Two local sneaker stores are going high-tech with their shoe-fitting process, rolling out a 3-D scanner that performs eight foot measurements in seven seconds.
After a practice and training period, the new device, dubbed fit id, goes live Wednesday in the Malta and Colonie locations of Fleet Feet.
Gazette Business Editor John Cropley's size 11 feet are shown in a 3-D image generated at the Colonie location of Fleet Feet on Tuesday. (Provided)
The company is having its franchisees gradually add the proprietary system at the 170 stores nationwide. With the addition of Charles Woodruff’s two stores in the Capital Region, the chain will be about halfway to its goal.
Woodruff said it’s a big step forward for the fitting process.
“We’ve measured feet for years and years and years,” he said.
The process will continue to rely heavily on the expertise of the salespeople, who ask customers what they want to do in their walking and running shoes and what problems they’ve had with their existing or previous footwear.
A key part of the process will remain the salesperson watching the customer’s stride in the store.
But with fit id, the customer and salesman can see exactly how long and wide each foot is; tell whether the variations between left and right foot are significant; and see where the dimensions fall in relation to the average person, which can help point the customer to a particular sneaker, or sock, or insole, or lacing pattern, or some combination of one or more of these.
“Here’s what we see, here are some possible solutions,” Woodruff explained. “There’s lots of ways to get there.”
The fit id scanner takes a series of photos from every angle except the bottom that generates a 3-D image of the feet and a series of measurements.
Within 1 millimeter of accuracy, it shows foot size, heel-to-toe length, ball width and girth, instep height and girth, arch height and heel width.
For a demonstration, general manager Barbara Gillen stepped onto the scanner at the Colonie store Tuesday. As a 30-mile-a-week runner and as a footwear retailer, she’s already very aware of what her own feet are like, but now she has some hard numbers for them.
A Gazette business writer hops on the scanner next. His bony size 11s are nearly symmetrical, with very little variation between left and right. The heel-to-toe length and the arch height are both much higher than average, but every other measurement is well below average.
These feet are long and slender, in other words.
This knowledge is useful for steering a customer toward a particular style or width or brand of running shoe, Woodruff said, or fine-tuning that shoe with an insert that provides more or less arch support.
“It’s comfort and support, that’s what we’re shooting for,” he said.
Beyond all the measurements and science, comfort is one of the best signs you have the right shoes, Woodruff said, and discomfort is one of the biggest red flags that you don’t.
“Never put your feet where they don’t want to be.”
Woodruff, a former sports equipment dealer, opened the Colonie store 11 years ago and the Malta store four years ago. They’re among the busier locations in the Fleet Feet franchise network, selling 22,000 to 23,000 pairs of shoes a year.
As individual locations, Woodruff’s two stores will use fit id to keep better records of their customers’ needs, by tracking what they’re doing with footwear and how it’s working for them.
Nationally, after Fleet Feet rolls out fit id to all locations, the aggregated data from millions of customers at 170 stores will be shared with sneaker makers, who are eager for such data so that they can design their products to meet common foot profiles and needs, Woodruff said.
Three years down the road, he added, the system may have advanced to the point that semicustom footwear can be produced for individual customers by one or more of the 12 shoe manufacturers currently represented in his stores.