The old saying “All for one and one for all” is something William Lanier, PhD, takes to heart every day.
Lanier, owner of Branier Orthopedic in Sebring, FL, took over the family business about two years ago from his parents, who founded the custom molded shoe company in 1989. Branier Orthopedic now employs 41 people, and 35 are members of the immediate and extended Lanier family.
“We are in every way a family business,” said Lanier, adding that he counts his siblings, parents, cousins, and even their respective husbands and wives among his daily coworkers. “We make things happen, and this is why we succeed when other companies have gone under. We pull it together, even in bad times.”
At Branier, every order is made and assembled at the company’s Florida facility. The company turns around custom shoe orders, for example, in about 12 days. Each shoe is handmade using custom-cut patterns and high-quality leathers and insole materials.
The company’s attention to detail and personal service have helped Branier remain a leader in the custom shoe business. According to Lanier, based on the number of orders filled, it is now the largest manufacturer of custom molded shoes made in the US. This is something he is proud of, especially at a time when the custom molded shoe industry is rapidly declining in the US, due in large part, he said, to shrinking Medicare reimbursements and a climate dominated by a looming fear of Medicare audits. Many of its competitors are exiting the industry or, in some cases, are now sending orders to Branier to fill.
“The custom molded shoe business is a rough niche,” Lanier said. On a positive note, Branier is now in a position to double its volume of custom molded shoes due to its increasing market share.
Indeed, the industry is changing fast, and even Lanier admits that custom molded shoes alone will not keep his family business afloat. This fueled his decision two years ago to broaden Branier’s product offerings to include functional custom orthoses, Medicare-compliant diabetic inlays, and lower limb bracing, such as ankle foot orthosis (AFO)-style leather gauntlets. Some of the company’s diabetic inserts are offered in high-density silver Plastazote and EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) for heavier or more active patients (all are code A5513 compliant). Branier’s inserts can also be bundled with high-quality addeddepth shoes made by Aetrex, P.W. Minor, OrthoFeet, Drew, Propét, I-Runner, and Anodyne.
“We already had skilled craftsmen and the capacity to make custom products, and we used this advantage to diversify into other lines,” said Lanier, who noted the company uses the increased revenue generated by inserts and braces to support its shoe business.
“We want to be a one-stop shop. Now our customers can buy their shoes, inserts, and braces in one place. We also see many practitioners who need not just the shoes and inserts, but who also require shoe buildups and brace calipers installed in the footwear before the patient can use the product, services routinely provided by our staff,” Lanier said.
With Branier’s diabetic footwear and insert packages, clinicians can order from more than 100 prefabricated added-depth shoe styles. When purchasing both diabetic footwear and custom inserts from Branier, the inserts are trimmed to fit the patient’s footwear choice. Branier’s staff understands the ins and outs of diabetic foot care, and its diabetic packages relieve the headache of needing to order shoes and inserts from multiple manufacturers. Because Branier’s custom inserts aren’t limited to preconfigured templates, the company can provide clinicians with the most flexibility in the custom insert market, Lanier said. Order forms, for example, start with a choice of materials and top covers and conclude with a list of custom modifications. Some available base materials include Pelite and cork; top cover material choices include Plastazote, antimicrobial silver textiles, and multiple EVA color configurations.
As for braces, Branier guarantees all components of each order interface perfectly. When clinicians order a custom shoe and brace together, Branier’s technicians, who specialize in AFO and leather gauntlet fabrication, ensure no detail is overlooked.
All told, Branier has come a long way in 25 years. And for Lanier, helming the company for the next generation is a personal mission.
“I’ve been working here since I was twelve. I used to ride the city bus across town for two hours to get here after school. I personally molded shoe casts,” he said.
When he turned 14 years old, Lanier learned to run the company’s machines. At age 16, he became one of the world’s youngest board certified pedorthists. He has since let his certification lapse. “My dad made me a five-hundred-dollar bet I wouldn’t pass the exam, but I smoked it.”
Lanier left the family business for college, eventually earning his PhD in comparative genomics and bioinformatics. Then, a few years ago, Lanier got a call from his dad asking him to return home because the industry was changing. His family needed him to run the business and help carry the torch. It was a no-brainer, he said.
“I had job offers all over, but family is here, and Branier is the glue that holds us together,” he said.
Robyn Parets is a freelance writer based in Boston.
Article sponsored by Branier Orthopedic.