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    High price points may be killing growth in the foot-care business.

    Are foot-care device manufacturers killing the golden goose? After five years of steady growth, the category took a pause in the past 12 months, producing relatively flat dollar sales gains in mass-market outlets and a significant 9% drop in unit volume during the 52-week period ended March 25, 2001.

    While some manufacturers say it is just a momentary pause in the category's growth pattern, others wonder whether suppliers have gotten just a bit too greedy and complacent with the $353 million category. They say that price points in the category--some now approach $15 and $20--are too high to generate impulse sales in a market that relies on impulse to sell. Plus, they say, despite a dramatic increase in technology, the latest items introduced to the market are duds and have not caught on with consumers.

    "Rising price points are taking people out of this category," says Dan Feldman, vice president of sales for ProFoot, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based manufacturer. "We are getting to the point where this category is getting much too complicated for the consumer and much too expensive. Right now, we have some products that are getting near the $20 price point. At that price, we could alienate the core foot-care consumer."

    Retailers back up some of Feldman's claims. One retailer says foot-care device unit volume is down dramatically at his stores, and he suspects that higher prices are the culprits. "Two years ago, this was one of my fastest-growing HBC categories," he says. "Now, despite great demographics, sales are plummeting."

    According to data from Information Resources Inc. (IRI), foot-care device sales actually grew by 1.1% percent in supermarkets in the tracked 52-week period, though the food retail class accounts for just $74 million of revenue in the category. In the larger drugstore class, dollar sales dropped by 0.4% to $139.2 million and mass merchandisers' sales grew by 1.9% to $139.8 million.

    Feldman is convinced that lower price points are the answer to the category's problems. ProFoot has introduced its Triad line of inserts, designed for comfort and support, while maintaining price points designed to generate impulse sales. "For us, there is a tremendous niche available that we think Triad will fill," says Feldman. "We feel this is a great product that will satisfy consumer demand. Our line takes into account the new technology available but at price points that will not scare off the consumer."

    In fact, there is a flurry of activity on the research and development front in foot-care devices. Sparked by the aging of the baby boom generation-and this age group's refusal to slow down when it comes to sporting and recreational activities-foot-care device sales were able to post nearly a half-decade's worth of solid sales growth in the 1990s.

    Looking at the statistics and the aging trends, most suppliers think the party is far from over. "These baby boomers think they are going to stay young forever," says Clover Bergmann, vice president of foot-care marketing for Schering-Plough, based in Berkeley Heights, N.J. "Many are unwilling to accept the fact that they are aging. When they wake up the morning after, they often look for self-treatment. In the foot-care category, they are looking for products that can ease the pain a bit."

    Of course, Bergmann'should know. Schering-Plough, which manufactures the Dr. Scholl's brand, is far and away the industry leader in foot care, controlling about 70% of all category sales. But while Dr. Scholl's is the dominant brand, it is by no means the only player in the category. Over the past decade, a number of companies, sensing the ability to fill a niche left vacant by Schering-Plough, have moved into the category with products that are either decidedly upscale or downscale compared to Dr. Scholl's.

    Big corporate names like Johnson & Johnson have introduced new products to the category with varying results. Meanwhile, a number of smaller companies have also tried to grab a share of the category. For the most part, many of these companies have failed, though some like ProFoot and Implus, based in Triangle Park, N.C., have made a dent in the market by stressing a particular product line or a dramatically different price point. Implus is now the second-largest manufacturer of foot-care devices, with a 4.8% market share and an annual dollar growth rate of more than 18%, according to IRI.

    "We come to the market emphasizing value, innovation and performance," says Steve Head, vice president of sales for Implus, which markets the AirPlus line of foot-care products. "We think there is a void in the market in the value end of the business, and we are confident that as long as we offer a quality product at a value price we can fill that niche."

    AirPlus offers a number of products to the trade, including its Gel SportPlus insole and the sport and work insole. "When you are not first in a market, you are definitely in a tougher spot," Head says. "Schering-Plough has the name recognition with Dr. Scholl's. We realize that we have to work a bit harder to get both the retailer's and the consumer's attention. We need to stand apart on price, on concept and on packaging."

    In fact, many say that the smaller players must go to great lengths to make themselves look different from Dr. Scholl's. The problem, they say, is that Dr. Scholl's packaging is well-known and the brand has an extremely loyal following. Developing a knockoff rarely works, even in private label, and suppliers must work hard to develop their own image in the foot-care market.

    Smaller suppliers add that another difficulty with the category is that there are a number of players, including private label offerings, in the value end of the business. In fact, observers say the competition at the lower end of the market is so severe that even store brands are not gaining as much share as they are in other HBC markets.

    "When we have to fight private label for a share of the value end of the business, it makes it that much harder to succeed," says one supplier. "But Dr. Scholl's dominates the middle of the market and it is hard to go upscale with foot care, so we are all battling on price points."

    Bergmann says that Dr. Scholl's is not sitting still. She is well aware that other companies are tryi0ng to nibble market share away from her brand. Schering-Plough is attempting to extend the category by introducing a host of new footcare device items for sports, the workplace and even for people with diabetes. "We are trying to bring more people into the market all the time," she notes. "With our Advantage Sports product, we think that 40% of the users are new to the category. Plus, we think that we are bringing a lot of people back to the mass market from sporting goods stores with this product."

    Bergmann says that Dr. Scholl's StepWell Insoles are designed with a dual layer of foam to distribute pressure evenly and help relieve pain and discomfort from common foot problems https://www.footguru***** including those suffered by people with diabetes. "It is simply another addition to attract a greater audience to foot care," she notes.

    Of course, suppliers say that retailers should give foot-care devices more space in their stores, teaming the segment with foot-care medications to develop a total health-care section for the feet. Many retailers are already doing this, but most say they are unwilling to boost the size of the section or move it to a more conspicuous place.

    "We think that is a mistake," says Bergmann. "Foot-care devices are an extremely impulse-oriented category, and retailers have a real opportunity to boost sales by increasing the number of facings and putting the section in a strong location. I think retailers would be surprised how well this category could perform for them if it was given some more attention. The future demographics are working perfectly for continued growth for foot care."
    Last edited by saraohyland; 03-31-2018, 01:42 PM.

    welcome Sara to WH!

    I think one has to have 33 posts before that appears as well as the ability to pm (private message someone)