23 May 2023

'Feet are getting bigger': Griffith Athlete's Foot celebrates 30th year in step with community needs

| Oliver Jacques
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two woman and large sandshoe

Owners Glennis Damini and Angela Foscarini with Shaquille O’Neal’s size-22 Reebok. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Griffith’s multi-award-winning Athlete’s Foot store celebrates its 30th anniversary today (Tuesday, 23 May), a remarkable feat of longevity in what was once the smallest town in Australia to host the franchise.

“Athlete’s Foot came to Australia 1976 and for many years was just in cities and bigger towns,” Griffith franchisee Glennis Damini said. “It was considered a risk to start up in a place with just 20,000 people but we’ve made it a success … they’ve discovered small towns tend to be more loyal.”

Ms Damini worked as a casual in the store in its first year, 1993, under original owner Ross Elliott, best known in Griffith for running Danny’s Convenience Store until he retired last year.

“He was also working as a milkman [in the early 1990s] and always had a sore back,” Ms Damini said. “Then he went to Sydney, went to an Athlete’s Foot store and he bought a good pair of runners and he couldn’t believe the difference it made to his injury. So he said, ‘This is amazing, I’m going to start an Athlete’s Foot store’.

“He sold it after a few years … I bought it with a friend of mine in 1998. After a while, she moved away, and now Angela [Foscarini] is a quarter owner with me.”

Since then, the store has snared several awards for its customer service, most recently in November 2022.

“We won the NSW customer service award and the national award,” Ms Damini said. ”When someone comes to shop, they get a survey on their phone [on customer satisfaction] … we got the top score of all the Athlete’s Foot stores in Australia. We punch well above our weight, we are very proud of that.”

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Ms Foscarini explained why they excel at serving clients.

“The staff go through a whole process, they go through fitting, they shadow me, I shadow them … it’s weeks before they serve customers by themselves … after that, we continue to do modules and constant learning.”

row of Athlete's Foot staff

Glennis Damini flanked by staff at her Athlete’s Foot store, which has been recognised for its excellence in customer service. Photo: Facebook.

Ms Damini said a notable trend over her three decades in the business had been the growth in foot sizes.

“When we opened, we’d sell a 14-size shoe every three months or so. Now, we’d sell one every month. Apparently, a 14-year-old boy now wears a shoe size bigger than what his dad wore when he was 14. I don’t know if it’s part of evolution, what we’re eating, but we’re getting bigger.”

A prized possession of the store is one of the world’s biggest sneakers – the size-22 Reebok brand worn by basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal, who had a $40 million deal with the company to endorse its products in the early 1990s.

“Ross was able to get it for us many years ago,” Ms Damini said.

“But we’ve never sold a shoe that size. The biggest is a size 17, which was bought by a guy from Hillston.”

She dismissed the urban myth that male shoe sizes are correlated with any other part of the male body. Ms Foscarini said feet were a mystery, with tall people often fitting into small shoes and vice versa.

But regardless of size, she said most customers want to try before they buy, which is why a physical shoe store will always be needed in an era of online shopping.

“It’s very hard to buy shoes online … the shape and depth of different brands in the same size are all different,” Ms Foscarini said.

Ms Damini said: “Your feet are like your foundation, it’s like your house. If your foundations aren’t right, everything else goes out of whack.”

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For 20 years, the store has used what’s called the MyFit 3D system – a special foot test that helps the staff fit you with the perfect shoe.

Ms Damini said technology was advancing to the point where the machine could soon calculate your perfect shoe by itself. But she doesn’t see human staff ever being replaced.

“For me, the staff are the most important thing,” she said.

”You can have the best shoes in the world, but the staff have to know how to sell them … for us, it’s about personality, 90 per cent of it is making people feel comfortable, no pressure, just helping people and guiding customers to what’s best for them.”

The Athlete’s Foot Griffith, at 380 Banna Avenue, is open Monday to Saturday.

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