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Sore feet leads to specialty footwear business

Dan McGee

Sore feet inspired Peter Padilla to learn everything he could about shoes and the feet that go in them.

Now the knowledge is allowing him to step ahead in business.

“When I was a young man I had foot problems, and it actually got to a point where I almost had to leave my job over it,” said Padilla, the owner of Specialty Footwear in Spanish Springs and a trained healthcare professional who knows all about footwear.

Over a couple of years in his youth, Padilla acquired the knowledge, equipment and materials to make his own shoes.

After resolving that problem sufficiently to work 20 years in construction, he saw in 2007 that the building industry was starting to go downhill. Returning to his earlier interest, Padilla trained to become a board-certified pedorthist: a healthcare professional who specializes in footwear and supportive devices.

“You go through a training certification including material science, foot anatomy, physiology, patient and practice management and more,” he said. “Some of it is online, then I went to Tulsa, Okla., for my laboratory. Once you pass the national exam you’re board-certified but you have to maintain a certain amount of education credits within each five-year period.”

He launched Specialty Footwear in August of 2009 and opened a retail location in December that year after visiting with podiatrists, chiropractors and orthopedic doctors that work with feet.

Confidence from doctors and consumers, Padilla says, has been a big part of his success.

The store offers several brands of footwear as well as standard and custom-made insoles, arch supports and orthotics.

“I know what the good shoes are. But over time you learn what people want, so you have to try and find a happy medium,” he said. “I know what people need to be in but they aren’t always willing to wear the type of shoe they need to be in.”

Padilla can alter a shoe stretching it in a certain place, for instance and can have custom shoes built to a person’s feet. While he does the measuring and makes a cast of the foot, an outside lab creates the shoe.

His daughter, Valerie, makes most of the custom inserts that other patrons require.

Custom inserts can be altered to relieve pressure on a sensitive area by distributing weight elsewhere on the foot. Inserts are used for high arches, heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, calluses and bunions. Others address complications from surgery or diabetes.

“Every case in unique and whatever the case is, we provide a solution for it. For many cases we’re fabricating it here right on the spot and installing it in the shoe,” Padilla said.

Shoe buyers don’t just plop down and try on a couple of pairs. Shoes are carefully crafted to fit.

Putting his training to work, Padilla uses pressure and gait analysis and assesses the range of motion of his customers. If it’s a complicated case, he first refers the client to a physician who can write a prescription for shoes and support.

“We work with our customers through the fitting process and I tell people, if their case is complicated, they may be coming back two or three times,” he said. “And that’s OK as we do alterations and adjustments.”

The rising tide of diabetes as well as the problems that arise after consumers spend a lifetime in cheap shoes worry Padilla at the same time that they bring more consumers into the store.

Walk-ins, referrals from doctors and word-of-mouth help market the store. So does its Web site, http://www.specialtyfootwearsparks.com.

After a slow start, Specialty Footwear is growing at a 50 percent clip this year. Padilla hopes to expand the store and add staff with its growth.

“I can only see my market growing,” he said. “It’s been a good three years and we’re negotiating a lease extension with the landlord as we speak.”

More growth could come as Padilla follows through with plans for the business to earn Medicare designation as a facility that’s accredited for shoes for patients with diabetes.

With the designation, Medicare would cover 80 percent of the cost for a pair of shoes each year as well as three diabetic insoles.