Foot Solutions, the international U.S.-based store franchising operation that introduced MBT in the U.S. many years ago, has suffered only minor damage from the collapse of the toning market. In fact, its 160-odd franchised stores in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. have managed to raise their sales by more than 7 percent so far this year. This is probably because they are mainly in the business of “retail pedorthics,” using well-trained experts to sell shoes as well as footbeds and other orthotics that are intended correct heel pain, arch pain, ankle alignment, body balance and other foot-related problems rather than to tone up muscles and buttocks.
The organization started off 10 years ago as a sort of medical care service, but it is reacting to the recent financial crisis and to the spread of e-commerce by diversifying into the more general notions of fit and comfort by offering more stylish shoes, by developing better tools, and by rebranding itself with a fresher and more cosmopolitan look for the affiliated stores. Foot Solutions already has franchisees and master franchises with some 200 stores in 16 countries including Germany, Australia, South Africa, Lebanon, India and Malaysia, but like some very successful hotel or food franchises, it wants to develop its international operations further after this part of the process is completed this year or next.
The modernization of Foot Solutions is being led by a new team run by Jon Leven, whose family comes from the hotel business. While the founder, Ray Margiano, is still the chief executive and the technological brain of the operation, Leven came on board last July in the new position of chief operating officer. The newest member of the team, who joined at the beginning of this month, is Robert Muller, an internationally well-known personality from the footwear sector, who is acting as vice president of merchandising.
Like Margiano, who has a laboratory that develops custom-made removable footbeds for Foot Solutions' franchisees, Muller has a leader of the U.S. National Shoe Retailers Association (NSRA), where he acted as chairman in 1999-2001. In the late 1990s, Muller tried to set up an American buying group in association with the former Nord-West-Ring cooperative in Europe, and he still has many contacts around the world. A certified pedorthist himself, until September 2009 Muller ran his own store in Grand Rapids, Michigan, specializing in comfort shoes.
Financed through royalties on the franchisees' sales, Foot Solutions provides many services for them. It runs one of the three major pedorthic schools in the U.S., and it negotiates discounts and other deals with the suppliers on behalf of the franchisees, especially those in North America.
Many years ago, when it had the exclusivity for the brand in the U.S., Foot Solutions used to sell 100,000 pairs of MBT shoes per year. MBT is still a major brand in the network, which is patiently waiting to see what is going happen with it. Finn Comfort is currently the most widely sold brand in Foot Solutions stores. Other important brands are Joya, Mephisto, Dansko, Chung Shi, Haflinger and Aravon, but they are now also selling the exercise walking shoes of athletic brands such as Brooks and New Balance.