By Eric Smith
Like many active-lifestyle brands, Superfeet felt a calling to help where it could in the battle against COVID-19.
In the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, the Ferndale, WA-based maker of insoles and footwear quickly pivoted to making personal protective equipment (PPE) along with sister company Flowbuilt Manufacturing. The two joined forces on providing 3D printing capabilities to frontline workers and making and distributing both masks and PAPR hoods to Pacific Northwest hospitals.
Superfeet also announced the rollout of two new programs to help support its specialty retail partners—drop-shipping to end consumers free of charge and an affiliate program to share revenue from sales on Superfeet.com.
With the company doing so much to help in the fight against the spread of COVID-19, we wanted to check in with John Rauvola, Superfeet’s CEO and president, about these ongoing efforts as well as what’s next for the brand.
In this latest installment of SGB Executive’s series of interviews with industry leaders exploring how businesses are coping with the coronavirus, Rauvola discusses how the coronavirus has impacted Superfeet, why the company was called to help and the brand’s recovery plan.
How has the coronavirus impacted Superfeet in terms of staffing, production, distribution and sales? Superfeet has deep roots with our customers. For 43 years we focused on bringing them the best products and education available on biomechanics and shape underfoot. When our retailers suffer, we suffer alongside and that is especially true with the impacts of COVID-19. We experienced a sharp decline in sales when the pandemic started and have been watching sales come back as people’s needs during the pandemic evolve. One bright spot in our business now is e-commerce through our retailers. With people logging more miles and looking to stay healthy while staying home, the demand for the benefits provided by Superfeet remains high. Because of our hard work on the operations side of our business over the last five years moving assembly back to the USA, we’re in a position to meet demand as it scales up and down.
What measures has the company taken to navigate those impacts? While the effects of COVID-19 are jarring for business in the short term, we are doing our best to look beyond this moment and to set a course that remains true to our brand values and ensures the long term health of our company, employees, customers and consumers. We moved to a work-at-home model before state mandates, and we shifted manufacturing focus quickly to provide essential PPE supplies to the medical community. These early moves put us in a position to be able to manage the challenges coming our way while preparing for what’s next.
We live by our brand truths. “People First” is one of the truths we look to often during this crisis. Our leadership team filters our decisions through three lenses to ensure we stay true to our values and to the people counting on us.
- Job Preservation. Everyone who started this journey with us will have a job with us at the end.
- Avoid Hardship. Each of our employee-owners are individuals and have unique circumstances. We will do everything in our power to help each person through this time with as minimal a negative impact on their lives as possible.
- Maintain Functionality. Every decision made must maintain the core of our Brand’s promise to our customers.
These filters, plus the work we are doing in the community have kept our team in good spirits during the pandemic and give us the foundation to carry forward.
How has Superfeet been helping retail partners during this difficult time? We are fortunate to have a great group of reps who have strong relationships with our retailer partners. From the start of the pandemic our team listened closely to our retailers’ needs and were able to identify three main areas where we could help. First was understanding their financial needs, second was how we could support their efforts to stay relevant with consumers and third was how we could help them continue to act as the fit experts they are.
We quickly pivoted our marketing and were able to provide retailers with stay-at-home content to stores stay connected and relevant for their customers. We implemented drop-ship and a retail relief affiliate program to make getting products to consumers easier for retailers, and our sales and field service team stepped up their virtual education efforts with online clinics and trainings. We know our retailers are adapting quickly, we continue to assess our efforts and their needs to ensure we are providing the right support at the right time.
You’ve also pivoted manufacturing capabilities to help out; can you take us through that decision? One of our truths is “Be the Awesome”. It’s our belief big or small we can all make a difference, and our commitment to be the awesome we want to see in the world. Being part of the solution is in our DNA. When it became clear how big of a threat COVID-19 was, we immediately reached out to our local hospitals to find their need. They identified PAPR hood shortages as a high-risk area. We were able to quickly apply our product development, 3D printing and sourcing expertise to develop a PAPR hood design and prototype in five days. We worked with a local hospital network to test and approve the design and about 10 days after we kicked the project off, we were in production.
By collaborating with local sewing businesses and a network of 3D print houses we were able to produce 42,000 hoods last month filling the demand in our local community. The response has been overwhelming and has inspired us to expand our efforts to help fill the PAPR Hood supply gap nationwide. One of the silver linings of this pandemic is seeing the best come out in people. We are humbled by the strength of our front-line workers and the gratitude from the Healthcare Networks we’ve served. We are inspired by others in our industry who are applying their expertise to contribute in their own ways.
What has been the message to end customers throughout this process? Superfeet has a 43-year tradition of keeping people on their feet. This is a time of extreme challenge, but we are not going to stop now. Whether keeping medical professionals on their feet with PPE, supporting people in their daily exercise, or giving extra comfort and pain relief for a trip to the grocery store, we are here for you when you need us.
What does Superfeet’s “recovery” plan entail? We’ve taken proactive steps to reduce expenses and to use government support programs as they’ve made sense for our business. All with the goal of keeping our business healthy and ready to emerge as strong as we went in. Our operations team enacted a crisis plan that allows for the continuation of supply and ensures when orders resume, we will be able to fulfill. Our sales team has promotions and training programs in place to help retailers as they open doors. We are ready to go as soon as the science supports doing so safely and will be here for our retailers when they need us. We remain future-focused to ensure our customers and consumers always get the best from Superfeet.
What are the long-term growth opportunities for the brand once we’re through this crisis? Our vision is to “always be there when you need us, bringing out the awesome in everyone.” We see a future where people remain connected to community, active outdoors and need the best underfoot support to help them achieve their goals. This crisis created some shifts in consumer behavior that will have long term implications, we will adapt our tactics to meet those changes, but not the objectives. We have integrated technology into our business model with the Fitstation initiative to provide people the best fit experience and we’ve expanded our product offering to include personalized and in-line products that give people the best feel experience. We continue to simplify ways for people to relate to our products so we can provide comfort and pain relief to the most people possible. We see this as the trifecta for long-term growth.
What fuels this strategy is not overly complicated. Stay true to who we are, who we serve and how we serve them. We have always invested in people both inside and outside our company and will continue to do so. Employee-owners, retailers and consumers all play essential roles in our success. We have the best employees in the world and will make sure they are cared for during the crisis. Our Retailer’s business will change, we will be there with education resources and support to help them serve their customers in every way we can. Consumers are active right now and we expect the trend to continue. With activity comes the need for proper support and we will be there as always.
Photo courtesy Superfeet