Bob Schwartz CPed and Marc Rosen CPed, are successful shoe men, not ad men.
But the two board-certified pedorthists preach and practice one of the oldest marketing strategies around: Never stop reminding consumers about what you do.
“We market our pedorthics by including it in our corporate name and logo, “Eneslow Pedorthic Enterprises,” said Schwartz, owner of the New York City firm that has its own slogan: “Happy Feet Make People Happy!”
“Our marketing of pedorthics is visible in everything we do,” said Rosen, who owns Best-Made Shoes in Pittsburgh. “We send brochures, write letters and visit health care professionals. We exhibit at health, diabetic or sport fairs. We constantly update our website, Facebook page and Twitter account as well as advertise in newspapers, magazines, websites and phone books.”
Image: Craig B, O&P Business News
“We currently have 12 credentialed pedorthists,” Schwartz said, adding that his whole sales staff is trained in pedorthics.
Schwartz also markets his products and services to physicians. “We regularly follow up by completing each prescription with a thank you letter,” he said. “We call prescribers to discuss cases on a regular basis. We visit them and offer new products and solutions for their patients’ biomechanical needs.”
Successful marketing is also based on knowing who the competition is and is not, he added. “We stay focused on not competing with podiatrists in foot orthotic dispensing and offer shoes and shoe modifications as an enhancement to their orthotics.
“The squeaky wheel does get the grease,” Schwartz said. “We contact them regularly via phone calls, email and fax blasts, direct mail campaigns and personal visits. We attend and exhibit at the New York State Podiatric Medical Association annual clinical conference.”
Still, the best marketing doesn’t win all hearts and minds. “Some podiatrists see us as direct competition, and all efforts to change their thinking have proven to be fruitless,” Schwartz said. “Nevertheless, we are always ready to work with them. Staying connected to our best prescribers has proven to be the most effective technique. The tougher the economy, the greater the need for medical referrals.”
Rosen also said sound marketing practices include showing “the difference between you and your competitors” and making sure physicians know “how you can make their patients happier.”
But refrain from promising physicians or patients what you cannot deliver, he said. “And don’t treat people differently than you wish to be treated. Don’t expect your patients to understand what they need, just because they have been to other providers. Many times, they are at your facility because you are their last hope. Once you help them, you have a customer for life. Do show the difference between yourself and any competitors. Do tell the physicians how you can make their patients happier.”
Rosen confessed that marketing can sometimes be a long haul. But perseverance can pay off, he said. “In January, after 10 years of trying to get our local paper to write a story about us, we finally were the feature story in the business section. This story brought 50 calls over the next two days and over 100 new customers in business during the next 3 months. It was the most successful PR we have ever had in over 35 years in business.”
Rosen added that the economy doesn’t affect how he markets his products and services. “Our best advertising comes from happy customers and word of mouth. We have entire families come to us and tell all their friends that Best-Made Shoes is the best shoe store they have ever been to in their life. We know we are doing the right thing for our customers and giving them the best choice for comfort and relief.”
Randy Brown CPed, agrees with Schwartz and Rosen that it is crucial to stay close to referring physicians. But Brown, who owns Brown’s Enterprises in Washington, Mo., said his marketing strategy has changed through the years.
“We began with an open house approach — picking a date, having refreshments and inviting a mailing list of physicians to our facility,” said Brown, who operates a shoe store and catalog business in Washington plus a half dozen New Balance concept stores in St. Louis, Kansas City and Branson. “We migrated to an invitation approach — picking a 30-day window and sending an open invitation to a mailing list of physicians inviting them to our facility, by appointment, for a complimentary fitting and tour of our services available to their patient base.”
He added that the benefits of a by-appointment program are manifold: “No medical competitors present” and “30 to 60 minutes of uninterrupted face time with the doctor.” At the same time, Brown said that the 30-day window provides “much more flexibility for the physician to work the visit into his or her schedule. So we began seeing many more medical professionals.”
Also over time, Brown said he has learned multiple “do’s” and “don’ts” in marketing his firm: “Don’t diagnose, don’t over promise, do be confident but humble, do follow up, both with the doc and patient, do use all avenues to communicate your marketing efforts.”
By “all avenues” he means social media and emails, too — “but not to the medical professional community” — brochures, flyers, catalogs, direct mail and personal letters, invitations and announcements. “Participate in wellness efforts held where your professional contacts work — be seen; be involved.”
Brown added that economic ups and downs don’t affect his marketing strategy. “It is not up to us to decide who or when we might be chosen as a referral source. Our marketing efforts remain a priority so we might be top-of-mind whenever we may be needed, no matter the economy.”
