Gold Medal Service Awards

That Golden Glow


It’s been five years since Footwear Insight created the Gold Medal Service Awards to recognize and honor the incredible, vital work that independent shoe shops across the country do every day. We know how hard you work to make your customers’ lives better, and we wanted to give the stores that go above and beyond the recognition they deserve.

Because the stakes have never been higher.

As competition proliferates, the in-store experience — the expertise, the fit, the selection, the personal touch — is what gives footwear independents their greatest advantage.

We see it. Stores see it. And so do brands.

“Sit-and-fit comfort independent stores are the heart and soul of the industry, and are our absolute bullseye,” David Kahan, CEO of Birkenstock Americas said.

“OS1st is dedicated to the independent market for a lot of reasons but the service and customer satisfaction levels in the channel never cease to amaze me,” said Josh Higgins, president of ING Source Inc., parent company of OS1st Socks. “The channel fits perfectly for what we are trying to accomplish with our ‘Socks with Purpose’program: We are both actively trying to help people live a more active, healthy lifestyle.”

That’s why we launched the awards in 2015. And we’re thrilled to say that service has never been better.

This year, we have the largest number of first-time inductees we’ve ever had — and as many inductees as we’ve ever had. On pages 31 and 32, we profile some of the very, very best: Five stores of the 120 we shopped notched perfect scores (or yes, even better than perfect — see page 40 for the criteria).

There are only 10 stores who have earned a Gold Medal Service Award for all of the past five years,  and we asked them for their secrets. The result is a step-by-step guide to making that award-winning service — the kind that drives sales and wins lifelong loyalty, an everyday habit in any shop.

(And if you’re just eager to get to the scores, we get it — you’ll find the complete list of Gold Medal Service Winners on page 44.)

Here’s to great service — and to the shops that set the standard.

Alan's Shoes

TUCSON, AZ / Founded: 1982 — Score: 103 (The Store with the Top Score!)

Alan’s Shoes is no stranger to the Gold Medal Service Awards list, but the Tucson shop outdid itself this year, earning a whopping 103 points — the highest score of any shop in 2019. The four (soon to be five) locations of comfort-focused stores are always looking to improve, says president Alan Miklofsky. (That’s him on the cover with wife Annette). In fact, he said, just before he learned Alan’s Shoes had taken the top spot, he and his management team were having internal discussions about how to bring the in-store service to the next level: “We think we could do a better job of serving and understanding our customer’s needs and wants,” he said. “We’re always talking about what we need to change or shake up so we can move forward.”

Miklofsky said that as Alan’s Shoes moves forward — including the opening of a shop in a new location for the firm — keeping the customer’s needs, for both styles they can rely on and newness to keep them engaged, will be paramount. “You have to add freshness, now more than ever,” he said. “We’re making more room for fresh inventory and expanding categories, and testing some brands we didn’t have in the past — but in order to do that, you need to know what you can rely on.”

Foot Solutions Columbia

COLUMBIA, SC / Founded: 2001 — Score: 101

Foot Solutions Columbia owner John Owen likes to set the tone for new customers as soon as they walk in the door. “We have a sign: ‘Please don’t ask for your size, please ask to be fitted,’” he said. A thorough fitting and a detailed consultation is the standard of care at the shop, which operates both a retail and medical division. “We focus on foot wellness and health; we focus on what’s the best thing for your foot. We brand ourselves as more of a medical boutique.” This year, Foot Solutions Columbia has remodeled the shop and added reflexology and nail services, and started offering CBD oil as an add on for neuropathy and arthritic pain. He’s also expanded the store’s accessory offering, adding handbags, soaps and jewelry created by local, purpose-driven artisans. When taken with Foot Solutions Columbia’s partnership with Soles4Souls, Owen said, it makes customers feel good about their purchases — in all ways.

Vionic By Lucky Shoes

FAIRLAWN, OH / Founded: 2017 — Score: 101

The Luck family may have been in the shoe business for more than a century, but there’s always something new to learn. John Luck, president of Lucky Shoes, said that opening the country’s first Vionic store in 2017 gave the store a whole new perspective on service. “Many people that are coming into our store, the place that they heard about Vionic was QVC, and there are no better salespeople than the people at QVC.” The channel’s hosts’ legendary enthusiasm for all aspects of construction and function gave the Vionic store a template for how much shoppers wanted to know about the product, he said, “We don’t want them to feel like they wanted to be waited on by [host] Liam [Bourke] and be disappointed.” Add that to the Lucky Shoes service tradition and you’ve got a winning formula.

Felger’s Footwear

HOUMA, LA /  Founded: 1991 — Score: 100

Notching a perfect score on the Gold Medal mystery shop is one thing — doing it the first year your store has been in Gold Medal Service award contention is taking it to the next level. Owner Brenda Felger, who runs the store with her daughter Rebecca (a certified fitter of therapeutic shoes), started with a kids business and has grown Felger’s into a destination for the whole family. “We specialize in fitting and customer service — those are the only things that are going to keep us relevant and different than everything else,” she said. “The first thing I tell my employees is to shut up and listen: You’ll get everything you need to hear.” Providing that empathetic ear and using what you hear to get people into the footwear they need is the whole point, she said. “Selling shoes is the byproduct of what we do — we help people feel better. For me it’s a ministry, and it always has been.”

Tops For Shoes

ASHEVILLE, NC / Founded: 1959 — Score: 100

Tops for Shoes, a sprawling 30,000-square-foot shop in downtown Asheville that fits men, women and children with fashion and comfort footwear, makes good service a family affair. Run by third-generation owner Alex Carr, the store counts on veteran staff to maintain the highest standards of service. And that includes Carr, who makes time to work the floor. As Carr told us, “I work the floor myself and try to set a good example. You don’t want to be too far from the fitting stool in this business.” Add to that service commitment an extensive brand portfolio, commitment to fashionable and comfortable shoes for the whole family, and you’ve got a store that customers are happy to explore again and again.