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Devices suffer at hands of uneducated consumers.

NEW YORK -- Suppliers in the foot devices category agree that one of the problems the segment has faced is inadequate household penetration. And they are developing a variety of solutions intended to jump-start the business.

"The long-term issue, which is critical, is that we need to broaden our customer base and deepen penetration," says Dan Feldman, vice president of marketing for Profoot Inc.

John Andrews, director of marketing for Implus Footcare LLC, agrees. Last year the manufacturer introduced a line aimed specifically at women under its Airplus brand. "There are a lot of consumers between 20 and 50 who don't think about the category, or who consider shopping it an admission of getting older," he says. "So we need to position the products more as performance enhancers, and more as beauty products. We're bringing new vehicles to get consumers into the category. After all, if we increase penetration by 5%, we'll grow category sales by 25%."

Both Andrews and Feldman see issues with the product life of most foam insoles, which is about 30 days, compared to about a year for gels, according to Andrews. "There are some items that have been in the set too long," says Feldman. "We think the low-end air-type insole is a detriment to the category. Most of the purchasers are first-time users, and they're not getting a satisfactory experience. Why not produce a high-quality introductory product? We see this as a major problem, and we'll have a solution to offer this year."

Feldman's critique of the typical assortment goes further. While some common foot problems have a multitude of products vying for consumers' attention, others, such as heel spurs, remain largely ignored. "An estimated 30 million to 40 million Americans suffer from sharp pain associated with heel spurs," he notes. "And there is no product that addresses it. It's like going to the analgesics aisle and finding no headache remedies--but we will have one."

Implus also has new items appearing in the fall, including a heel liner in the Airplus for Her line called Hugs My Heel, made with the company's invisigel silicone gel. In addition, Andrews says the company will introduce a new generation gel called G3, which contains an integrated structural support.

Both suppliers see increased advertising and promotion as ways to grow consumer aware ness despite limited results in recent years. In addition to its appeal to women, lmplus has become involved in NASCAR promotion, which targets a different demographic, while Feldman says Profoot will be spending more on public relations efforts and television advertising to raise awareness of foot health. Profoot's The 2-Oz. Miracle, a custom-molding insole, was recognized by Woman's Day magazine as foot care product of the year.

"This isn't a brand new category," Andrews comments. "The challenge is reaching people and converting them into long-term customers."

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Title Annotation:Merchandising
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Sep 6, 2004
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