When we set out on this journey so many years ago, we scarcely imagined—though we certainly hoped, at least in the backs of our minds—that we’d be coming to you today with news of Natural Footgear’s 10th anniversary. But here we are, in late March 2022, 10 wonderful years into our mission, and we thought it might be fun to take a look back at the humble origins of Natural Footgear to see how things in the business have changed and progressed over time—and also what’s stayed the same.
The truth is, life seldom ends up as planned, and that’s certainly been the case for us. Back in 2011, we (Drs. Marty and Robyn Hughes) were a couple of (relatively) newly-minted chiropractic and naturopathic physicians looking to build a multidisciplinary healthcare practice in Durham, NC. We’d just moved across the country, from Portland, OR, where we’d completed our studies and had spent time in practice while learning from Dr. Ray McClanahan—a renowned sports podiatrist, the inventor of Correct Toes, and a true luminary in the field of natural foot care.
After a short stint in Durham, we made the decision to move to the western part of the state, up to the Blue Ridge mountains and Asheville, NC. And so it was, then, that, in late 2011, Dr. Robyn launched her foot care-specific practice in the hopes of bringing natural foot health concepts and approaches to the good people of Asheville and Western North Carolina. As the practice got going, it became clear to Dr. Robyn that it would be very helpful to have a place to refer her patients to for supporting resources and products. And so, she tapped Dr. Marty (not a web designer) to build her a website to serve as an adjunct for her burgeoning foot care practice.
What started out as a supplement, then, to Dr. Robyn’s practice soon took on a life all its own. More and more foot health seekers began finding the Natural Footgear website, and it wasn’t long until the website (and all the operations associated with it) became both of our full-time jobs. We never imagined, originally setting out on the path of health and healing, that we’d be doing anything other than practicing general medicine, seeing patients one-on-one, for the rest of our careers, but therein lies the beauty and variety that makes life so interesting. With an entirely new skill set to learn, we struck off on a whole new path, often comically unprepared in those early days for what lay ahead, as evidenced by some of the following:
Homespun Website: The first version of our website was a very rudimentary affair that Dr. Marty whipped up using iWeb, an Apple website creation tool. The site took a number of months to put together and contained many of the building blocks that form the foundation of our current site, though the look (and performance) of the site was very Web 1.0. Over the years, the website morphed and changed, graduating from that early iWeb site to a Wordpress site and then, ultimately, to the Shopify site that you now see when you visit NaturalFootgear.com. Though it wasn’t slick or sophisticated, that little iWeb site will always hold a special place in our hearts!
Produce Scale Hack: As any online retailer will tell you, it’s very helpful (i.e., an absolute necessity) to have a weigh scale on hand for weighing packages. For the longest time during the early days of Natural Footgear, we put off purchasing such a scale due to the additional expense of it (Dr. Robyn was, after all, just launching her practice, and we'd recently made a big cross-country move, not to mention the fact that we'd both graduated with unspeakable amounts of student loan debt), instead opting to take all of our outgoing parcels to the local grocery store, where we weighed them using the hanging produce scale. Shoppers would look on confusedly as we loaded up the hanging scale with our parcels and recorded the results. It’s certain that more than a few of our outgoing parcels at that time had rogue bits of kale affixed to them.
Printer Access: Like with the above-mentioned weigh scale, purchasing a printer in those early days was cost-prohibitive for us, so we would often take advantage of the communal printer in Dr. Robyn’s healthcare practice to print shipping labels for outgoing parcels after regular business hours. It would be some time before we made this standard business investment, and what a glorious day that was! No more dedicated trips from home into the office late at night to print mailing labels—a major time-saver!
Hunting for Boxes: One of our habitual activities in the early days of Natural Footgear was hunting for usable shipping boxes in various commercial recycling bins around Asheville (why pay for boxes when people are giving them away for free?). We got to know which days of the week were best for finding such boxes, and where to look to find the appropriate size of boxes that best suited our needs. Was it the best use of our time to do this? Debatable, but probably not. Was it scrappy and enterprising? Absolutely! (or, at least, we like to think so :)
Creative Product Storage: In the early days of the business, we shipped all orders directly from our personal home. At that time, we stored all the products in our basement (really, more of a crawlspace), which was a rather dark and dingy affair. Retrieving shoe boxes and other items from the earthen basement was always an exercise in cobweb avoidance, and more than a few times we had our bells rung by low-hanging beams and ductwork. Ahh, the glamorous lives of the self-employed! Ha!
