Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Nike. These are all multinational, billion-dollar corporations that, according to legend, began in their respective founders’ garages. New Step Orthotic Lab of Glen Carbon, IL, is also a member of that club.
“We started out in my dad’s garage in 2005 and then grew from there,” explained New Step owner and president Josh Allison, CPed, IPed. “Then when my dad retired, he decided to work for me full time [at New Step].”
After retiring from his primary occupation in law enforcement, Winston Montgomery stepped in to work at New Step full time, and is currently the company’s CFO.
The similarities between those behemoth businesses and New Step end at the garage door, because it’s a safe bet that if you called the Nike headquarters, Phil Knight would not answer the phone. The same would likely go for the late Steve Jobs at Apple. But customers who call New Step will often have the opportunity to actually speak with to the company president.
“I’m there [at the lab] and active every day, still involved in the manufacturing process,” Allison said. “That’s what separates our business from others, because how often do you get to talk to the owner of a company on a daily basis?”
As the current head of New Step, Allison has plenty to oversee: the lab’s line of custom orthoses (sport-casual, diabetic, multi-density, to name a few); ankle-foot orthoses, including the New Step Dynamic AFO; custom shoes (from sneakers to work boots); over-the-counter (OTC) orthoses; and foam box impressions. The company also sells two different types of 3D foot scanners.
The Allisons decided to start New Step to fill what they saw as a gap in the orthotics fabrication market. “I just saw a lack of orthotics being made that actually matched the patient’s foot,” Allison explained. “What we do is a total-contact insert. A lot of orthotics are manufactured with a Root-style method, which we still offer,” he said, referring to the principles of fabrication taught by Merton Root, DPM, in the 1960s.
“But we saw a need for a total-contact insert, whether it was functional or accommodative,” Allison added.
He stressed that New Step’s forte is handcrafted Root-style orthotics and total-contact orthotics (TCOs), which sets it apart from other labs. “Unlike most labs that have used technology to get away from handcrafted TCOs, we have used it to grow the handcrafted TCOs business,” he said.
That focus on achieving total contact has been a great success for New Step – enough that the company recently built a new plant in nearby Maryville, IL. The 5,000-square foot facility will allow New Step to expand their line of custom AFOs as well as introduce more products to the line of OTC orthotics.
Allison pointed out that the company puts as much craftsmanship into its OTC orthoses as it does its custom ones, including multi-density materials, deeper heel cups, and quality top covers.
For instance, in the Elite OTC line, the heat-moldable and reheat-formable insert offers 1.3 mm 3/4 semirigid arch support, a 12-mm heel cup, and a thin profile to fit any shoe. It’s also suitable for dispensing straight from the package, according to the company.
The addition of personnel at the new lab will mean a faster throughput, potentially cutting in half the manufacturing time for custom orthoses, which currently stands at 5-7 days.
As part of its continued growth, New Step will take advantage of new technology, such as 3D printing. Allison said the lab has contracted with a local 3D printer to produce custom orthoses.
“The advantage of 3D printing is that there is much less waste,” he said. “It’s a very efficient way for us to continue to make our total-contact orthotics, as we are able to use a 3D scan of the patient’s foot and then make a true TCO with any material the practitioner chooses, instead of the ‘cookie-cutter’ orthotics that never match the foot and are limited by the material that will fit into the machine.”
“We also do 3D scanning with the iPad,” Allison said, adding that New Step has the ability to create a thermal form and obtain a total-contact insert from a digital image. “That requires a lot higher skill level that we’ve got because we are smaller, hands-on operation,” he said.
Even as they grow, New Step plans to keep it in the family—Allison’s brother Guy also works in the lab fabricating orthotics. Though Montgomery is now CFO, Allison noted that his father is quick to help out wherever he’s needed. “Yesterday, it was janitor, last week it was operations manager, and today it is trade show rep. In other words, he steps up and does whatever is needed aside from his main role. I will say it is a blessing to have my ‘retired’ dad working full-time.”
It’s also an opportunity for a little payback. “Sometimes I have to get after him to do some of his paperwork,” Allison joked. “I think it makes up for all the times he had to get after me to put away my laundry when I was teen.”
Article sponsored by New Step.