By Nancy Shohet West | Photos by Denise Budde
Like most podiatrists and podiatric surgeons, Tatiana Wellens-Bruschayt, DPM, and Maria Jaramillo-Dolan, DPM, of the Central Florida Foot and Ankle Center in Winter Haven spend a lot of time counseling patients with diabetes on proper foot care. Traditionally, that meant directing them to a source for special shoes designed for people with diabetes.
Then, in 2009, the doctors had an inspiration. Why not have an on-site shoe store to which they could direct their patients?
As shoe store manager Steve Fletcher explains it, this was really a matter of extrapolating an idea used by a similar business and custom-fitting it to their own industry. He points to the popular eyeglasses chains often found in shopping malls.
“The optometrist examines you and says you need glasses; then the business takes care of the product you need,” Fletcher said. “We were sending patients away to buy the shoes our doctors prescribed, and our marketing director recognized that it would be better customer service to provide them right here.”
The idea quickly expanded from shoes for people with diabetes to any kind of footwear that might help someone with a foot problem: orthopedic sandals, running shoes, and footwear appropriate for business dress.
The relationship between the medical practice and the store is symbiotic, Fletcher says. Some people arrive at the practice for medical advice and are advised by the doctors to go shoe-shopping; others are first drawn into the retail space and, when they describe their particular foot problem to a sales associate, learn they would be wise to schedule an appointment with one of the podiatrists.
“A customer might say she is having heel pain and wants a shoe that will alleviate the discomfort,” said Fletcher. “But, when I help fit her for a shoe, I can see that it’s actually a symptom of a more significant foot problem. So I’ll send her on over to the medical side of the building.”
Fallon Dann has been manager of the medical practice for 15 years and has witnessed firsthand how enthusiastic patients are about the on-site shopping option. It’s not only the convenience that impresses them, Dann said; it’s the variety of options that belie the stereotype of clunky shoes as the best for foot care.
“Throughout much of our lives, we pick style over comfort when it comes to footwear,” Dann said. “But, with our range of styles, people don’t need to choose one or the other. Even our younger patients are happy with what’s available to help them feel stylish as well as comfortable.”
To the surprise of many first-time customers, this range extends even to flip-flops.
“Here in Florida, we all like to wear flip-flops,” Dann said. “We wanted something available to meet that need, but it had to be something that our podiatrists could personally endorse. Dr. Wellens-Bruschayt did a lot of research and a lot of reviewing to come up with the products we currently offer. We do tell our patients that most flip-flops are bad for your feet, but the ones we offer have sufficient built-in arch support and are backed by the American Podiatric Medical Association [APMA].”
As marketing director for the practice, Rich Mattsson is happy to be on the front lines of both patient care and fashion retail. Although prices for high-quality, orthopedically beneficial shoes may be higher than those found at a bargain shoe outlet doesn’t seem to bother most of their customers, Mattsson says.
“Instead of flimsy twenty-dollar shoes from a big box discount store, we provide shoes that are approved by the APMA, and make people’s feet feel good,” Mattsson said.
It’s a winning formula—for the practice, for the customers, and, most of all, for the customers’ feet.
Nancy Shohet West is a freelance writer in the Boston area.