The world at your feet

The practice of chiropody, or foot doctoring, looks set to have its 15 minutes of fame, as high street retail rivals Boots the Chemists and Superdrug prepare to stride into the sector.

Earlier this week, Boots launched four chiropody centres in stores in Crawley, Manchester, Burton-on-Trent and Bluewater in Kent as part of a six-month pilot of the concept. A fifth centre kicks off in Chester in May.

The concepts were created by Emrys Roberts Associates in conjunction with graphic designer Yumi Matote and Boots’ in-house design team. Photographs were taken by freelance photographer Jonathan Harvey.

Meanwhile, 750-strong chain Superdrug is reviewing its own chiropody capability – currently confined to part-time specialists in unbranded consulting rooms in two of its stores – which it says could lead to a large-scale roll out of in-store Superdrug-branded chiropody centres.

Both chains concede they are entering relatively uncharted territory. The chiropody market is extremely fragmented, mainly comprising the National Health Service, numerous small independents and a number of chemists and department stores employing part-time chiropodists.

In addition, a handful of bigger, branded chains offer a chiropody service, of which 58-strong footwear and footcare specialist Scholl is the biggest, according to the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists.

The structure of the market means industry information is thin on the ground. Boots estimates the chiropody sector, including the NHS, to be worth about 200m, but believes there is scope for this to grow considerably. Its figures suggest fewer than 10 per cent of people visit chiropodists, while about 90 per cent experience foot problems before the age of 30.

But Superdrug and Boots are both unsure exactly who to target in this market and how.

A Boots spokeswoman says the group is primarily targeting women over the age of 30, with a more consumer-focused proposition than that offered by the NHS and the smaller private practices.

The Boots centres are intended to expand the market by complementing the NHS and will be operated by registered chiropodists.

“We are trying to change the perception of chiropody, with a clean, white, welcoming environment,” says Boots healthcare business unit develop- ment manager Ian Cornelius.

ERA project architect Steffan Zalewski adds: “The centres have a contemporary feel and we recognise that treatment rooms can be off-putting. We’ve chosen light green as the primary colour because it is restful and comfortable. It also gives off a watery feel that is not too clinical.”

While the concept has been clearly conceived, Boots is less sure where best to implement it.

Cornelius says the group is deliberately testing the concept for six months in a mix of stores with different demographics and formats.

“Research suggests the public are ready for chiropody, but they don’t know where to find it,” adds Cornelius, who acknowledges Boots itself hasn’t yet worked out where best to find the customers.

He will give no further details of plans to roll out the concept, except that it will form a permanent part of Boots’ offer.

“This is a good move for Boots. It is really driving into the primary healthcare market and it takes it one step closer to the development of a one-stop primary healthcare shop,” says Verdict Research chairman Richard Hyman.

Over the past year, Boots has introduced travel and health insurance to its product range and Medicentre-branded surgeries into two outlets. It has also launched skincare advice units operated by specially trained staff in 95 stores, and has run a chain of opticians for the past 12 years.

Boots will also launch six dentalcare practices this year, with the first due to open in Milton Keynes in May. Fern Green Partnership worked up the concepts, which will be rolled out in concession and standalone formats.

Cornelius says that while he does envisage cross-referrals between Boots’ primary healthcare operations, there are no plans to pull them together into a one-stop shop. He adds that Boots is continuing to look at ways of increasing the health and beauty element of its offer.

Industry observers, however, believe a one-stop shop would make good business sense and are convinced Boots is seriously considering the possibility.

Meanwhile, Superdrug commercial development manager for pharmacy David Clark says his group is also looking to extend its chiropody offer.

The company has two registered independent chiropodists, working part-time at stores in the West Country and north Midlands. “The chiropodists have been working for about a year and we are now reviewing where to go with the concept. It’s possible we will roll out the service further in a Superdrug-branded format,” says Clark.

“The chiropody operation has been a reasonable success, but not earth shattering. This may be because we don’t offer it in those stores on a full-time basis, that is one of the things we are looking at,” he adds.

“But chiropody is a growing area. Five years ago, British people didn’t really go in for pampering, but they are becoming more self-indulgent,” he says.

Verdict’s Hyman thinks the case for Superdrug moving into chiropody is less clear-cut than for Boots.

“Superdrug is not nearly so far down the primary-healthcare path as Boots. It does have the potential to move into areas such as chiropody in the longer term, but fewer than one third of its shops can dispense prescriptions, whereas I’ve never come across a Boots that can’t,” says Hyman. Dispensing prescriptions is the bedrock of a full primary-healthcare offer.

Hyman believes demand for chiropody is increasing and can be harnessed through good branding. “Boots is a well respected and trusted retail name,” he says, “and this is an imaginative attempt to capitalise on that.”

Could it be that feet, not the most pleasant part of the anatomy, are set to have even more than their allotted 15 minutes?

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