Retail

Eneslow at 110

Legendary New York City retail shoe and pedorthic/orthotic center is looking ahead.

Eneslow, New York’s iconic retail shoe and pedorthic/orthotic center, is celebrating its 110th birthday in a grand way: It’s opening another retail store.

The new store, at 1319 Third Ave. in Manhattan, is the fourth in the family-run business enterprise.

“We’re hopeful this location is a sweet spot,” says Robert S. Schwartz, the president and CEO of Eneslow Pedorthic Enterprises, which runs the company. “The neighborhood, in this, a walking city, fits our demographic like a custom shoe. Our customers are professionals and baby boomers; 80 percent are women.”

The two-floor, 4,200-square-foot store offers the same selection of men’s and women’s comfort footwear and foot-care products as the company’s other stores.

“The stock is curated by Eneslow from factories all over the world, with a heavy emphasis on Euro brands,” Schwartz says. “Custom orthotics, footwear and repair services also are offered in each store.”

Eneslow’s 16,000-square-foot, three-level Park Avenue flagship store includes a 1,000-square-foot custom workshop where shoes and orthotics are made to order, modified and repaired. It houses the Eneslow Pedorthic Institute, a pedorthic education and training center. Eneslow’s pedorthists are trained at the institute and credentialed by the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics.

The new Third Avenue store is twice as big as its Second Avenue sibling, which was opened on Eneslow’s 100th anniversary in 2009.

“Adding a store with double the space will allow us to grow the business,” Schwartz says. “We’ll be able to add more fashionable styles that appeal to the Third Avenue shopper. The Third Avenue shopper does not shop on Second Avenue.”

Eneslow’s bold move comes at a time when some 50 percent of shoe purchases in the country are being made online, and brick-and-mortar stores are shuttering their doors at an alarming rate.

“It’s a strategic decision,” Schwartz says. “With limited time left on my two other Manhattan leases, this store is a hedge against the possibility that those leases will not be renewed.”

Schwartz knows well what it is like to lose stores. In the mid-1980s, he had transformed Eneslow into a regional chain with eight stores, but was forced to close all but the flagship when New York State slashed Medicaid reimbursements for medical shoes and orthotics.

“The reimbursements were 50 percent of our business,” he says.

He didn’t open another store until 2003, and it was in Little Neck, Queens, not in Manhattan.

Schwartz says that what sets Eneslow apart — and what keeps it alive — is its people and their commitment to the company mantra of “comfort is always in fashion at Eneslow.”

Eneslow is known for its curated brand selection.

“We will not compromise that,” he says. “The other difference is their training. Skilled pedorthic professionals offer real solutions to help people live pain-free lives. Our ability to accomplish this is through the use of our pedorthic specialization. We can make any shoe more comfortable. We will only sell a shoe that is designed to provide that benefit.”

He adds that Eneslow is the “go-to” source for footwear for any foot problem.

“We frequently gets customer referrals from other New York City shoe retailers and especially health-care professionals,” he says. “Eneslow trains them through continuing-education classes at the Eneslow Pedorthic Institute. We handle the worst cases. These cases require time to solve. The shoe industry traditionally is moderately low margin, and if we were just selling shoes, we would not be around now.”

He points out that 70 percent to 80 percent of the company’s shoe sales include an already built-in functioning orthotic device.

“We add on these value-added internal and external modifications and adjustments,” he says. “Approximately 15 percent of our revenue comes from footwear customization.”

Eneslow has managed to survive for more than a century because it has evolved with the times.

“We pride ourselves on customer service,” Schwartz says. “But with the advent of things like Yelp reviews, the high level of service that we offered even five years ago is not enough to keep us in business. If someone writes a critical review, we use it as an opportunity to keep improving.”

More than 10 years ago, when the economy took a nose-dive and New York City was hard hit by the shuttering of Lehmann Brothers and the real estate bust, Eneslow started searching for higher- margin products to counteract the reduction in traffic and transactions.

Eneslow’s solution was to stock a variety of European brands, including Solidus, Christian Dietz, Hassia, Berkemann and Hartjes, that were not distributed in the United States.

“We introduced these brands to our customers,” Schwartz says. “We could not survive on the keystone margins from American-distributed brands because our cost of doing business is over 50 percent. The margin for these European brands is three times to four times cost. More importantly, our customers voted with their credit cards. They recognized the greater value we were offering them at lower retail prices than those we were already carrying. These European brands are now 20 percent of our business, and they have increased our margin six percent.”

Many of Eneslow’s 40 employees have been with the company for decades, and most of the retail sales staff are pedorthists. All take pedorthic training throughout their Eneslow careers, and their weekly classes include case studies and problem-solving sales techniques.

“We encourage people of all ages to work for us,” says Schwartz, who is himself 78. “We don’t need them to be fast; we need them to be thorough, we need them to have patience and perseverance in their DNA. They have to first want to help people.”

He adds that the diversity of the team members reflects that of the customers they are helping.

“This is key,” he says. “My employees come from six of the seven continents. We are like a little United Nations. At the same time, we have to be a cohesive family who become interchangeable parts to make it work.”

Eneslow relies upon returning customers, many of whom have been buying shoes there for decades.

“Our sales associates live to help people,” Schwartz says. “They want to make a difference in their lives and take people from pain to pain-free. By generating extra sales, they are generating extra satisfaction.”

Schwartz says that education is a vital part of Eneslow’s mission.

“It’s the best marketing strategy in health care,” he says. “People don’t want to be sold; they want to be informed and included.”

Eneslow was a pioneer in the promotion of rocker-style shoes and their healing properties.

“They help with a variety of foot problems involving the ankle, heel, metatarsals and toes,” he says. “We fabricate rockers and incorporate them into a variety of shoe styles, including women’s high-heel boots.”

Although Eneslow was founded in 1909, it didn’t separate its shoe business until 1926, when Eneslow Shoe Corp. was founded as a standalone enterprise, owned by Sol Low.

The original owners, Edward and Nellie Stone Low, started out selling trusses and eventually switched to surgical products. Brothers Nat and Sol joined and added a shoe department. During America’s polio epidemic when braces and splints and orthopedically customized shoes were the common prescription, the company’s medical roots evolved.

By the 1940s, Eneslow was selling foot products, notably orthotics and arch supports.

“My dad, Paul, owned the wholesale business Apex Foot Health Industries, which sold foot products, namely orthotics, arch supports and orthotic components,” Schwartz says. “He was trying to sell his products to Eneslow. They were the biggest users in the market and were not buying from Apex.”

When the business was offered for sale in 1968, Paul and his brother, Charles, bought Eneslow, as much for its wholesale as its retail business.

Robert S. Schwartz joined the company in 1973 after a 10-year career in sales and marketing with the International Playtex Corp. By 1975, Robert and his twin brother, Richard, were each managing their own division, eventually their own companies, and became co-owners.

Robert became the sole owner of Eneslow in 1983. His son, Michael, is the vice president; and his daughter, Rachel, is in charge of administration and social media.

Schwartz says that as long as Eneslow stays on its toes, he’s sure it will be around for another 110 years.

“The key is the team of individuals on our staff who come from different backgrounds and different lifestyles to help people,” he says. “They are special people with unique skills and talents and most of all, they have the heart of a pedorthist.”