Product innovation, customization to individual needs, and private-label manufacturing services for other brands have driven continual growth at American Orthopedics Manufacturing Corporation in Brooklyn, NY. After all, it was innovation that jumpstarted the company: In 1962 podiatrist Jack Silverman, DPM, who founded the company in 1948, received a patent for exclusive manufacturing techniques for custom-molded shoes.
Now the American Orthopedics staff of podiatric, orthotic, and pedorthic professionals and representatives provide custom products to about 65% of lower extremity practitioners in the US throughout the course of a year, said Chief Operating Officer Chris Gizzi, CO. And in February 2013, the company will move from its 20,000-square-foot manufacturing facilities in Brooklyn to a new 30,000-square-foot location in Westchester County, NY.
“Basically, our philosophy has been, ‘tell us the problem you’re having and we’ll try to come up with a device or modality that will help your patient,’” Gizzi said. “We do have some standard devices and various styles of custom shoes, but we like to say, ‘[If] you have an issue or you’re looking to design something, give us a call and let’s discuss what’s going on with the patient and we’ll build it together or we’ll get the problem solved. We pride ourselves on making the end user happy and, in turn, making our customers happy.’”
American Orthopedics has evolved from a custom shoe company to an enterprise offering a full line of orthotic devices. “With the introduction of the diabetic Therapeutic Shoe Bill in the 1980s, there was a big explosion of custom footwear because of the reimbursements from Medicare for those devices,” Gizzi said. “With the introduction of AFOs [ankle foot orthoses], ankle gauntlets, and things of that nature about 10 years ago, we basically doubled our production.”
Among the company’s newest offerings is the Revolution AFO, an easily adjustable arch support orthosis Gizzi invented. The orthosis mimics the tibial tendon that holds the arch by pulling up the medial side of the leg, not across the apex of the arch. Practitioners or patients can adjust the custom-molded inner boot area as often as necessary through a ratcheting buckle.
“It has a custom-molded inner boot area that can be modified by a ratcheting buckle to increase or decrease the amount of support the device gives to either the medial longitudinal arch or the lateral longitudinal arch, depending on the person’s diagnosis or issues,” Gizzi said. He said he came up with the device because customers had been asking him for an arch-suspending device.
The device, which went on sale in November 2011, has been through case studies at Gifford Medical Center’s Sharon Sports Medicine Clinic in Sharon, VT (see “Study shows adjustable AFO reduces pain, allows return to active lifestyle,” July 2012, p 74), and is now undergoing trials at New York College of Podiatric Medicine in New York City, Gizzi said. He noted that the company and its representatives are in the process of providing educational information on the device at conventions and conferences.
When it comes to trying to balance function and style in custom footwear, American Orthopedics always emphasizes function, Gizzi said. “We do have other divisions of the company that sell high-end custom footwear that is very nice looking, but those products are not for people with more serious problems. Our main focus is the heavy orthopedic accommodative footwear.”
He adds, “We’re looking at function first, and then we try to make the products as cosmetically pleasing as possible. We caution practitioners that they need to prepare the patient properly as to what to expect. Depending on their diagnosis, they may no longer be able to wear regular shoes; they’re wearing therapeutic or orthopedic devices because they have a foot condition that doesn’t allow for them to wear [conventional] shoes. A custom orthopedic shoe might not look so great, but it could possibly save your limb in diabetic foot situations.”
With respect to custom footwear, he explains, “The ability to individualize our devices to the specific needs of the customer is what sets us apart from others. And innovations like the Revolution are helping us gain a lot of traction in ankle devices.”
About six years ago, American Orthopedics started doing some contract manufacturing for other orthotic labs, Gizzi says. “Our ability to manufacture for other labs has also driven us forward,” he adds. “We’re becoming known as the guys for manufacturing lower extremity products when you need it done.”
Larry Hand is a writer in Massachusetts.