Joi and Dean Brandt, owners of Expressions Shoe Center in Pequot Lakes, stood near the Aetrex System (behind them) at their store. The computerized system helps people with foot problems find the right shoes.
Dean and Joi Brandt have 85 years of retail experience between them, so it's no wonder their Pequot Lakes store is not your typical shoe store.
Expressions Shoe Center on Main Street now offers the Aetrex System, a computerized system that helps people with foot problems. Only about 10 stores in the state have the system, and only a handful of those have the computer display.
"This is the heart of our store," Dean Brandt, a certified pedorthist, said of the Aetrex System. "You walk in here and you'll see foot measuring devices. People will say, 'I haven't had my foot measured in 30 years.'"
With the Aetrex System, people stand in stockinged feet on a scale-like device that computes and shows how their weight is distributed on their feet. The color computer display shows the person's foot size, what type of arch the person has and where the person's pressure points are.
Such a foot analysis is a $70 value that's done for free at Expressions Shoe Center. The analysis helps direct people to the right orthopedic shoe.
"We pride ourselves on being able to help people with foot problems," said Brandt, who is not a doctor, but is trained to work with doctors and to be able to modify shoes or get people fitted in the particular shoe for their need.
Brandt said the most common problem he sees is plantar fasciitis, though foot problems can include anything from arthritis to arch pain, and shin splints to diabetes. He has a skeletal foot to show people exactly what he is talking about when it comes to bones and tendons in the foot.
Expressions offers comfort-casual name-brand shoes for men, women and children - like its No. 1 brand, New Balance, as well as NAOT, Clarks, Merrell and Skechers - that can't be found in discounted department stores. And shoes at Expressions are marked down upon arrival at the store.
"With 85 years of experience, we've figured out that if you have the product people want and offer it at a very good price, they'll buy," Brandt said.
They'll also special order a shoe or size people want that's not at the store and ship the shoes for free.
Before opening Expressions in Pequot Lakes, Brandt worked for Montgomery Ward for 26 years in various management positions, including managing three large stores and as district personnel manager in the Chicago metro.
Joi Brandt also held retail management positions, including being store manager for Kohls in three different locations, the last being in St. Cloud.
The couple met while both worked for Montgomery Ward in Los Angeles.
"We both like sports. In fact, our first date included a California Angels baseball game," Dean said, noting they are now Minnesota Twins fans who proudly display in their store a baseball signed by Joe Mauer and a picture of Dean and Mauer holding the ball that Dean bought at a hospital fundraiser in Fort Myers three years ago.
The Brandts built the North Lakes Center on Main Street in Pequot Lakes in 1997 with the intention of opening a small store with shoes, apparel and gifts. They designed the building to house six additional stores for rental income.
Through the years, as businesses left for different reasons, Expressions kept expanding until it now occupies three-quarters of the building. With 4,000 square feet housing more than 5,000 pairs of shoes, Expressions is one of the largest independent shoe stores in Minnesota.
Dean said they learned to analyze and change their business to ensure it didn't fail. About five years ago, they realized there was big potential in aging people and their foot problems. So Dean went to school to become a certified pedorthist, and Expressions Shoe Center became a Medicare and Medicaid supplier of footwear for diabetics.
Dean travels to nursing homes and assisted living centers to treat diabetics with footwear, and 240 doctors send patients with prescriptions for therapeutic shoes to the shoe center, he said.
"We're able to put shoes on people's feet when they come in with a prescription," Dean said, noting the store has more than 2,000 shoes in stock for diabetics.
The Brandts are proud of their helpful staff, many who have worked there for years, including daughter Deb Adkins who manages the store.
The Brandts are community minded as well. Last year they donated 100 pairs of NAOT shoes to the Mid-Minnesota Women's Center in Brainerd, and this year they are participating in a shoe drive to benefit Soles4Souls Inc., a shoe charity. Residents are encouraged to donate their gently worn shoes and/or money for people in need.
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