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Nike’s smartphone threat doesn’t scare maker of ‘archaic’ foot-measuring tool

Nike officials demonstrate the company’s foot-scanning tool on its app that will measure and remembe
Nike officials demonstrate the company’s foot-scanning app.
(Bebeto Matthews / Associated Press)
Bloomberg

Nike Inc.’s new shoe-sizing technology doesn’t worry the company that’s been measuring feet for 92 years.

Brannock Device Co. manufactures the ubiquitous shoe-store contraption that you’ve almost certainly used but probably can’t name. It’s called the Brannock Device, and the people who’ve been selling it for almost a century say they’re more concerned with the demise of brick-and-mortar stores than a smartphone app that measures feet.

“That’s a bigger direct threat,” said Tim Follett, vice president of the Liverpool, N.Y.-based company and a 25-year employee. “Our devices are used by a sales associate in a store, so if retail fades away, that’s much more troublesome.”

Last week, Nike unveiled computer-vision technology that lets customers measure their feet at home — which should reduce costly mail-order returns. It involves a smartphone app that scans users’ feet and delivers a size estimate.

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In a presentation, a Nike executive called the Brannock Device “archaic.” Industrywide, the company said, 60% of people are wearing the wrong size, and 27% of all shoes bought online are returned for bad fit.

But according to Follett, measurement is only a small part of that problem. The bigger issue is inconsistencies in manufacturing — meaning two size 12s of the exact same model shoe might vary a bit in their actual measurements.

“We can measure accurately, but no matter what the accuracy of the actual measurement is, the weak link was the actual manufacturing,” he said. “We talk to a lot of manufacturers who are frustrated by that.”

Shoes today are sold as they have been for eons, based on length and width. This is something Nike is also thinking about. Michael Martin, the company’s global head of digital products, said a long-term goal is to get rid of sizes, and have shoes shaped to people’s feet.

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Follett agrees. “It doesn’t do you a whole lot of good if you have 13 different measurements of your foot if you go to the store and the store says, ‘Well, we have a size 12 medium and a size 12 wide.’”

Brannock’s core product hasn’t changed much since it was first sold in 1927, 37 years before Nike was founded. A few years ago, Brannock experimented with a digital version — not virtual like Nike’s but a computerized version of their in-store device — but abandoned the endeavor after feedback from customers.

The company has diversified its business a bit. About 50% of its sales are custom devices, which measure for a specific company or a specific type of shoe, such as ice skates, diabetic footwear or ski boots. About 40% of its sales are international, a share that’s been growing, Follett said. He declined to provide specifics.

Every Brannock device is manufactured at the company’s factory outside Syracuse. The standard device sells for $72.50.


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