|American Made Body & Sole Comfort pads stick onto the foot instead of being inserted into shoes. That means they can be worn with sandals as well as 5-inch heels and combat boots.|
By: Joshua Sudock, Orange County Register
Fashionable shoes can be a pain. Christina Prandini merely wanted, but couldn't find, some type of padding to ease the discomfort but keep the fashion.
When a friend who worked at a mattress manufacturer showed her a piece of bedding gel, her first thought was how nice it would feel on her feet. That introduction in 2009 led Prandini to start Body & Sole Comfort in her Fullerton home to design and manufacture a line of gel foot pads.
Her shoe pads have found an unusual combination of customers: fashion-conscious women and members of the military who cushion their boots and shoes.
"I treat my products as if I were buying it, something customers can use," she said. "I'm learning and it's so exciting."
The 46-year-old graphic artist is seeking to establish her niche in the foot-comfort industry that fills aisles in drug stores and shoe stores with products for the foot-afflicted.
Prandini insists her products don't compete directly with Dr. Scholls. For one thing, Body & Sole Comfort pads stick onto the foot instead of being inserted into shoes. That means they can be worn with sandals as well as 5-inch heels and combat boots.
Her price point is higher than many foot comfort products: a pair of Lily Pads, worn on the ball or top of the foot, sell for $17; a four-pack of Dots, worn between the toes or on corns, $10; a pair of Happy Heels, $15. The higher prices may be offset by the fact that the Body & Sole pads are washable and reusable.
"We do like Lily Pads," said Karen Lazarus, owner of Sole Comfort, a Newport Beach shoe store. "People who shop with us have issues with their feet, and you put (the pads) anywhere you need comfort. I tried them myself first because I didn't think (initially) they were that special. But they work."
Cash Feschyan of Miracle Instant Shoe Repair in Los Angeles agreed. "Our customers like them. I was amazed there was a product like that. Nobody (else) makes them that stick to the skin."
Feschyan likes the Body & Sole pads so much that he gives them to celebrities such as Lady Gaga and performers on the TV show "Dancing with the Stars."
Getting into specialty stores as well as resort spas has taken hard work and a thick skin.
"I simply mailed Cash a sample and he wanted to stock them in three stores," Prandini said. But when she tried to get into one large sports chain, "I crashed and burned," she admitted with a laugh. Two of the buyers were interested but a third said he'd never heard anyone ask for such a product.
"I was slow on my feet. I should have said, 'Just because you haven't heard of it doesn't mean the need doesn't exist,'" she said, adding that she'll apply the lesson learned from that experience on her next sales call.
Prandini is gathering real-life examples to share with buyers. She was selling her pads at a show in Carlsbad when a woman approached and said such products didn't work. The woman had tried them all and even cut her own from off-the-shelf products. "When she bought the Lily Pads and tried them, she said, 'This is amazing.' That happens all the time," Prandini said.
Perhaps it happens because it is similar to what Prandini did to develop the pads in the first place. "First I cut the gel out for myself. It felt so good, I thought why not try to make pads for others," she said.
She set up focus groups of women and, based on their feedback, developed her first product, the Lily Pad, named for its shape. "I wanted a shape that had multiple uses. It could stick to the top of the foot, the ball, the side, the heel."
In late 2010, she wondered if military personnel could use her pads, too. Her husband, a former Navy pilot, is one of her best salesmen so she asked him to arrange a meeting with military podiatrists. She met with several, but they couldn't order her product unless it was listed on the GSA schedule.
Prandini is trying to get on the schedule, but in the meantime, she has enlisted Marine recruit exchanges to stock the pads, and now 35 Marine exchanges nationwide and in Japan carry her products. She estimates that Marines have bought 7,000 to 8,000 pads.
Prandini had a tough time getting the correct thickness for her pads.
"My friend in the mattress business connected me to a gel manufacturer ... and I found a local mold maker, which took a while," she said. "I would buy the gel, have it poured into the molds, then if it was too thick it wouldn't adhere or the pad would bubble or be thick on one side and thin on the other. We check every single one personally."
One sixteenth of an inch seems to provide enough padding but still adhere to the skin properly.
Prandini was able to create her own packaging because she has owned a marketing and design business for eight years, a venture started after a brief stint in marketing at the Irvine Co. and work as a freelance graphic artist. The women's pads come in small cloth bags but the men's products come in plain plastic. "Women shop differently; we like cute little things," she said.
Also vital for the product are drawings and pictures on cards that come with the product. "Educating people on how this product works is vital. Images are so important," she said. "I've gone through so many types of packaging. People kept saying, 'I don't understand how it works.'"
The business is profitable, Prandini said, but she invests profits back into the company to build it. She still does most of the work on Body & Sole Comfort herself. She registered her logo trademark online herself and does her own marketing and sales meetings. For her innovation, she was recently profiled by OC Metro magazine as one of 20 Women to Watch for 2013.
"I do everything myself because I want to keep costs down," she said. "We emigrated from Cuba when I was an infant, and my dad worked four jobs to support us. He always told me, 'Don't be afraid of hard work,' so I apply that."
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