November 1997

" Custom-Made Shoes "




Custom-Made Shoes

Digitoe, in Port Townsend, Washington, is using its scanner technology to attract the custom-made shoe market. Alan Zerobnick, President and CEO, is ready to use new ideas to open up new markets.

"Most of our customers haven't gotten what they wanted out of shoe stores. We want our shoes to fit customers like they have never been fit before," Zerobnick said. "We're Custom Shoemakers at heart, but we use a computer rather than measuring by hand."

"We work with other companies. We only need to stock raw materials and we don't have any returns or markdowns, so we can offer competitive custom shoes," he said. "Instead of $600 to $800 minimum for a pair, we think we can sell them for under $400 per pair."

His strategy is echoed by Shane Hayes, CPed., President and CEO of Shane's Foot Comfort Center in Seattle, a "beta testing site" for Digitoe.

"I've tried to be knowledgeable enough about new technology so I can figure out what is going to be beneficial to my customers" Hayes said. "Alan has given a lot of thought to this. Its not like he woke up yesterday and said, 'let's go do something'. He's paid his dues."

Digitoe has had a separate room in Shane's since April 1. Both Zerobnick and Hayes say they want it to be a "seamless operation".

"I personally was not happy until my foot was run through the system and the shoes fit perfectly," Hayes said. "Knowing how to make shoes myself and working with problem feet, until I could personally put it on and feel that it was working, I was not willing to go out and start talking about it."

One thing the system lacks at this point is a consistent turn around time, which Hayes believes could be a sticking point with customers. Zerobnick, however, maintains that turn around time, while important, is an arbitrary number.

Aside from the ability to deliver the product in a stated period of time, questions remain about reassuring the consumer as to the quality of the final product and the role of the craftsman. As exciting as the technology is, Hayes said, "you can never really replace the professional, you can never replace the craftsmanship; this is just a modern tool for doing what we used to do by hand."

Hayes knows there is professional and consumer educations which is to be accomplished as well. He worries that consumers may be confused by seeing different machines in different places and may not understand the process and craftsmanship involved in creating custom shoes.

"There are very few companies that take it from the foot through the milling process to create the product. I think that people are going to see machines that measure the foot in one way or another, but do not actually produce a product," he said.

Zerobnick's long-term goals include retail sites owned and operated by Digitoe to complement the company's web site ( and other retail kiosks that the company may license. Digitoe is already doing business globally, with 7-9,000 hits a month on its website, Zerobnick said.

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