Kathryn Ann Carandang, CPed, said she switched from hairdressing to dressing feet.
She is a beautician-turned-certified pedorthist who dispenses custom and over-the-counter orthotics through her firm, the WalkEZstore in Greenwood, Ind., near Indianapolis.
“My ‘store’ is actually two bays of our garage,” she said, chuckling. “The third bay is for my husband’s sports car.”
Carandang, who was certified in 2005, crafts her orthoses for clients coast to coast. She trademarked her inserts as “The ezWalker Custom Performance Orthotic.” Carandang was recently named a finalist in the Established Business category by the Entrepreneurship Advancement Center’s Entrepreneurship Celebration Awards, held in Carmel, Ind.
Images: Craig B, O&P Business News
“My orthotics are designed on the principle of using the right biomechanical positioning of the feet from the start,” Carandang explained. “My impression process takes the guesswork out of making sure molds are correct for fabricating orthotics. Better impressions make better orthotics. Junk in is junk out, and I don’t make junk.”
Before she started her business in 2008, Carandang worked for several years in retail pedorthics, dispensing footwear and orthoses. Her inspiration was Jack Tovey, a pedorthics pioneer who owned Tovey’s Walk Shop in Speedway, an Indianapolis suburb.
“Jack made my first pair of custom orthotics when I was 22 and saved my poor aching feet,” Carandang said. “It’s ironic he turned out to be my mentor in this field some 20 years later.
“I learned things from Jack that simply aren’t in the books. For example, he said, ‘just watch them walk, and you’ll know what it’s going to take to make them comfortable.’
“We used to sit on a bench in front of the store and watch people, and he’d tell me what they needed. Soon he had me doing the evaluations just to see if I was getting it. He also taught me to read their worn shoe patterns. And those are the first two things I do now before even taking a pedigraph.”
When one door closes
The store closed in 2008, leaving Carandang in need of a job. “I found myself unemployed, yet loving what I had been doing … but nobody was hiring,” said Carandang, who could hardly be more positive about pedorthics.
“Not in a million years did I think of end up in this field,” she confessed. “I was a hairdresser for 20 years, but dressing feet is much more rewarding.”
So she started making orthoses in her laundry room. “It was a slow start, but I knew I was on to something with my casting technique when a friend came back to me in 8 months and said he didn’t think his insoles were holding up.”
Carandang did another evaluation. “We discovered his feet had actually improved in just 8 months. After a year of wearing my orthotics, I could honestly say my own feet had never felt better.
“It was then that I took over two bays of the garage and decided to take this thing on a more national level. I now have insoles in 28 states and in Canada.”
Carandang said her orthoses are uniquely crafted to put the foot in the proper biomechanical motion. “Motion is critical to a healthy foot and body. If you decrease motion, you create atrophy.
“The feet are the foundation of the body,” she added. “If you decrease motion in the feet, it creates dysfunction all the way up the kinetic chain. If you lock up the motion of the foot with an orthotic, you are not going to have as good a result as you would if you used the orthosis to create correct biomechanical motion for that foot. The foot is dynamic; it wants to move, and when encouraged to move properly, it gets healthier.”
Carandang also opted to take her firm to larger arenas, literally. “I started going to national trade shows. But I don’t like to travel that much, plus there is the expense of the hotel and food — and that eats into your profits.”
So she switched to local trade shows “The farthest I go now is Fort Wayne, which is about 3 hours from where I live. It’s a Women’s Expo and is always a great source of income.” However, most of her business is conducted via the Internet.
Her product includes a casting kit with an instructional video on how to make a proper bio-mechanically correct impression. “You send the kit back to me; I make the orthotics and send them back to you,” she said.
“My customers have 90 days to tell me that they love them or hate them. If there are issues, minor adjustments can be made, or they can request a full refund. One thing I think this business falters on is the guarantee.”
She said that fewer than 2% of her orthoses come back with a refund request and fewer than 4% need to be adjusted. “Again, the impression process is the key. Orthotics are only as good as the casting process used to make a mold of the foot that is then used for the fabrication of the orthosis.”
Carandang said only one casting method works well for her.
“The foot has to be placed properly in the molding medium so that the rear of the arch is supported strategically at the sustentaculum tali joint and allows the big toe, or the first metatarsophalangeal joint (MPJ), to move and function. Function is motion, and proper motion is health. If these joints are locked up in any way, the foot will not function in a biomechanically correct manner.
“It all rests in a physics law of balance, thus creating a better step when you walk. Even when the first MPJ is rigid, if the arch is held up properly, the customer will be more comfortable.”
Carandang said most casting methods found on the Internet lead to largely ineffective orthoses.
“Some instruct you to step into the impression foam slowly, yet completely, from a weight-bearing position as if you were simply taking a step. This method allows the foot to collapse and will only produce an orthosis that accommodates that collapsed foot.”
She added, “Others instruct you to sit down but still don’t have a good strategy for foot placement. This usually creates a locked up foot. Neither one of these methods will create a quality impression. Ideally, the orthosis should redirect the foot and help it to walk better. A collapsed foot cannot be properly redirected. Therefore, an orthosis based on a collapsed or locked up foot is simply a waste of your money.”
Carandang said most of her customers are leery about spending more money on something that they think won’t work “because they’ve been ripped off too many times. That’s why I offer my money back guarantee. My best source of income? My customers’ referrals.”