Like Schwartz, Brown came up with a marketable slogan for his business, “Feet Love Us” and got it trademarked.
Repeat your name
Peg Lucas-Swisher CPed, agrees that continually reminding physicians and patients about who you are and what you do is fundamental to a successful pedorthics marketing strategy. “Keeping in touch and keeping your company on the top of the doctors’ awareness is crucial,” said Lucas-Swisher, co-owner of Sole Comfort Shoes in Albuquerque, N.M.
Never rest on your laurels, either, she added.
“Don’t sit on your reputation. If you have a physician who is a good referral source and then stops referring, call and ask if there is a problem. Find out how each physician wants you to keep them updated and do as they ask. Some want documentation on every patient they send in; some do not.”
Lucas-Swisher said it is also important to keep a marketing budget, plan a marketing program and review both every 6 months. “Do have someone in charge of the marketing and detailing. If everyone is responsible, nothing will get done. Do send out regular mail pieces with new ideas and or merchandise to your doctors and clients. Get in touch with groups that need speakers — service clubs, churches, running and walking groups and so forth.”
Across the country, pedorthics marketing at Lamey-Wellehan Shoes, a family-owned, six store chain in Maine, includes adding “a pedorthic perspective to all our guest interaction — whether it be measuring feet, selecting the best footwear, assessing biomechanical needs, etc.,” Chris Stanley CPed, said.
Stanley is the Auburn-based pedorthic training coordinator for Lamey-Wellehan. He said the company’s marketing program “has been more successful when we reached out to physical therapists and primary care physicians rather than to specialized doctors. Having in-store open houses, mailing postcards and having newsletters all help.”
He advises pedorthists not to expect immediate results with marketing campaigns. “Marketing is not the same as advertising — the goal with marketing is to define your service and to become top-of-mind. Once you agree on what your business should be known as, it is important to have all associates on board. Spending money to tell the public that foot assessments are free means very little if a person comes in and isn’t offered one.”
Remember your roots
Stanley said pedorthics marketing strategies should be rooted in the nature of the operation. “Our business is more retail-focused rather than clinical in nature. We handle only over-the-counter products and don’t deal with insurance or billing, but we are a strong destination business for people who want to shop at a place they trust.”
Possibly because so many people know about Lamey-Wellehan, which has been in business since 1914, the company’s open house programs have been hit or miss, according to Stanley. “We had a night when only six invitees showed up and others when people had to wait to be welcomed. We have learned to tweak the event and make it low key, low cost and simple.
“More effective for us is trying to encourage the shopper to refer friends to us. For example, every 6 months we’ll send thank you letters and comment cards to those who have purchased our orthotics. We review all the comments as they come in and re-contact those who gave a glowing report. We thank them and ask them to spread the word for us. As a general rule, reaching the public is an easier task than trying to reach physicians and referring professionals.”
Like many pedorthics firms, Lamey-Wellehan’s outreach to the public and health care professionals includes a website. A new site is in the works. “Once it is launched and tweaked, we’ll then design a landing page for our foot health services, geared for the referring professional but viewable by the public at large. We envision having a page where a person can quickly learn of our orthotics and our services and see guest testimonials.”
Stanley added that the economy hasn’t caused Lamey-Wellehan to change its marketing strategy significantly. “Our business has stayed very strong.”
The marketing program at Shoe Stop Clinic in Owensboro, Ky., recently changed, but not because of the economy. It expanded to include direct marketing to physicians about the company’s services and product line. “With Medicare’s new guidelines requiring the patient’s progress notes from the doctor as well as a physician statement and a prescription, we feel our best course of action is to keep the doctors aware of what is needed,” said Cindy Mattingly CPed, who started the business, which is part of Shoe Stop Inc., a retail shoe store.
“We have been diligent about the proper documentation needed before we dispense, as well as about the style and size that are best for the patient. This has definitely taken more steps and more paperwork to do our jobs, but in the end it is the best for everyone involved.”
Mattingly added that the firm, whose staff also includes manager Terra Blandford, CPed, and Cecelia Cox, CPed, had to rethink its entire marketing effort.
“Our goal has been to improve our relationships with physicians and for them to gain confidence in our staff to properly dispense the right footwear for each patient’s needs,” Mattingly said. “We have done this by having lunches with local physicians and providing pamphlets explaining our services.
“We also contact physicians regularly to discuss issues or footwear needs of their patients. Our newest strategy is marketing our new on-site lab where we can make custom orthotics for individual needs using different base materials to reach the desired outcome. This also allows us to serve the patient faster and provide more accurate adjustments.”
