Episode 33: Rob Gregg, Founder and CEO of Gales Footwear

Episode 33: Rob Gregg, Founder and CEO of Gales Footwear

Episode 33 of Frank’s Fast Five features Rob Gregg, Founder and CEO of Gales Footwear

With 12 years of experience in shoes, Rob’s experience during the pandemic shifted his focus on creating shoes for the healthcare community. Gales Footwear, named for Florence Nightingale, was originally launched to nurses and is now expanding to other professions. The shoes are lightweight, anti-microbial, fluid resistant, and comfortable! Watch to learn more about Rob and how he is bringing kindness and care to the healthcare community.

Announcer: MediGroup Physician Services presents MediGroup’s Frank’s Fast 5 with Healthcare Executives produced by Bridget Wilson and Carrie Peters. Today’s guest is Rob Gregg, Founder and CEO for Gales Shoes. Now here’s your host, MedGroup’s Frank Gillespie.

Frank: Hello and welcome to everyone and thank you for joining us for another edition of MediGroup’s Franks Fast Five and today ladies and gentlemen I have the privilege of talking with Rob Gregg, Founder and CEO of Gales Shoes. Rob, it is an honor and welcome!

Rob: Happy to be here, thanks for having me on.

Frank: I’m glad you’re here and I hope you don’t mind me mentioning you told me right before we connected that you’ve got some exciting things coming up so this wasn’t on the script but congratulations on getting married in a couple of days that’s awesome!

Rob: Thank you so much! I couldn’t be more excited!

Frank: Yeah it radiates all over your face, that’s fantastic! So Rob, I promise you we won’t waste your time so I’m just going to jump right into the questions if that’s alright with you?

Rob: Let’s do it!

Frank: Alright, Rob could you share a bit about your experience in the healthcare arena? You know some of the various roles you’ve had up until today.

Rob:  Absolutely so I originally started as a volunteer when healthcare professionals saved someone close to my family. I was incredibly grateful for the kindness, care and thought leadership that they brought. So, my first foray was to become a donor, financially, and then I donated my time. I worked with an incredible group called SONSIEL, Society of Nurse Scientists Innovators Entrepreneurs and Leaders, helping solve and tackle some of the greatest challenges facing healthcare today. So that evolved from originally being a donor to a mentor and a coach and a panelist, and potentially joining their board as well. Then through that I had the honor and privilege, very humbly so, to accept a board seat with the national league of nurses, offered to me by Beverly Malone. They are a tight knit group of senior healthcare professionals that are really focused on how we can bring kindness, care, comfort, protection, safety and Innovation. Quite a large charge to the healthcare community. So I’ve been active in leadership roles over the past three and a half years now, not only bringing thought leadership with the Footwear that we’ve introduced, that we’ll talk about today, but also connecting with other amazing individuals. Trying to solve challenges that they live and breathe in their daily lives and how can we collaboratively as a community make the world a little bit better place in such a critical area such as healthcare, for the world.

Frank: Wow what a fantastic pathway that’s exciting and kind of a grassroots initiative there. Very cool. So, Rob, how did you come to create and launch Gales shoes?

