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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, December 2, 2013, 7:00 am

Vionic set for major expansion

Therapeutic footwear maker to double space as it expands product lines

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    SAN RAFAEL — More than three decades in the making, a brisk pace for sales growth for Vionic Group in the past few years has the maker of therapeutic fashion footwear planning to double the size of its headquarters and boost its staff there by more than one-third.

    Vionic Group's Geneva slipper

    Sales of the Geneva slipper, shown here, and Olivia shoe have pushed Vionic Group sales growth to triple digits in the past few years.

    Sales have grown 115 percent a year over the past four years, are on track to soar 60 percent this year and are projected to rise 50 percent in 2014, according to Chris Gallagher, president and chief executive officer. Meanwhile, sales growth for footwear overall has been in the low single digits.

    In February, Vionic plans to start expanding into 21,000 square feet at 4040 Civic Center Dr., where Vionic already occupies 18,000 square feet. The company employs about 70 in San Rafael and spent about $2 million in office renovations in office upgrades in the past two years. Vionic is looking to hire 20 to 25 in the next six months, mostly in product design and development, e-commerce and customer service.

    “What makes us different is we are not competing on style and price, but we have patented technology that goes into our footwear, and it’s backed up by science,” he said.

    That technology is the “Orthaheel” sole, which co-founding podiatrist and Chairman Phillip Vasyli created in 1991 to align the wearer’s foot, ankle and leg, based on treatments in his clinics in Australia started in 1979. The patented “triplanar motion-control” sole in the lines of shoes, sandals and slippers has been shown in clinical tests to reduce heel, arch, ankle and knee pain.

    Vionic Group oversees four brands. Vasyli Medical produces customizable yet premade shoe inserts orthopedists, podiatrists, physical therapists, chiropractors, orthopedists and sports medicine physicians can prescribe to treat conditions. Building on that clinical understanding have come the Orthaheel brand of slippers, sandals and shoes, first introduced in 1997, and the Vionic With Orthaheel brand of sport-casual shoes, launched this year.

    SSL International acquired the international Orthaheel sole-insert business in 2007.

    In August 2010 came the Dr. Andrew Weil Integrative Footwear brand, part of an ongoing collaboration between Dr. Vasyli and Andrew Weil, MD, an internationally known pioneer in integrative medicine. This footwear line seeks to restore heel stability, mobility of the arch and toes, and overall walking efficiency via a proprietary “aided-motion system,” which combines innovative and clinically proven technologies.

    Retail prices for Vionic Group footwear start at $45, and the average price of its shoes is $80. Items are sold via the company brand websites, a 2-year-old strategic partnership with home-shopping channel QVC, department store chains such as Dillard and Belk, specialty footwear stores and e-commerce sites such as Zappos. Shoes arrive at the Port of Oakland from a south China factory, and the company’s e-commerce sales are fulfilled at a North Bay warehouse.

    Starting in March, the shoes are set to be available from upscale apparel retailer Nordstrom’s website.

    Set for launch next spring are a new line of upscale leather footwear and a more complete line of men’s footwear.

    “We have not focused on men’s shoes before,” said Mr. Gallagher, a veteran of more than a quarter century in the footwear industry and a principal driver of Vionic’s growth.

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