“I had no idea that God’s path for me was to be on my knees fitting shoes,” he said with a chuckle.
“I studied the franchise. I love interacting with people, meeting people and helping people. This is something I truly enjoy.”
Images: Craig B, O&P Business News
Milligan confessed he still communes with the Almighty when he’s astride a fitting stool. “I pray that somehow God will create a connection between that person and me.”
Like many in his field, Milligan did not grow up yearning to fit feet to footwear. “I had absolutely no background in this,” he confessed.
Born in Charlotte, N.C., Milligan grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. After playing a little basketball at Cleveland’s Cuyahoga Community College, he joined the Navy and ended up serving as a machinist’s mate aboard the U.S.S. Farris, a frigate.
“I spent 6 years on active duty and 6½ years in the reserves,” he said. “After I got out, I got an associate’s degree at Tidewater Community College before I went to Old Dominion.”
After college, Milligan became a banker in Chesapeake, Va. An avid tennis player, he offered lessons to children after work, which put him on a new career path.
His pupils included Joe Sadinski’s children. Sadinski, also a certified pedorthist, owns a Foot Solutions store in Chesapeake.
“Joe had quite a following on this side of the water and was looking for someone to partner with and open a store over here,” Milligan said.
Milligan went into business in 2008 and got certified the next year. “I learn something every day. I’m a baby in this, but I want to take it to a higher level.”
For example, he took an online course in gait analysis. “The secret to success in this business is knowledge. The thing that sets my shoe store apart from other stores is what I have learned as a pedorthist.”
When they walk through the door of his store, clients learn that he runs a full-service ship. Service is always personal, and feet are carefully measured.
“People are surprised by service. Actually, it is uncomfortable to some of them. One, they are in a rush. Two, they are used to being in total control when they shop.”
Milligan said his job is to provide them the shoes and inserts they need, not necessarily what they want. “I use love and patience to encourage them that I can help them help themselves. Once you get that message across and once they trust you, you can build on that relationship and that trust.”
But he cautions that trust-building is not a one-way street. “You have to compromise, too. It’s not about me. I don’t know it all. It has to be a partnership.
“I have to show you that we care for you — that we don’t want your feet to hurt or your knees to hurt.”
Even so, Milligan confesses that the Brannock device can bruise egos, especially among women. It’s the “big feet thing,” he said.
He added that women often wear shoes that are too short and too narrow, resulting in foot woes. “Multiple widths are not available in a lot of off-the-shelf shoes. A lot of people with wide feet who wear narrow shoes end up with bunions and other foot deformities.”
But many of the problem feet he sees are the result of type II diabetes. Often, people with the disease have poor circulation in their lower legs, accompanied by neuropathy, which can result in infected wounds that necessitate amputation.
“With many people, adult onset diabetes is the result of not doing the right things,” Milligan said. “So I try to get people to get more exercise and to eat better.”
Practice what you preach
He uses himself an example. “When I opened the store, I weighed 257 pounds. I got up to 297 pounds because I was working so much and not exercising like I should.”
A doctor diagnosed him as pre-diabetic. “There is no history of the disease in my family. It was all a matter of the bad decisions that I had made that put 40 pounds on me.
“So I decided to get up a little earlier and make time to work out. I work out in the store or you might see me running up and down the road out front.”
Milligan also plays more tennis and gives lessons for children again, now through the “Christ is in Tennis” program at his church, Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Temple.
“I got back in shape and now I’m fine,” Milligan said. “I think God put me through that experience so I could relate to the clients I see who have diabetes.”