Rob:  I’ve been in shoes for almost 12 years now. Originally making comfortable shoes, when I was standing for 16-hour days on my feet. I needed a better solution. Then when the pandemic hit and kindness and care was shown by the healthcare community to someone close to our family, that’s when I began to give back, and I noticed that there’s a very clear problem when it came to shoes in a healthcare setting. The first problem that we tackled was an awareness of the fact that in a lot of these fluid rich environments there was no provision of shoe covers. So individuals were exposed to common things on the floors like C. diff, SARS, E. coli, and some pretty deadly diseases as well, spilling off of operating room tables onto Nikes, Adidas, Crocs, Hoka, On Cloud. Great shoes for running, not so protective in the healthcare space. So the original impetus and reason was, can we create a shoe that’s fully antimicrobial, it’s fluid barrier resistant and protects feet in these really risky environments. So we crowdsource developed and designed our first MVP.  This is what we launch with our front line. Then a happy accident in the lab, keeping a constant line of communication and feedback with our community of customers and individuals Healthcare Providers, what we found as admittedly a happy accident in the lab, our shoes solved for another type of protection and that’s the fact that if you’re on your feet for extended periods of time shoes are fundamentally not built to support that type of activity. Shoes today are designed with a high energy return principle.  It means they store energy and put it back in your body. Which is great if you’re trying to run a marathon or get a little bit of height on a vertical dunk, but when you’re standing you don’t want the full force of your body pushing back and that’s why at the end of the day even the most comfortable athletic shoes, you still feel like you got hit by a truck. So this material compound called XL extra light, that’s proprietary, we built into the shoes, We didn’t plan for it.  Candidly we got really lucky, but what it does, it acts more like an airbag versus a trampoline where it disperses energy. So the second pillar that we’ve uncovered and where we are really excited to be focused on, is protection of the total body, the impact on knees, back, and joints from standing for 12-hour days. If we can reduce that impact, not only are you more comfortable or alert on the job, but assuming that you’re in this profession for a lifelong career, hopefully at the end of it you don’t have a lot of these problems that are really common when you’re retiring after 30, 40 years of standing upright in improper shoes.

Frank: Wow. Definitely a lot of thought went into the shoe production for sure.  I know I’m digressing again a little bit, but you’ve also had experience in dress shoes in Italy.  You actually had a brand of dress shoes in Italy.  That’s pretty cool.

Rob: Yeah, we made dress shoes that felt like socks. In my mind there’s no reason why you can’t look great and feel great at the same time.

Frank:  I need to talk to you off the air then.  The pair of shoes I got are horrible.  So well I appreciate that very great story in terms of how you came to create and launch Gales shoes.  Accidents do pay off sometimes there in the laboratory.  Rob, what are some of the other challenges you’ve had to reckon with in bringing Gale’s shoes to the market?  Specifically, where did the name Gales come from?

Rob: Gale’s is named after Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. We thought that was really fitting because here’s somebody that in unprecedented times stood up in the face of adversity to really push the profession forward and where we looked at it, it’s during the pandemic, when funding is really tight.  Building a company in that landscape was really challenging. Not only that we’re building it for a community that suffered such incredible hardships, pressure, burnout, stress and pain.  So to be able to find just a small sliver of that, that we could bring a little bit of lightness and hope and positivity, it’d be great if our shoes solved for everything in the world, but that one piece is really critical to so many individuals. So we thought tying in Florence Nightingale with our shoes, launching originally with nurses, and now expanding to other professions as well, it’s really fitting to introduce our products to the market.

Frank:  Yes, absolutely.

Rob:  Then in terms of challenges, as a new brand how do you make sure that people understand who you are? When you’re so used to wearing the same type of shoes, there’s a bit of an education. How do you teach, train and educate a consumer that the shoes you’re wearing are probably not going to be the best fit for what you’re doing day in and day out and so that education piece is both a hurdle as well as a strength. We did a really fun thing outside of a hospital group. We just showed up on the street sidewalk, on the corner, at the shift changes early in the morning and late in the evening and as healthcare professionals passed by we gave them the shoes. We donated a little bit over 300 pairs of shoes that day.  It was really funny, I got a note from that hospital that said, wow you’re like the Pied Piper.  We had a line around the block and we said, here’s our shoes, don’t take our word for it just try them on. There’s something to be said about that moment of magic you feel when you step into a shoe that’s actually designed for the profession. So how do you replicate that?  That’s the big challenge. How do you create those moments and how do you get product in hand for a widespread audience? Because once that product is not necessarily on hand, but on foot, I think it does the rest of our job for itself.  That will always be our challenge and opportunity, that first moment of engagement with the product. Especially being a fully digital company and remote company, is having those chances and opportunities for in-person experiences.

Frank: Absolutely, and what a great way to test out your shoes. Just stand right there and hand them out.  What was the feedback?  Did you get a lot of returned people coming back to you saying, hey these are fantastic, let me place two orders, three orders, five orders?

