Foot orthoses·Foot problems

“We need a strong partner – and the strong partner needs us!”

Insights from the medical retail sector and the industry

From Bauerfeind Life Magazin on 21.11.2023

What kind of health needs do patients have these days? What can be done about the lack of qualified staff? How is the market changing? Using foot orthoses as an example, three experienced industry representatives are offering their insights: Achim Oberle, master orthopedic shoemaker and orthotist, his son Philipp Oberle, master orthopedic shoemaker and sports scientist, both managing directors at Oberle in Ettenheim, and Martin Hepper, new Head of Foot Orthopedics at Bauerfeind AG.

life: Oberle is currently being run by the fifth generation. What is required these days when it comes to providing foot orthoses?

Philipp Oberle: The advice and product range we offer has become more comprehensive. For example, when patients come to us with a prescription for foot orthoses, it doesn’t necessarily mean they leave our store only with foot orthoses. During the consultation, it may turn out that the patient is also suffering from knee pain, meaning we need to take a closer look at this problem, too. Ultimately, the physician will make the appropriate diagnosis. But we also need more specialist knowledge to allow us to talk to patients and physicians about these subjects. There are also conditions with a certain trend. Ten years ago, osteoarthritis of the knee wasn’t as big a deal as it is now. You have to keep up-to-date with the times to offer high-quality products and advice.

Martin Hepper: This highlights the comprehensive treatment approach we are also pursuing. And osteoarthritis of the knee is a perfect example. Patients need to be considered with a more comprehensive perspective to reinforce the health-promoting effects of combining different medical products.

Achim Oberle: Today, customers expect comprehensive consultations. So we need to be familiar with a wide range of products and have specialist expertise in anatomy and medical basics. That’s why we have employed experts. If the sales employees need support during a consultation, we can ask the specialists to help out. We have, for example, someone specializing in osteoarthritis, a sports scientist who only does bike fitting or only sells sneakers.

Martin Hepper, Head of Foot Orthopedics, Bauerfeind AG

life: How do you ensure this specialization and further training, both in the trade and in the industry?

Philipp Oberle: Our foot orthosis consultation is handled by orthotists or sports scientists who only work in sales or provide advice. They have been trained in customer communication and don’t even go to the workshop. There are different types of people. Some would rather work in the workshop and focus on the job at hand, without customer con­tact. We can even see that in our trainees: some go to work in the workshop, others opt for customer consultations.

Martin Hepper: Staffing and training are crucial aspects in our branch of business. As an industry, we offer all sorts of support in this area. The Bauerfeind Academy was established in 2007, and the options offered are continuously expanding. We also have to consider another point: Oberle has trained specialists. Career changers are expanding the industry. We have to remember them as well.

Achim Oberle: We have to provide consistent further training to career changers. That’s how you retain staff. They need to feel confident during the consultation. If they’re worried each time they speak to someone, they’ll quit. Two of our employees went to a course in Zeulenroda offered specifically for career changers. They were both so motivated when they came back!

life: In addition to further training options, what do you consider important for a good partnership to meet the market’s needs?

Achim Oberle: Service is key. We have been quality partners for a while, and we’re actively involved in the partnership. I provide quite a lot of critical feedback. But I always feel my voice is heard.

Philipp Oberle: Good communication is important to me, too. I’m also really interested in the subject of digitalization, whether this is related to the ordering process, which we like to integrate into our enterprise resource planning at the push of a button, or the topic of digital interfaces. Making processes more efficient is crucial because we’ll have to accomplish even more work with fewer staff in the future. As opposed to a small retail business, we need a partner who can offer a large-scale approach to accomplish this. We simply need a strong partner, and the strong partner needs us.

A medical retailer with comprehensive practical expertise: master orthotists Philipp and Achim Oberle (from right to left).

Martin Hepper:  Those are exactly the aspects we’re working on. With a software solution connected to the measurement technology, we can digitalize foot orthosis processes for medical retailers, allowing them to work efficiently and save time. A structured product portfolio can also be beneficial. Remembering your strengths is the way forward. It goes without saying that one of Bauerfeind’s core areas includes foot orthoses. One goal should be to focus on certain models with a uniform look. And something else also affects retailers directly: Bauerfeind is the service leader. We will continue pursuing this path. Our top priority is being able to deliver and the guarantee to provide a contact partner at all times.

life: What has top priority for the Oberle family?

Achim Oberle: We talk a lot about what size of business makes sense and where are we going. At the moment, one of the managers is always on call and can be at a branch immediately if need be. With 30 people, we’re realizing that we’re reaching a limit that needs more staff organization. Philipp has been tasked with this goal.

Philipp Oberle: We’re currently in a phase of change where we’re trying to progress from 30 to 40 or 50 employees. With that kind of number, you get processes where your own human resources department would start to make sense, with someone only taking care of contracts with health insurance companies, etc. So we’re restructuring our operations. That’s something I enjoy doing. I think it’s really exciting to develop a business, and I’m grateful to my parents for trusting me with this and allowing me to guide this process.

Images: Bauerfeind, Udo Schönewald, shutterstock.com/Maridav

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