Kristy Sensenig of Lexington, Ky., is a part-time short story writer and a full-time ABC-certified pedorthist.
She keeps fiction and feet separate. “I guess I could write about what I see as a pedorthist, but I probably won’t,” said Sensenig, smiling. She is the staff pedorthist at the Palomar Center branch of John’s Run/Walk Shop.
Sensenig added that she writes for fun, “but pedorthics pays the bills.”
Her dad, John Sensenig, owns four shoe stores in Lexington, the heart of Kentucky’s thoroughbred race horse country. They include the original Run/Walk shop, which he founded downtown in 1978.
Palomar is a suburban strip mall. “Parking is our foremost advantage,” Kristy Sensenig said. “Being in the same strip with a Walmart makes us more visible. Because we are out from the center of town, people in the suburbs don’t have to travel as far to get to us.”
Most of her customers happily travel many miles on foot. “We get serious runners as well as casual walkers,” said Sensenig, an avid hiker. “But we also get people that have sore feet and just want comfortable shoes.”
She said all of the stores feature comfort footwear. The Run/Walk stores offer running and walking shoes, apparel, shoe inserts, and accessories. John’s New Classic Shoes carries leather dress and casual footwear and accessories. Sensenig’s Healthy Foot Center is a pedorthics facility staffed by Larry Wheeler, CPed and Guy Bissett, CPed.
All but the Palomar store are in central Lexington. All four stores are destination businesses, according to Sensenig.
“People know who we are,” she explained. “They come to us for professional fitting.”
Most customers are repeaters. “Even people who have moved away get shoes from us when they are in town. They are loyal.”
A big part of that fealty is rooted in professional fitting.
“People who have never been here before will point at a shoe on the wall and say, ‘That is the one I want and tell us their size,’” Sensenig said. “But people who have been coming here for years expect us to measure them.”
Even so, she admits to practicing some sleight-of-hand when her Brannock device reveals that a customer needs a larger size shoe. “Some people are really stuck on numbers, so I might bring the shoe box out with the size facing me. When they try on the shoes and say they feel good, I tell them the size.”
Although she did not earn the pedorthist credential until late last year, Sensenig has been sizing feet at her dad’s stores since she was in high school. Along the way, she tried her hand at college, took up fiction writing and became a professional massage therapist.
“I became a pedorthist because I wanted to expand my ability to help people whose feet are hurting. I am excited about being able to expand the services I can offer.”
Sensenig plans to stick with the retail side of pedorthics. She dispenses over-the-counter, heat-molded and custom orthoses. She fits the latter via an in-store computer and sends the measurements to a lab for fabrication.
Although she sees clients by appointment, she still pitches in on the sales floor. In either role, she said, consumer education is a big part of her job.
“If someone has plantar fasciitis, for example, I will explain to them that healing the feet is more than just an arch support. It is about the shoe, too. If you put arch supports into bad shoes, you will still have problems.”
Sensenig said many, if not most, foot woes are self-inflicted through prolonged wearing of ill-fitting, poorly-made shoes that provide little or no support. “The feet are the most neglected part of our bodies,” she said.
She preaches foot health to all of her customers, but said prevention can be a tough sell to young people. Sensenig said cheap shoes will cost consumers more in the long run because of the harm they can do to their feet.
“Our shoes are more expensive because of the quality and the support they provide. Our repeat customers know quality shoes are worth the price.”
Make a connection
She starts a sale by asking customers about their foot problems, their activities and the kind of footwear they are seeking.
“You need to spend time establishing a connection with customers so they will allow you to make a recommendation about the shoes they need,” she said.
Customers do not just try on shoes. “They get to jog outside in them or walk around in them in the store. You don’t get that kind of service at the mall or Dick’s Sporting Goods.”
Occasionally, shoppers show up to exploit the service Sensenig and other store staffers provide. “We measure them and then they go out and buy cheaper shoes elsewhere. There is not much you can do about that, except start charging a fitting fee. I have read where some pedorthists are doing that, but I don’t plan to do it.”
Sensenig’s aim is to keep writing after work — she is working on a children’s science fiction short story — and continuing to help her customers by drawing on her experience as a veteran shoe retailer and the training she received to qualify for certification.
She said putting thousands of feet into footwear and becoming a pedorthist has convinced her that shoe fitting is both art and a science. Measuring with a Brannock is an example of the latter, she said. “But you also learn from experience what works and what does not. You can look at a foot and know what shoe will work.”
Sensenig is happiest when the shoes and orthoses she fits work to relieve pain. She cited a man who contracted polio when he was a child.
“One of his legs was shorter than the other one. He was walking unevenly and his feet were really hurting. I put him in some good shoes and arch supports and his feet stopped hurting immediately. He started crying. That’s the kind of help I love providing for people.”