Mark Allard, CPed, grew up wanting to be a marine biologist. He ended up
owning a pair of New Balance concept shoe stores in Raleigh and Durham, N.C.
“But I had this passion for fish,” Allard said. “I had
about three dozen aquariums in the house when I was a kid.”
Ultimately, feet beat fish as a career choice.
Before there were pedorthists
“I have shoe polish in my veins,” explained Allard, an
Illinois native who migrated to the North Carolina. “My dad, France
Allard, was a
pedorthist before there were pedorthists.”
France was named for his parents’ native land. The Allards moved
from France to southern Illinois coal mine country. His grandfather was a
salesman, and the family ran a boarding house for French coal miners.
|Mark Allard’s New Balance
stores offer an extensive selection of the footwear.
|Images: Craig B, O&P Business
But France Allard and his brothers wound up selling, repairing and
modifying boots and shoes for miners and other customers. Later, France and two
of his brothers moved to the St. Louis area where they sold and repaired shoes
in several Illinois communities across the Mississippi River from the Gateway
to the West.
“When I was growing up, people would ask me, ‘Are you going to
be a shoe man like your dad?’ Allard remembered. “I’d say,
‘Nah, I’m a fish freak.’”
Allard’s two older brothers also went into the shoe business in
southern Illinois; one was succeeded by Mark’s nephew. Also named Mark
Allard, he is a board-certified pedorthist and the owner of the London Shoe
Shop in Collinsville, Ill.
His Uncle Mark’s stores are in strip shopping centers in Raleigh,
and Durham. Both cities, plus Chapel Hill, where the University of North
Carolina is located, make up the bulk of what is known as the “Research
“People are moving into this area all the time. A lot of them know
the New Balance brand. It is a solid company with a good retail store
program,” Allard said,
While many other stores sell the New Balance brand, “they
don’t carry the depth and breadth of the line that we do,” he said.
Family footwear firm
Allard’s fitting expertise helps keep customers coming through the
door, too. Allard was in grade school when he broke into the family footwear
“I started out shining shoes and went from there,” he said.
Even so, when Allard enrolled at Southwestern Illinois College, he
planned to study marine biology. But he switched majors to business
administration and even tually struck out on his own with the Red Wing Shoe Co.
He worked the retail, management and sales representative sides of the
business in Illinois and later northern California before deciding to be his
After a stint in a Red Wing store partnership in California that
didn’t work out as well as he had planned, Allard became interested in the
New Balance store program. So he turned to a successful New Balance concept
store owner for guidance.
“Randy Brown was an inspiration for me,” said Allard. Brown, a
certified pedorthist owns Washington, Mo.-based Brown Shoe Enterprises, which
includes New Balance concept stores in St. Louis, Kansas City, Mo. and Branson,
|Allard credits customer
satisfaction to personal service.
“I told Randy what I wanted to do, and he was glad to help,”
Allard was a Red Wing Sales rep in California when he started
researching potential markets. He looked at Jacksonville, Fla., San Antonio,
Atlanta, Indianapolis, Charlotte, N.C., and the Raleigh-Durham markets.
Raleigh-Durham won him over.
“Besides good business potential, I wanted a moderate climate, a
good quality of life, a place that was affordable and had good educational
opportunities for my kids,” he told O&P Business News.
Medical side of pedorthics
Allard has been in business for more than a decade. His general manager
is Herb Felkl, CPed. They recently added another certified pedorthist to the
staff to handle more of the growing medical side of the business.
“Herb and I are more retail pedorthists rather than medical
pedorthists,” Allard said. “Having certification lends itself to
better credibility with local doctors and a more thorough understanding of the
medical needs of their patients.”
Neither of Allard’s stores looks like a medical pedorthics
facility. Store decor is bright and trendy and naturally features the New
Neither Allard nor his staff work in lab coats. Red New Balance polo
shirts are the rule. In the summer, employees wear shorts and, of course, New
“All of us focus on getting customers the size and width they
need,” Allard said. “We can provide our customers a level of fit and
service they can’t get at a department or sporting goods store.”
He said the customer base varies from kids to seniors.
“It goes from the runner who runs 20 miles or more a week, to
people who just want a good shoe for walking or for being on their feet all
Runners and clinics
Allard aims to attract a larger clientele of serious runners. To that
end, he frequently hosts clinics and workshops on ChiRunning, a natural running
technique that is designed to reduce injury and enhance personal performance.
“New Balance has a running heritage. But runners tend to gravitate
toward running stores. But we offer in-stock fit that most stores don’t
even attempt with the 14 Bs and 16 four Es that are hard to find. Still, we get
more walkers and recreational or fitness runners as opposed to marathon
No matter what customers seek in shoes, they get personal service seldom
seen now in department and sporting goods stores. “That pleasantly
surprises a lot of people when they come in for the first time.”
Many first timers, both men and women, are wearing shoes too small for
their feet, Allard said. Feet get measured and scanned before they go into
Science of shoe fitting
“Shoe fitting is an art and a science,” he said. “But
putting customers on a scanner helps them better understand what their feet are
doing. Scanners can be enlightening as to pressure points and arch type and for
better understanding what the foot needs for support and off-loading
From the scanner, feet go onto special double-unit Brannock devices.
They enable Allard and his staff to measure both feet at the same time, and,
hence, better fit the customer in a comfortable pair of shoes.
He dispenses over-the-counter orthotics. “We do some minor
Allard is comfortable in his life’s calling in which fish tanks
gave way to fitting stools.
“Pedorthists are foot professionals who help people live better
lives,” he said. “Pedorthists make it all work together – the
foot, the orthotic and the shoe.”
Allard is spending less time in the office and more time back on the
“I always loved the sales floor, interacting with customers. It
helps me to know better what’s going on in the stores and to know what our
customers want and need.”