Also as part of the company’s marketing strategy, Mattingly, Blandford and Cox go to local health fairs. In addition, they are reaching out to runners. “We attend several running events to demonstrate the features and benefits of our specialty running products,” Mattingly said.
The firm regularly invites vendor representatives to the facility “to provide education to our employees and to be available to the public regarding their products.”
On the other hand, print advertising has not been the most effective marketing tool for the clinic. “I would say our biggest downfall would be putting all of our eggs in the same basket,” Mattingly said. “In the past, we focused on one main demographic, patients with diabetes, and with the therapeutic shoe bill becoming more and more difficult to satisfy, we needed something to fall back on.
“This is not the only aspect of pedorthics, and there are so many other people that we need to educate about what we can do for them.”
Mattingly said the economy hasn’t really affected the business. “When people’s feet hurt, they hurt all over, and our goal is to eliminate the pain.”
First impressions count
Mary Holloran CPed, OST, owner of Sole Control in St. Louis also said staying close to doctors and potential patient sources is a solid marketing strategy. Her marketing plan starts with trying to make a good first impression. “First impressions are important to me personally,” said Holloran, who is also a National Association of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer. “I will not patronize any place of business where my first impression is negative.”
Her nephew, Patrick Hitzel, answers the phones and helps out in the business. “The first call to us begins with respect, starting with ‘Thank you for calling Sole Control and how can we help you?’ I am constantly hearing how kind and respectful Patrick is from all our patients and physician’s offices as well,” Holloran said.
Her staff includes Michael Lukowsky, CPed. “I hear the same from patients and physicians regarding Michael. I am so grateful.”
Holloran confessed that kindness doesn’t always work as a marketing tool. She cited a physician who refused to meet with any St. Louis area pedorthists. Lukowsky won him over with a special marketing technique he wouldn’t recommend to other pedorthists.
He broke his toe.
Lukowsky wound up in the physician’s care. “He brought Rx pads and some samples during his visit for the fractured toe,” Holloran said. “It worked. We got him as a referral source, and he sends us patients consistently.”
She visits all of the physicians who refer patients to her. “We are not selling anything to them,” Holloran said. “We are sharing our knowledge, experience and pride in what we do.”
Importance of referrals
Randy Stevens CPed, CFo, BOCPD, said pedorthists should indeed base their marketing strategy on referring physicians. “They are the ones prescribing the devices for their patients,” said Stevens, owner of Family Footcare in Harrisburg, Pa., and a past Pedorthic Footwear Association president.
“Important factors in marketing to the physician do not only include a well-designed product to meet the referral sources’ patients’ needs, but also service, follow-up care and whether you participate with the same insurance plans that your referral source does as to benefit his or her patients’ needs.”
He suggested that pedorthists should display for physicians and patients all the devices that reflect their scope of practice as a supplier of such devices. He said it is important for physicians and patients to be able to view and handle the devices so that they know how a pedorthist can help them.
“Always utilize your full scope of practice to your benefit when it comes to marketing yourself in a supporting role to meet your referring physicians and their patients’ needs. Do not say ‘no’ and put off what can be done today until tomorrow.”
Stevens agreed that ups and downs in the economy can affect the way pedorthic products and services are marketed. “You must be flexible and willing to maybe put in some more time served in the office seeing patients with extended hours. But do not stray from providing a quality product/device and timely service.”
Michelangelo Scafidi CPed, said keeping in contact with referring physicians is basic to successful pedorthics marketing. “Coming from a small accredited pedorthic facility, continual follow up on the referral base is one of the more difficult things to stay on top of,” said Scafidi, owner of Michelangelo’s Foot Comfort Shoppe in Norridge, Ill.
“We encourage all of our patients to give the referring physician a report on our services. I believe a report form from the patient accomplishes a couple of things. First, it gives the physician a firsthand account of how they were treated and the quality of services provided by our facility. Second, it continually reinforces our visibility with the referral source.”
He added, “If the physician is constantly hearing good things about us from his/her patients, they will not think twice about referring someone to us. It is, however, a double-edged sword. If our facility does something wrong, you had better believe that the patient will quickly inform the physician thereof.”
On the other hand, Scafidi said general newspaper advertising has not worked well for his business. “I am not sure if it is our ads or that people just don’t know enough about pedorthics.
“The Internet has been helpful. Over the years, we have trimmed the types of advertising we are doing. We used to use the shotgun approach; now we are more focused on the rifle approach; we are trying to get a higher return on a more targeted audience.”
He also said physician trade shows have been a good way for him to meet new doctors and reacquaint him with established referral sources. “We also get a lot of traffic driven to us from the dealer locator sections of our suppliers.”