For Samuel Bar, founder and CEO of Comodo Technologies Ltd., the phrase “the shoes are a perfect fit on you,” is more than just the garbled pitch of sales assistants, but a world which is really built around the individual measurement of each shoe. “Most people’s feet are not identical in size,” he says. “Orthopedic specialists usually tell people to ‘choose the shoe size by the longer foot.’ I don’t see why customers should be satisfied with this.”
Bar feels that fitting shoes to feet size should be no less precise and scientific than making up a prescription for spectacles. Comodo aims to make people stop talking in terms of “measuring” shoes, and talk instead about “fitting” shoes to feet. As the company envisages it, the process of buying shoes would be as follows: customers entering a store will receive a pair of disposable socks, and once they have put these on, they will then stand on the transparent glass platform of a device which looks like an electronic scale. Located inside the glass platform are cameras which then photograph each sole, forming a form of virtual mold around both soles, accurate to a few millimeters.
But the story doesn’t end here. Stored inside the device are exact prototypes of the basic model of every shoe: the cobbler’s last. Every footwear company manufactures a small number of lasts, which serve as the base on which to build models of shoe with differing colors, design, material type and so on. Comodo’s device displays a virtual model of the foot and then measures it against a standard last.
Globes: And then you advise the customer which kind of shoe to choose?
Bar: “Far from it. For me, the customer is a VIP. I don’t tell him or her which shoe to buy, but rather, he or she tells me what he or she wants and then I fit the shoe to his or her feet. We’re working together with a shoe manufacturer on the development of three different adaptors for every shoe that are inserted inside the shoe as an addition to the sole - one for short feet, one for wide feet, and one for medium-width feet. If you take into account the fact that a different length can be selected for each foot, you get nine options instead of one. By controlling the width, through an adapter, we actually provide a solution that is three-dimensional, since we already know that changes in shoe width also provide an optimal fit in terms of height. Our system can calculate the optimal narrowing needed here.
“In this model of a Naot shoe, for example (lifts up a sample), a size 40 would fit you with a 401300 adapter. This is an adapter that creates a narrowing and it has been developed especially for Naot shoes. With this Caligula model on the other hand, a size 39 would suit you with a Caligula adapter at the standard width. As it happens, your feet are similar, but if there were substantial differences between them, we could offer a different solution for each shoe.”
Improvements in the virtual shoe
Bar developed his first “idea laboratory” at the age of 16. During his military service he was stationed at an IDF development unit. He studied industrial management at university, and then took a slightly unexpected direction when he started a business providing intermediate products for footwear, and arch supports. “I noticed that some people had arch supports that changed their lives while others had the exactly same kind of arch support fitted for them, yet they would not walk in them for even ten minutes. Where did the difference lie here? I realized that fitting the arch support to the foot was not enough. It would also have to be fitted to the shoe, since not all shoes are identical.”
Bar provided all the seed capital for the company himself, assisted by the Tnufa Start Up Promotion Program. The development of the device required a high quality of image processing. “The photographing of images is taken up close so we had to work hard to fix all the image distortion and create a three-dimensional template. We don’t tell the customer exactly where or how he or she should stand on the device. We continue to monitor the foot even if the customer doesn’t stand still.”
When people go into a footwear store in Israel the most they’ll get is a measurement of their foot length. What is happening elsewhere? What is the most advanced product in this field?
“Timberland has just brought a product onto the market, which is the first that comes close to our idea. You could call it competition, but I consider this an opportunity for collaboration. They’re simply marketing every shoe with three different sizes of insole for the customer to choose from, on the basis of trial and error.
“There are devices available which scan the foot and produce a list of various measurements. Sales staff have to use them in order to find a shoe that is a proper fit to the customer’s foot, but they don’t have the scientific tools with which to do this. We provide a much more accurate fit, without the need for intervention by skilled manpower. Nobody besides us manufactures both the device and the adapters.”
Just how important is shoe comfort to consumers? There are stories of women who buy shoes that are two sizes too small, just because they look smart or are on a special offer.
“On the other hand, there is a large segment of consumers who want comfortable shoes. Look how far they went with Crocs. This segment of consumers is willing to spend a fortune on extra comfort, but manufacturers have difficulty providing this, since they have already reached the optimal level of comfort in footwear manufacturing. They’ve overlooked just one thing - the fit.”
Those people who consider comfort important are likely to choose arch supports.
“Like I said, the arch support is a good fit to the foot, but has no fit at all to the shoe. Some people could save themselves hundreds of shekels in the cost of arch supports by having shoes with a proper fit. They’ve devoted a lot of attention in the orthopedic sector to the fitting of the arch support to the arc of the foot - we discovered this is not all that important. If the shoe fits, the arch usually sits on the right place.”
What’s your business model?
“Our business model has three arms. The first is the stationing of our device in footwear stores, for which we will be paid by shoe manufacturers, since we’ll be working in close collaboration with them, on the scanning of lasts and creation of coordinates. We won’t work with all the footwear manufacturers but instead we’ll chose a few of them and give them exclusivity and added value.
“Another area is the fitting of standard shoes used by armed forces personnel. We’re already in advanced talks with the IDF on the fitting of shoes for soldiers. In the army, and in all extreme conditions, the fit between shoe and foot is as important as the tire tread on roads. Unfortunately, soldiers usually chose shoes that are too big, and then they slide forward when they’re wearing them, causing damage to their toes and knees.
“The third aspect of our model is the Internet. Using a device that will be stationed in every shopping mall, we can build an image of the foot which the person in question can then use to buy proper fitting shoes from any online sales site. Our device is pretty accurate and it provides the best possible fit between a foot and all the shoes advertised online. There’s tremendous potential here, since very few people buy shoes online. To encourage people to buy, sales sites adopt an extremely flexible product return policy that erodes profitability. Our method will save a great many product returns.”
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes.co.il - on January 28, 2007
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