For Orthofeet, the New Jersey-based designer and manufacturer of medical footwear for adults with diabetes, 2013 was a year of major transitions. In the past 12 months the company welcomed a new chief executive officer (CEO), doubled its sales force, switched to a larger factory, and initiated a grassroots education alliance with the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE).
If that weren’t enough, the company also launched 20 new styles of casual and athletic footwear. Over the last six months, an elite group of professional athletes helped Orthofeet introduce its Performance collection of athletic and casual shoes. The new line features an outer sole that supports movement, absorbs shock, and works with a fitted heel wrap to promote a natural stride.
“With a revamped product line and a highly motivated sales team, Orthofeet remains fully committed to helping foot care providers service their patients,” said CEO Steve Wasik.
Significantly, Orthofeet also re-established a relationship with its founders, Ahron Bar, PhD, and Michael Bar, the brothers with engineering backgrounds who launched the company in 1984. The Bars’ handshake-style of doing business and innovative, science-based shoe design acumen led Orthofeet to become the nation’s second largest brand in the medical footwear category, Wasik said.
The new leadership team has resulted in a rebranding and a rededication to original principles.
“It’s reassuring to see how many of our orthotic, podiatric, DME, HME, and other customers really respect the Bar brothers and what they were able to build,” Wasik said. “We deeply value not only the product quality they instituted, but also the customer relationships they built.”
With the major supply-chain change in Orthofeet’s factory–a move to the world’s largest shoe manufacturer, Pou Chen in Southern China–the company can more quickly introduce a greater number of lines and styles. The move was not without bumps, but Wasik is now satisfied that the company can fill 97% of all orders within 48 hours. Orthofeet also contracts with the D’Clase shoe factory in Santiago, Dominican Republic.
“The change to a more technologically advanced factory gives us greater capacity and flexibility, making it possible to launch 20 new styles in the past year, including the Performance line of athletic shoes and the Astoria and Alexandria lines of casual footwear,” he said. “We’ve clearly picked up on the trend toward less formal footwear with these lines, which also include Mary Janes, sandals, and slippers.”
The company will introduce nearly two dozen additional options in the next year, including a line of court shoes, a nod to the older era of tennis shoes. “Our line of court shoes is unique for our field and is being very well received under the brands Logan for men and Brookhaven for women,” Wasik said.
All of Orthofeet’s shoes are designed with the needs of the diabetes community in mind, and are Medicare-approved under the 1993 Therapeutic Shoe Bill. In fact, Orthofeet recruited one of the authors of that congressional legislation, Dennis Janisse, CPed, as its director of scientific affairs. “The improved preventive foot care made possible for qualified patients through the Therapeutic Shoe Bill is noted as a factor in the 65% decline in diabetes-related amputations in the past ten years. It’s clear Janisse’s work has had a wonderful impact on quality of life for adults with diabetes,” Wasik said.
Janisse is on the clinical faculty of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and also operates a network of full-service pedorthic facilities. As a front-line retailer to diabetes customers, he provides Orthofeet with input and feedback on shoe design.
Janisse also has spearheaded the development of Orthofeet’s partnership with the AADE. At the organization’s annual meeting in August 2013, he delivered the only scientific podium presentation focused on foot health.
Wasik said, “The AADE network of 15,000 trained professionals is vital to ensuring that people with diabetes are aware of the importance of proper medical footwear. We provide diabetes educators with educational tools and connect them with local providers who carry special medical shoes such as those made by Orthofeet.”
Wasik said his team is now in place to follow through on all the company’s new initiatives. His previous career was in the food and beverage sector, most recently as CEO of Sigg Switzerland AG, the environmentally friendly water bottle company. His top lieutenants, however, have had decades of experience in the shoe industry. In addition to Janisse, Wasik named Charles Liberge executive vice president, sales and business development, with the charge to lead a network of nearly 20 sales managers across the nation, and Mike DiSotto, recruited as vice president, manufacturing, had primary responsibility for managing the critical factory switch in China.
Hank Black is a medical writer and editor based in Birmingham, AL.