Footbalance expanding in North America, bringing customized sole service to retailers

Finland-based Footbalance is expanding its North American footprint by giving specialty retailers the option to offer in-store customized insoles in 10 minutes. SNEWS takes a look at the company's expansion from specialty running shops to outdoor retailers.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

A Finnish custom-molded footbed company is expanding its North American footprint, picking up 15 new retailers since this summer.

Footbalance (www.footbalance.com) is giving specialty retailers the option to offer custom-molded footbeds within 10 minutes to customers, plus provide personalized customer service and the abilty to gather customer footwear data to stock their shelves accordingly.

SNEWS takes a look at the company's expansion from specialty running shops to outdoor retailers.

“A lot of shelf insoles or sock liners in shoes are asking your foot to conform to their shape,” said Matt Kaplan, Footbalance’s president and managing director. “With our product we’re saying, ‘Let’s make the footbed conform to your foot.’ ”

A bit of history

It started in 2003, when Finnish physiotherapist Erkki Hakkala, who specialized in podiatric medicine, sought to offer an alternative to the time-consuming process of molding custom footbeds. Hakkala also wanted to find a lightweight, softer alternative to traditional footbeds.

So he developed a process where he could heat up ethylene-vinyl acetate foam and shape it to a person’s foot, creating a softer product in a shorter period of time. Footbalance launched commercially in 2007, and its North American headquarters are in San Diego.

For many years, Footbalance could be found in running specialty shops where athletes could get their gait analyzed, pick out a pair of shoes and get themselves a customized molded footbed. But Kaplan said the company didn’t want to limit itself.

“We really saw that there’s an opportunity for footbeds in any kind of performance activity,” Kaplan said, adding that custom insoles could help active people keep feet aligned, which keeps everything else in the kinetic chain (ankles, knees, hips and back) aligned.

“We were born out of the physical therapy world, often seeing injuries from all different types of sporting activities,” Kaplan said. Keeping feet aligned prevents many injuries, he noted.

More than a recommendation

In a few pharmacies and big box stores, Dr. Scholl’s offers a machine a person steps onto to get analyzed for an insole suggestion. Kaplan said the benefit of Footbalance is that it’s more than a recommendation.

“Those types of things are still … an off-shelf product,” Kaplan said. “Ours is 100-percent custom all the time.”

A customized footbed starts with an analysis. Retailers take photos of a customer’s feet and collect data from customers using the Footbalance Recommendation System (FRS), determining whether customers are pronators or supinators.

Then, the retailer will warm up the foam pillows in a special heater. Customers will put each foot in a different pillow while the retailer holds the customer’s toes back. The customer will put equal weight on both pillows then quickly step off to let the footbed cool. The footbeds are then trimmed to fit inside the shoe.

Even if retailers provide analysis but don’t sell footbeds, they still collect this data, which can be used for inventory purposes, Kaplan said.

In order for a Footbalance station to be successful, Kaplan said retailers must embrace it and use it as a tool to complement footwear already offered in their stores.

Something for everybody

According to Footbalance officials, the company came out of the summer trade show season with about 15 new retailers, all from the cycling, wintersports and outdoor industries. 

Kaplan said Footbalance offers a little something for everybody.

“We have different models that have varying degrees of cushioning and rigidity – with running shoes you’re going to want to have a little more cushion or flex, whereas in the ski (boot) or bike (shoe) you don’t want it to flex as much,” Kaplan explained.

Footbalance is also in various department stores, shoe stores and medical clinics. Though Footbalance hasn’t yet broken into the specialty fitness market, Kaplan said that could be a possibility in the future.

“It’s certainly something we’ve spoken about,” Kaplan said. “We’re trying to target really at this point outdoor and snowsports. There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity beyond that as well but right now we want to a few things and do them very, very well.”

Benefitting the retailer

Offering a custom service where retailers have to sit and talk to a customer offers an additional layer of customer service, Kaplan said.

Specialty ski and snowboard shops spend a lot of time making a boot fit a person as closely as possible, Kaplan said, so having a custom insole could make a boot (or shoe or hiking boot) fit more like a glove.

There is a minimum order or $1,500 to bring Footbalance into your specialty store, which includes 44 pair of footbeds, an analysis station, a laptop, a heater and a web camera. The laptop comes equipped with the Footbalance Recommendation System software.

“In the competitive retail landscape that we’re in right now this type of a product really gives a retailer an opportunity to promote their high level of customer service and expertise,” Kaplan said, “and offer something a lot of people can’t get online.”

–Ana Trujillo

Related

RainyPass.jpg

Gear repair companies provide extra layer of customer service for outdoor retailers

There’s a special bond that forms between an adventurer and his or her gear. When rips, tears or other damage threaten to break that bond, consumers are likely to turn up at a specialty outdoor shop seeking help. Limited warranties or self fixes only go so far, so for many ...read more

Footbalance Now Available at Orlando Fit2Run

Footbalance, an innovator in custom footbed technology, announces Fit2Run Orlando as one of its new specialty retailer locations.Fit2Run provides quality products and expertise to runners and walkers at every level. Specialty retail shops, like Fit2Run, mold the footbeds in fewer ...read more

Footbalance Now Available at Golf Town Retail Locations

Footbalance, an innovator in custom footbed technology, announces Golf Town as one of its specialty retailer locations.Golf Town is Canada’s largest golf retailer with US locations in the Boston area. Specialty retail shops, like Golf Town, mold the footbeds in fewer than 10 ...read more

Footbalance Offers Skiers and Snowboarders Custom Comfort

San Diego, CA – November 8, 2011 – Footbalance, an innovator in custom footbed technology, is proud to introduce the “Race” model footbed. Developed with input from Jukka Leino of the Finnish Alpine Ski Team, this footbed is super thin and supportive for those seeking high ...read more

LOGO_new payoff

Garmont North America Appoints Customer Service Manager

In response to the Brand’s momentum in North America, Garmont appoints Kyle Ferdyn as Customer Service Manager. Based in the Exeter, New Hampshire headquarters Kyle manages retail and consumer inquiries, product flow, system optimization and works closely with the warehouse to ...read more

Mystery Shopper: Wow! A truly textbook example of salesmanship, customer service

Finally! A truly outstanding shopping experience with a salesman that knew exactly how to interact with the customer for a customized sale. Congratulations, Exercise Essentials in Madison, Ala.! Granted, this was only one shopping experience at one branch with one salesman, but ...read more

Customer Service: Silly solution leaves customer baffled

Good customer service is a hallmark that separates good businesses from bad like wheat from chaff. It is the difference between being a company that can rightfully boast about brand loyalty and the ability to sell products that command a premium, and a company that is selling ...read more

Footbalance incentivizes retailers with rewards for sales

Boulder, CO—April 1, 2013 – Footbalance, an innovator in custom footbed technology, is offering retailers the chance to race in the XTERRA World or National Championship races in 2013. Based on sales numbers, one person from each of the top four retail stores in North America ...read more

Footbalance brings patented technology to home-moldable footbed

Boulder, CO—January 11, 2013 – Footbalance, an innovator in custom footbed technology, is proud to launch Footbalance QuickFit, the brand’s new innovation in home-moldable footbeds. Footbalance North America will be rolling out the new product, point of purchase displays and ...read more