working with veterans who are the cream of our society. They come in the store and are overwhelmed by the selection of shoes that is available to them. The shoes they had been getting from the VA were the tie style and the Velcro style. They are thrilled that a tennis shoe or a boat shoe is on the approved list. That makes us feel good, too.”
Reminiscing about others who have had their foot pain vanquished at Dale’s Shoes feels good too.
“One of Daniel’s patients was an elderly woman who was almost wheelchair bound,” Russell said. “He put her into proper shoes and orthotics. She was able to walk so well that she and her husband went on a European vacation.”
Later, the woman returned to the store and said her husband had died of a brain tumor.
“But she thanked us for enabling her to go places and do things with her husband she wouldn’t have been able to do in the last months of his life,” he said.
Russell also recalled a morbidly obese woman who came seeking supportive shoes. Daniel fitted her with footwear and orthotics.
“She came back a year later and asked Daniel to come out and see her,” Russell said. “She said because she could walk without pain, she had started an exercise program and had lost 200 pounds. She told Daniel that she believed he had saved her life.”