Beth and Larry Schneider plan to open a new store in October in Visalia, where they closed a previous location after the recession gutted the shopping center where they were located. Photo by Edward Smith

published on September 14, 2018 - 7:00 AM
Written by Edward Smith

Editor’s note: The Business Journal is marking the 10th anniversary of the Lehman Bros. bankruptcy, and the start of the Great Recession, by featuring local small businesses that survived the ordeal. Here is one of them.

As Beth and Larry Schneider prepare to bring The Good Feet Store back to Visalia after a more than 5-year hiatus, the prodigal store serves as a reminder of what happened in 2008 and where we’ve come since then.

The intersection between large and small businesses in the marketplace can be hard to illustrate better than when the closing of a grocery store at Caldwell Avenue and Mooney Boulevard in Visalia caused a chain reaction that eventually emptied an entire shopping center. The number of people visiting the southwest corner where a Dick’s Sporting Goods now stands dropped significantly when Food 4 Less left the area.

“That shopping center went belly-up,” said Larry, who is president of the Central Valley Good Feet locations. “The people that owned the shopping center ended up having to sell it. They didn’t have the upkeep. There were a lot of spider webs all over. It was brutal.”

The Schneiders purchased a Good Feet Store franchise after Larry had been one of their customers and experienced a real change in his life from the product.

The Good Feet Store works with people to develop orthotics, which are shoe inserts custom designed to relieve foot and spinal pain.

“Good Feet was an innovator in taking something typically gotten from a doctor’s office more mainstream,” said Beth, who is the human resources manager and also the national spokesperson for the company. Customers include warehouse, restaurant and hospital workers. The orthotics fit any footwear.

Along with a lost anchor tenant, the problem in 2008 was that customers began ignoring the pain and prioritizing other purchases.

“It’s a personal item you buy for yourself so there’s discretionary income that needs to be available,” Beth said. “When people are distracted spending money on other things, they’re going to put their own needs aside first.”

They began feeling the crunch in 2008, but the Schneiders really felt it in 2012. They looked at every number.

“One thing the recession helped was to cut out a lot of the fat we had,” Larry said. “We trimmed down everywhere. The way we were purchasing, obviously the number of employees we had.”

Of the 15 people they had working at that time, they lost four people and closed both their Bakersfield and Visalia stores.

But now, the Schneiders hope the new store in Visalia, set to open in October, will eliminate the commute for South Valley customers. Additionally, with the influx of warehouse jobs, including Amazon, Ulta in the Fresno area and UPS in Visalia, the number of people needing arch support will bring feet into the store.

The Schneiders now look ahead to what may be coming, having survived both the Great Recession and an economic downturn following 9/11, which happened a couple months after they opened their first store at Shaw and Maroa avenues in Fresno.

“You can’t plan for it, but you can be prepared for it,” said Beth. “The crystal ball doesn’t always work so well. But to be able to be nimble enough to react is really what’s important. As a small business, it’s easy to do that, but the big guys, the anchor tenants all went “poof’ because they’re big corporate bureaucracies to some degree and they can’t react as quickly.”

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