Rob: You know it’s funny, and my team is probably killing me for this, I did not cap the usage of redemption for a free pair of shoes. I just said, hey say you met me on the street and we’ll send you some. I think about half the hospital unit over the course of the week reached out saying, hey so and so got the shoes, I wasn’t able to come that day, can I grab a pair? So we’ve donated thousands of pairs of shoes.  Which for me, this is what I get to do as the CEO. To find these moments to give back, and I know on the finance side my team’s going, how many shoes are we giving away?  But it’s why we built this. We built this to give back and not everything needs to go back to dollars and cents.  When you get the opportunity to give back, what a great way to do so.  The feedback was like walking on clouds. The word of mouth has been incredible. About 60% of our overall customer base comes from somebody telling another individual about the product.

Frank: That’s usually the best way you find out about stuff.  Best restaurants are usually the ones that people tell you about, the little holes in the walls, What would you say that makes Gales shoes unique?

Rob:  I would say the biggest is the energy dispersion. We don’t want to say it’s the anti- athletic shoe, because people who stand for a living are athletes in their own right,  might not be trying to get extra yardage on the field, but you’re going room to room, with pretty strenuous hours and so there is an athleticism to the job, but our shoes are uniquely designed for both motion in a contained setting as well as supporting that upright posture position and energy dispersion, which leads to comfort. That’s number one. Number two is cleanability. The nice thing with our product is not only are they fully antimicrobial, but they’re closed cell. You can spill pretty much anything you can think of, from spray paint, bodily fluid, or coffee grounds on the shoes and in three seconds wipe them clean with a bleach wipe. The shoes look clean, stay clean.  They’re incredibly lightweight.  They’re fully machine washable, with removable insoles that are also fully machine washable, and they’re slip resistant. They checked all the must-haves and then we added in some nice-to-haves on top of that.

Frank: Ladies and gentlemen, get your Gales shoes. Don’t waste any time. Last question Rob, what do you like to do to relax and have fun?

Rob:  We love doing puzzles.  We’ve got a cute little Australian Shepherd that we just took for a walk on the beach today. Aside from that, and I mean this in all sincerity, I honestly feel so lucky and fortunate to have the opportunity to do what I do.  My great grandpa, it turns out, was a shoe salesman for Walkover shoes and was the medical Commander for the Allied Forces and served in Okinawa for 33 months. So you could argue that in the DNA, but what I love about this product, it’s even less about the product. It’s more about the community, and the impact. So when I made shoes for celebrities, yes it’s nice to see them on red carpets and in music videos, but to get a customer response talking about how these shoes have fundamentally changed their outlook and overall comfort and hear a customer say,  I’ve been living with pain for the past 10, 12 years and finally I can go to work feeling comfortable but come home at the end of the day and be able to relax and enjoy my life and family.  To me there’s no greater response or reason to do what we do. Finding this community of individuals, who’ve been largely overlooked and underserved when it comes to shoes, to be able to create something that solves a problem in their lives, there’s no greater calling or gift to me than to be able to do that.  I’m aware we’re not going to the Moon. We’re not curing cancer, but with these little moments of relief and comfort in someone’s lives, to me that compounds with now over 40,000 people wearing the shoes and so I genuinely love doing what I’m doing and knock wood, if I’m fortunate enough, I’d love to do this for a long time to come to continue to bring just those little bits of relief and joy into people’s lives who maybe don’t have as much of it that as they deserve.

Frank:  Well, it’s definitely reflected your passion, there’s no question about it. We did a webinar with you and the passion was there. I really enjoy it. It’s from the heart and I wish you all the best of luck and we look forward to continuing to grow our contract with you. Best of luck and congratulations in your married life and thank you for your time today.

Rob: Thank you so much.

Announcer:  This has been MediGroup’s Franks Fast Five with Healthcare Executives produced by Bridget Wilson and Carrie Peters and hosted by Frank Gillipsie. Special thanks to Rob Gregg founder and CEO for Gales shoes. This has been a presentation of MediGroup Physician Services.

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