Meet the Cork brothers putting their best feet forward on the Grand Parade

While the face of the city centre has changed, Foot Solutions has become a mainstay of Cork after a decade in business. Started by brothers Tony and John Linehan in as the financial crash began to hit in 2007, the businesses success is a testament to their hard work, having expanded to seven other locations. Tony tells David Linnane how they made it through, and what makes their store stand out from the others.
Meet the Cork brothers putting their best feet forward on the Grand Parade
Proprietor Tony Linehan in the Cork city Foot Solutions store. Picture: Larry Cummins

How long is the business open and how did it begin?

"Foot Solutions on the Grand Parade opened in June 2007, so it’s hard to believe that we have been “making feet happy” for the people of Cork for nearly 10 years. My brother John and I bought the Ireland and UK franchise for Foot Solutions, a US-based shoe store operation in 2006 and the Cork store was the first to open in Europe."

What was it like in its early days?

"As you can imagine starting a new business in 2007 at the beginning of the global financial crisis and the biggest recession Ireland has ever seen was quite a challenge. However, we felt we were bringing something different to the Irish shoe retail business. We were bringing service back to the customer. At Foot Solutions, we carry out a full foot and gait analysis for our customers, a service which is totally free of charge. We take time to understand our customers’ needs and do our best to expertly satisfy those needs."

What has changed since then?

"Over the past 10 years we have continued to grow the business in Cork and indeed at the other seven locations throughout the country. We have introduced many new quality shoe brands from some of Europe’s top designers and manufacturers and, of course, we continue to manufacture world class customised arch supports for our customers from the company’s base in Atlanta, USA."

Tony Linehan outside the Cork City shoe store.Picture: Larry Cummins
Tony Linehan outside the Cork City shoe store.Picture: Larry Cummins

What's your background and how did you get into this industry?

"I am a qualified Accountant by profession (CIMA) and spent the first seventeen years of my career working for PepsiCo International, based in Little Island. There I worked in a myriad of roles under the guidance of some magnificent local mentors. I gained the expertise, experience and confidence to move on to other challenges, but I must say it was and is a fantastic company to work for. I spent 6 years with a property development company before setting up the Foot Solutions master franchise for Ireland and the UK in 2006."

Tell us about your staff.

Tony Linehan with staff Chris McCarthy, Lillian O'Flynn, Mary Nolan and Cian Linehan.Picture: Larry Cummins
Tony Linehan with staff Chris McCarthy, Lillian O'Flynn, Mary Nolan and Cian Linehan.Picture: Larry Cummins

"As any good businessman will tell you, you are nothing without your staff. At Foot Solutions, I am blessed with a wonderful team of dedicated people. Many of whom have been with Foot Solutions from the very beginning. At all times they manage to balance the challenges of retail with our underlying ethos of caring for our customers and satisfying their needs - not just selling a pair of shoes. It is no coincidence that many of my team learned their trade at the former Roches Stores Department Stores in Patrick Street and Wilton. From my childhood growing up on Sullivan’s Quay and my own school holiday job there, I can still remember the dedication to customer service in Roches."

What types of customers do you get? 

"At Foot Solutions, we cater for all demographics. Sometimes there is a misconception that you have to have a problem to go to Foot Solutions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our customers include athletes, sports men and women from all codes, walkers and, in general, everyone who appreciates the subtle balance of style and comfort for work, dress and play. Our free foot and gait analysis coupled with our customised arch supports fitted in a full range of accommodative shoes usually ensures a satisfied customer. And a satisfied customer is a loyal customer. Again to be perfectly clear if you want to come in and just by a pair of shoes that’s absolutely fine too."

What makes your shop different than the others?

"From my perspective there are several reasons why we provide a unique service to our customers. The Foot Solutions staff are expertly trained to listen to your needs and deliver the best solution for you. We carry some of the top quality shoe brands from Europe and beyond, including Finn Comfort, Xsensible, Ziera, and BROOKS, a world leading manufacturer of running and walking shoes. And, we use the most up to date technology to assess your requirements including pressure mapping and 3-D scanning."

Was the recession tough on you, and how did you survive it?

"Of course, the recession was a tough time for everyone. However, I always believe hard work and dedication will see you through any recession. As I said earlier I am blessed with a group of co-workers who will never be found wanting when it comes to hard work and dedication to customer service."

How is trade in the city centre now?

"It feels like the city is going through a very tough period just now. While it is only my own opinion, I think Brexit and fears over what President Trump might do have hit customer sentiment very hard. It would be great if we could focus on the opportunities that this changing paradigm might bring and it would be a great start if our local and national media would take a lead in this regard. Cork has been through a lot worse and survived."

How do you feel about all the changes in the city centre, especially those on Grand Parade like the Capitol? Are they good for business?

"It is fantastic to see the changing face of the Grand Parade over the last year or so. From my office, I have had a bird’s eye view of the demise of the old Capital Cinema and the rise of the new magnificent Capital complex. As of this week, the face lift for the English Market has started. This can only be good for footfall, for the city, and, I hope, for Foot Solutions."

What are your favourite and least favourite parts of the job?

"I am happy to say that I love my job. Every morning I am met with new challenges. Dealing with customers, staff, suppliers, service providers is always exciting. I have three Foot Solutions stores to manage, the others are in Galway and Newbridge, and so I am on the road every other week. I work closely with the other Foot Solutions franchisees and of course with my brother John, who now runs the franchise network. Most of all I love living and working in Cork City."

What have you learned from running this business?

"You better be up for a challenge and to give it everything."

What's in the future for your business?

"I would love to think we can serve the people of Cork for another 10 years."

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