Order No. 1: After many months of painstaking work in building that initial website, we finally launched it in late March of 2012, and within 1 hour of publishing the website, lo, our very first order (from a customer in New Zealand, for a pair of Correct Toes) came in! As exciting as this was for us, it would be another 3 weeks until the next order arrived, but that initial purchase was enough to convince us to keep going with the site and to see where it might lead. Side Note: That initial customer ultimately needed to exchange for a different size, and at the time we had no idea how to process an international exchange, so we ended up just shipping him a new pair of Correct Toes and telling him to keep or gift the original pair (net profit on that original sale = $0).
Manual Messaging: E-commerce operations have come a long way in the span of 10 years, but back in 2012, we were still working in a very manual fashion, especially as it concerned communication between us and our customers. Automatically-generated messages are, of course, commonplace in the world of e-commerce nowadays, but back then, we used to manually compose and send all order and shipping confirmation messages via email—a very time-consuming process that usually involved copious pots of green tea to bolster stamina and energy levels.
Post Office Runs: It took quite a while for us to set up US Postal Service parcel pickup from our shipping facility (or to even know that we could do so). So, for the longest time, we would simply package up the day’s orders and then drive them over to the nearest post office. In doing this, we became very well acquainted with postal worker “David,” with whom we were on a first-name basis. In an age where business can sometimes feel impersonal, this did help inject a little small-town flavor into our operations. Ultimately, though, we needed to become more efficient and streamline our efforts, and so our daily trips to the post office ended (though we do still see David from time to time, and he seems to be doing well).
Working on the Road: On those occasions where we would travel to visit family, we would simply take the business with us. That meant packing as much of our inventory as possible, along with our tape dispenser, weigh scale, and label printer, into a massive suitcase and lugging that with us to Colorado, Oregon, and Illinois. We’d set up our little workstation in whatever relatives’ home we happened to be visiting and conduct business as usual, the frequent shriek of the tape dispenser and a preoccupation with answering customer emails doing nothing to deter our hosts’ enthusiasm for their guests (right?). We can distinctly recall hunting for post offices on blustery days in downtown Chicago, bending against the fierce wind as we determinedly shouldered our sack of outgoing parcels. Side Note: On one occasion, our large suitcase filled with inventory got lost in transit, which caused no small amount of panic; fortunately, it materialized the following day, which was, of course, a massive relief!
A lot has changed here at Natural Footgear since those early days, and the business has grown considerably, both in sophistication and reach. We've been incredibly fortunate to have met so many amazing people along the way, including the following: Those who have worked with us in the business to operate and improve Natural Footgear; the inventors, owners, and reps from our various partner companies; the like-minded healthcare practitioners around the world helping educate patients and the public about natural foot health; and, of course, all of the many supportive, enthusiastic, and engaging readers and customers of this website (you!).
Though much has changed at Natural Footgear over the years, some things have remained the same. We are still a small business—it's just the two of us, both heavily involved, along with a handful of very talented teammates. Our focus is still on foot health education and empowering people to work toward optimal foot form and function. And we are still committed to offering a carefully curated selection of only the most helpful and synergistic footgear. Over the past 10 years, it’s been our great pleasure and privilege to work with you all in building stronger, healthier, and more resilient feet and lower extremities, and we look forward to continuing this work and meeting each of you wherever you are on your journey toward optimal foot health.
We started out as healthcare practitioners, and a healing mission and the desire to help will always be at the core of who we are and what we do in our business. And so, on this momentous anniversary of the formation and launch of Natural Footgear, and as we look toward the future, we want to say thank you for sharing this adventure with us and for trusting us to be a partner in your musculoskeletal well-being. As always, please continue letting us know what we can do for you and how we can best serve you. And, on our side, we’ll keep doing what we do: Sharing the info and resources that better allow you to take control of your own foot health and function.
And now, onward, to the next 10 years of learning and healing!
WANT TO IMPROVE YOUR FOOT HEALTH?
Let the team at Natural Footgear help you! Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest offers and helpful info, and sign up for our FREE email courses on various topics and foot health conditions.
Sign Up →
Want to Improve Your Foot Health?
We are here to help you every step of the way. Get our newsletter for the latest offers and helpful info, and sign up for our FREE email courses on various topics and conditions, including bunions, hammertoes, neuromas, plantar fasciosis, shin splints, ingrown toenails, and more.
Sign Up →