April 8, 2016

Road from practitioner to designer

Queensland podiatrist and physiotherapist Caroline McCulloch launched FRANKiE4 after spotting a gap in the women’s shoe market for styles that are both comfortable and fashionable.

Together with her husband and fellow podiatrist Alan, Caroline McCulloch is also the owner of All Podiatry and The Shoe Co, a thriving podiatry practice and retail store combination that the pair founded in 2003, which currently employs 30 staff.

Launched in 2010, McCulloch’s FRANKiE4 brand – named after her beloved dog, Frankie – includes active flats, boots, sandals and casual slip-ons, manufactured to her designs.

Priced upwards of $200 a pair, the shoes feature excellent heel and arch support – supporting weakened, sore or abnormal joints of the foot or lower limbs. The big difference is these shoes are considerably more glamorous than the ‘chemist shoes’ historically recommended and associated with foot issues.

FRANKiE4 shoes are available online and in more than 60 stores and podiatry practices around Australia, including McCulloch’s own, with the label’s sales hitting the magic million dollar mark in 2015.

Practical fashion

Selling footwear in her practice concurrently with treating patients made sense from the outset, from both a business and clinical perspective, according to McCulloch, who is also a physiotherapist.

“We start with footwear because you can’t provide a good level of podiatry treatment if you don’t have your foundation right,” she explains.

“It doesn’t matter how good the orthotic is, or any other treatment like strapping or padding, if the shoes are not right, nothing’s going to be right. That was our motivation for providing the footwear.”

Although trade in supportive shoes had always been brisk at All Podiatry’s two Brisbane practices, McCulloch was aware many of her female customers were less than enamored with the look, if not the feel, of what they walked out in.

“I would see lots of women, and they would all make the same comments about shoes I would fit them in – they had a real problem with how the shoes looked, but couldn’t disagree that functionally they felt better and that the shoes took away their pain and helped them,” she says.

“The more I used footwear as part of my treatment and got feedback from women about how they looked and felt in shoes, the more I thought about it and eventually I said to my husband, ‘we should just try making our own.’”

Frankie 4 BRI body copy

Jumping in with two feet

Early production runs of just a few dozen pairs of McCulloch’s designs sold well through 2010 and generated sufficient positive feedback and sales inquiries to confirm her belief she was on the right track.

So much so that she took a leap of faith in 2011 and placed her first major order, for 4800 pairs of shoes, with a manufacturer in the south China city of Dongguan.

“I remember walking out of the initial meeting we had with them and feeling like I had just taken an adrenaline shot,” McCulloch says. “The numbers that they were talking, the way that they would develop a shoe, it was so methodical, and it fed my hunger to pursue this as a business venture, despite the financial risk.

“Alan and I could see a gap in the market – we believed in it and believed in our product, so went ahead with the order.”

Fast forward five years and production runs of 12,000 pairs are now the order of the day, as Frankie4 ramps up in response to a 70 per cent increase in sales in 2015.

What’s her advice to other ‘docpreneurs’ contemplating the leap from clinic to the commercial arena?

Test your product or service rigorously and surround yourself with good people, McCulloch says.

“Alan and work so well together; I couldn’t have done this without him. We’re a really good team together, and now we’re building a strong team around us as well, getting all the right people on board so we can continue to grow our business.”

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