Mike Davenport has a passion for feet.
Davenport has fitted ski boots for people since 1979. He’s listened to customers complain of sore arches and painful blisters. He’s talked to people who have purchased custom insoles from national chain stores, only to gripe that they didn’t help.
“You know what I hear all the time?” asks Davenport, shaking his head in disbelief. “‘I have orthotics, but I don’t wear them.'”
While working and living in New Zealand, Davenport decided to take his pursuit for pain-free feet to the next level. Frustrated with the quality of the insoles already on the market, he decided to invent his own.
The result has been an insole that is softer, cushy and better fitting that any other insole around. At least, that’s what some of his clients say.
In the back of Pepi Sports, on the lower level, is where Davenport works now. There is a box near two chairs the staff uses to fit customers for ski boots. Inside the box are shoe insoles that customers have thrown away. Some are the kind that come from podiatrists.
On a wall is an article cut out of a New Zealand newspaper. Above that are a few letters, one from the mayor of Melbourne, Australia. The mayor credits Davenport’s insoles with making a recent hike in New Zealand enjoyable. Another letter is from an orthopedic surgeon in Florida, thanking Davenport for his help. Davenport’s reputation in other parts of the world earned him the nickname, Dr. Boot.
Despite rave reviews and a clearly customer-friendly attitude (Davenport encourages clients to bring the insoles back until they are happy with them), he’s had a hard sell here in the U.S. People are used to having their feet hurt. People would rather shell out $180 on something else. People doubt that insoles will help. Davenport isn’t satisfied with this.
“I’m trying to change the world in this regard,” he said.
Mike Davenport is in pain most of the time.
He was in a car wreck in Florida nearly 30 years ago that left the left side of his body paralyzed. Doctors told Davenport he would like to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Nowadays he not only walks, but skis.
His left foot is still paralyzed, the bones inside, crushed. He walks with a limp, and has a scar on his forehead. His foot hurts most of the time.
In a moment of self-reflection, Davenport guesses that his own struggles with pain and mobility probably made him particularly passionate about foot comfort. It also seems to have made him particularly skeptical that medical school holds all the answers.
On a recent Friday, Davenport was trying to help a Los Angeles woman purchase a new pair of boots. She had just had surgery to remove a bunion from one of her feet. She was in the market for new boots. Davenport managed to talk her into buying custom insoles, as well.
Using a toaster oven located by the boot fitting area, Davenport heats up the soft, blue material, that is shaped like a foot. Heating the material softens it enough to be molded to the woman’s foot, he explains.
He takes a plastic bag shaped like a foot, places the insole inside and asks the woman put her foot inside. After arranging her foot in the proper position, he asks her to stand up and bend her knee. He uses a device to vacuum-seal the bag around her foot. A few minutes later, he removes the bag and pulls out the insole. The material curves upwards, like the arch of her foot.
He then cuts the insole down to fit her shoe size.
The top of the of insole is soft, but sturdy.
“People weren’t meant to walk on concrete,” he said.
People also weren’t meant to walk on just the balls of their toes. To demonstrate the power an insole might have for someone with high arches, he drops to the ground and does a push up on his fingertips. Which is better, he asks. Distributing your body weight on the palm of your hand, or just on your fingertips? The bottom of the insole creates a flat surface that better supports a person’s body weight.
Mike Davenport has a goal.
He is working to have his insoles protected by a patent. He calls them Footprints, since that basically is what he creates by molding the insole to feet.
He has dreams of selling the insoles to more people, perhaps training other people to build the custom insoles.
For now, Davenport is trying to create a reputation by selling them out of Pepi Sports. On a good month, he sells 50 insoles. He doesn’t advertise, instead relying on word-of-mouth to gain credibility.
He sold insoles to two Dallas Cowboy players. He hoped to persuade the team’s coaches to buy insoles for the entire team. Having more stable feet can help athletic performance, Davenport says.
He had a client fall so in love with his insoles she flew in from New York to buy another pair of insoles.
Davenport even created a product especially for sandals. The top is a soft, brushed material.
“Mankind would just benefit greatly from this,” he says.
For now, he’ll keep on selling insoles and helping people feel more comfortable, one foot at a time.
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