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How to Sell: Footwear

If a shoe doesn't fit, you will have one very unhappy customer -- one that may or may not return to your store to let you know of their pain. Footwear requires service, expert sales know-how, and solid fit expertise.

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This Training Center article is written by the editors of SNEWS® a

If a shoe doesn’t fit, you will have one very unhappy customer — one that may or may not return to your store to let you know of their pain. Footwear requires service, expert sales know-how, and solid fit expertise.

Feet do change size

While this may seem obvious, feet do change size over time, so, begin every sale by measuring both of your customer’s feet with a Brannock Device to establish length and width measurements as a starting point to the sale.

What is a Brannock Device?

The Brannock Device is a foot-measuring tool used to provide accurate length and width measurements. The Brannock Device shows the heel-to-toe length, arch length and width measurements simultaneously.

Why measure both feet?

You measure both feet since most folks have different sized feet — this is entirely normal. You will size the shoes your customer will be trying on to the larger of the two feet.

Recommend your customer try on footwear later in the day

Since feet will swell during the day, a foot that is measured and shoes that are fit in the morning might not feel quite as comfortable later in the day.

Help your customer put on their shoes and test the initial fit

You want to be sure your customer’s heels are firmly seated into the heel cups of the shoe or boots you are fitting. There should be about a thumbs width of room between the end of their longest toe and the front of the shoe. Ask your customer how the fit feels, letting them know the boot or shoe should feel comfortably snug over the instep and around the ball of each foot — rather like a hand gently, but firmly placed over the top of their foot, holding the foot in place.

Take the shoes for a walk

Have your customer walk on carpeted surfaces, hard surfaces, and up and down an incline board with your supervision. This is no time for self-service — especially on an incline board.

>> As the customer walks up the incline board, check for extra fabric or loose uppers that may allow the foot to slide forward on downhills or up and down on ups. Loose fabric is no good and the boot fit should be considered poor.

>> Check to see if the customer’s first and fifth metatarsal heads are at the widest apex of the boot. Use your thumb, coming in from the front of the foot, to squeeze down right on top of the first metatarsal or the ball of the foot. By putting your thumb on the boot, you can make a mental note of where the thumb is. Then, have the customer turn around and face downhill.

>> At this point, if your customer wants to jump up and down a little, that is OK. What you will be looking for are signs of either an elongation problem, foot submarining (there are a number of causes for this), or poor technique by your customer in lacing their boot. All are correctable.

>> Using the “big hand,” a technique Phil Oren perfected in his excellent boot-fitting seminars, wrap your hand over the instep of your customer’s boot with the thumbs to the inside, toward the arch, and fingers to the outside, then squeeze to feel whether or not the boot is tight enough over the ball and the instep. This is also a good way to ensure proper ankle and instep support. With the big hand, you are looking for sufficient holding power that will keep the foot from slipping forward. Too much slop around the ankle and instep means too much volume in the boot.

Fine-tuning and perfecting the fit

>> If a customer has an elongation problem — and you should already know this by proper use of a Brannock Device — then minimizing the problem will involve the use of custom footbeds or orthotics. Footbeds will help to stabilize the foot in varying degrees depending on their design.

>> Foot submarining, caused by the foot sliding forward into the front of the boot, becomes a problem if the boot is too wide, sized too large, or if the volume of the boot is too big.

>> If the customer is experiencing between 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch forward slip, that can often be corrected by either lacing the boot tighter or by wearing a thicker sock. A 5/6 iron, or 1/8 inch thick rubber midsole inserted in the boot will also help to take up extra volume and prevent foot slip.

Fitting women

Always measure women’s feet with a women’s-only Brannock device (lavender in color) and not a combination men’s/women’s device.

>> Smaller women are typically wider in the forefoot but narrow in the heel. This type of foot must be sold a boot with a combination last for proper fit — usually only the more expensive boots and better brands offer combination lasts.

>> Many women are longer heel-to-toe than heel-to-ball. This means you need to fit them heel-to-toe, but remember that the ball now falls behind the normal flex point of the boot. It is essential that the volume of the boot be correct, otherwise, the boot will now collapse on the foot above the ball.

Special fit needs

>> Large feet with low volume often require you to lower the volume of the boot if you cannot fit the person in a low-volume boot initially. First, try removing the manufacturer’s footbed and replacing it with an after-market footbed. Second, try a thicker sock. Third, place a tongue depressor between the laces and the tongue when lacing the boot. If that works, have the customer take the boot to a cobbler to open up the tongue and permanently sew the depressor inside the boot’s tongue. Finally, you can take a piece of five iron (a 1/8 inch neoprene rubber midsole material that shoe repair people use) and trace the footbed by angling the pencil inward so that the five iron cut-out will be slightly smaller than the footbed when you cut it out. Place the five iron cut-out under the footbed.

>> For those customers with a second and/or third toe that is longer than the big toe, you need to measure the foot length to the longest toe, not the big toe as is often mistakenly done. Make the mistake of not measuring to the longest toe and you risk selling your customer a boot that will guarantee blue toenails.

Good lacing ensures better fit

>> Teach your customer to properly lace their boots keeping in mind that customers either lace their boots to tightly or not firmly enough. Laces that are too loose will not secure a foot into the back of the boot and hold it there. An improperly laced boot nullifies all your efforts to achieve a good fit. Use a surgeon’s knot (laces wrapped around each other once, twice, then three times) and then pull the knot snugly down over the instep. Next, insert three fingers directly under the knot and then, using a firm lifting and twisting motion, torque the laces so that the lace running through the first four to five eyelets is as snug as possible against the forefoot and instep. Re-secure the surgeon’s knot over the instep and tie the laces.