In Ireland signs are pointing to green

The brothers Christoph (left) and Samuel Welter at the 4. ORTHOPÄDIE­SCHUHTECHNIK in Cologne.

Friendly people, pedorthic needs and flat bureaucratic structures – Samuel Welter has been heading a pedorthic company in Ireland for one and a half years. After many years in Germany he specifically looked for a country with comparatively low bureaucratic hurdles.

Samuel Welter has always been interested in the world and in people. After he joined the company Ferdinand Bohnen (Essen-Werden) he came to Sierra Leone Makeni (OTC Orthopädisches Technisches Centrum) 30 years ago via the development aid AGEH Köln. There the young man experienced a time that defined him personally and also professionally: For more than three years the trained master pedorthist committed himself to development aid.

As assistant head of the OTC Samuel Welter was responsible for the training of local skilled personnel in Makeni. Unrest made him leave the country and return to Germany. There he worked for more than 18 years in the Cologne Wallenborn GmbH as head of the workshop and obtained numerous additional qualifications, for example in diabetes care.

His tasks were meaningful and fulfilling to him until the increasing bureaucratization more and more influenced his professional daily routine. Administrative work, the cooperation with health insurance companies increasingly demanded time from him that he preferred to spend with people and his manual work. Samuel Welter with 50 years was young, experienced and qualified enough to get started once more, to discover and experience something new.

Being used to thinking outside the German box, he inquired into alternatives abroad. Where could he use his knowledge and skills for people? Where are there needs, where are the bureaucratic hurdles comparatively low? He proceeded in a pragmatic way and challenge chance – with an advertisement or an application for a post in English speaking countries.

3 Questions to Samuel Welter

Samuel Welter in his workshop in Naas, Ireland. Here the manufacturing of individually adapted foot orthotics is the main part of his tasksOST: Which products/services are most in demand in your company?

Samuel Welter (SW): Mainly foot orthotics, they account for 60 to 70 percent of the order volume. This is followed by shoe modifications and more and more custom orthotic shoes. We work with a very committed team to carry out these manifold tasks. Part of the team has been for quite some time now also Liz Dunbar, highly qualified, strong organizer and meanwhile associate of the company.

Being Irish she represents our practical and spiritual connection to the Irish market, she knows the people, their mentality. My son Heinrich Welter is an apprentice in his first year, then there is Vinni (Vinicius Baez), workmanship-wise we are excellently positioned, and then there is still my brother Christoph and I. We are looking for competent staff at the moment.

OST: What is different in Ireland?

(SW): Not only the weather, also the attitude in various respects. The family is number one. We can work in a much more relaxed way, people here are open, forthcoming and sociable. At the same time I must not and do not want to discard my typical German way of thinking towards perfectionism, this is what I need for the quality of my work.

OST: Would you go to Ireland again?

(SW): Anytime. I like the people and the nature – and the flat bureaucratic structures. I especially enjoy that I can render a service to people’s health and to their well-being with the kind of work I do and that this is appreciated with “thank you” and with friendliness.

With success

His journey took him to Ireland in 2015, to Tutty’s Handmade Shoes, an expert for pedorthic footwear. Here Samuel Welter could use his skills specifically and help many people, also those with problematic feet. Supporting the foot, balancing weak spots, satisfy private and occupational requirements concerning walking and standing with the help of shoes, feeling good in shoes: Samuel Welter regards people holistically, from the foot via the knee to the back. Even though there are many excellent orthopedic specialists in Ireland working in prosthetics and helping people to maintain their mobility, there are only limited capacities to treat people for example with an orthopedic last and with foot orthotics.

So the profession of a pedorthist on the “Emerald Isle” does not exist the way we are used to in Germany– at least there is no training for it and thus also no specialized associations and organizations. But there is a demand for it.  Samuel Welter found out that the Irish like to be consulted by specialists and thankfully accept pedorthic offers that noticeably help them.

This positive experience and the openness for his specialized trade encouraged the master pedorthist to open his own business in 2017. Samuel Welter personally feels very much at ease on the Emerald Isle with its warm, easy-going people. And the youngest ones of his five children can grow up bilingually here. His 22-years-old son Heinrich Welter already now works as an apprentice in the company.

Samuel – Sam, as he is called in Ireland, was helped by his brother Christoph Welter when he set up his business. Together they managed the necessary paperwork like a business plan or tax issues. They bought a complete workshop in Germany, shipped it over and reconstructed it in a hall in Naas near Dublin. Today both are registered as
directors in the limited company and complement each other personally and professionally: Samuel Welter as pedorthist is responsible for the workmanship, Christoph Welter heads the IT area (marketing, optimization of processes).

Whereas raw materials so far have been bought and imported in Germany for the most part, the Welter brothers are now trying to increase their cooperation with regional suppliers. Here many reliable business contacts have already developed. Valuable help with establishing the business was provided by LEO, the Local Enterprise Office. This EU-sponsorship appreciated and supported the Start-Up, whose efforts in the end also help the people and the economy in Ireland.

“Lord of the Shoes”

A look in the practice of Samuel Welter in the Dublin Merrion Gates Medical Centre:  Here he is available for customers on two days per weekCross-linking and optimization of production processes are very important for the present and the future: “We had a positive first business year 2017 and meanwhile work with five employees. The order situation does not only stabilize itself, the demand, especially for orthopedic footwear, steadily grows”, Christoph Welter tells us.

The motto is as pragmatic as it is productive: “Feel the Difference at your Feet”. Welter’s Personalised Footwear Ltd. focuses entirely on the needs and the disease of the customer concerning the production or modification of footwear and orthotics.

Whether for daily life, sports and business, for diabetes care or children’s feet –the master pedorthist always has an eye on the holistic well-being. He relieves and avoids pain – with hand-manufactured custom orthotic shoes, with therapeutic footwear, foot orthotics and bandages.

The production takes place in a big hall in Naas. Two days a week Samuel Welter works for customers in his practice in the Dublin Merrion Gates Medical Centre and one day in Naas, in the M7 Businesspark Newhall,– the integration in a medical centre in Dublin provides synergies and contacts. “We cooperate with physicians from diverse clinics as well as with GPs and health care professionals. This leads to a vivid exchange and technical further education.

Interestingly people here on the island have downright “endemic” foot problems that are often passed along to the next generation. Such as talipes calcaneus cavus. In that case individual help to be pain-free and to have more walking comfort is openly accepted,” Samuel Welter says. Welter’s Personalised Footwear Ltd. contributes to a new awareness for health-promoting footcare. Right now Welter is looking for a further pedorthist. Maybe he or she will be found at the World Congress of Biomechanics that only takes place every four years and in the year 2018 the venue is Dublin. Here Welter’s Personalised Footwear Ltd. will represent pedorthics as the only exhibitor in Ireland.

Modern technology is connected with profound technical know-how at Welter’s Personalised Footwear Ltd“We are currently working on an idea to promote the export of our products and possibly to benefit from a further EU-sponsorship,” according to Samuel Welter. At the moment Germany is the strongest export country. “Customers actually follow me. They do not get the special foot orthotics any more the way I made them back in Germany – for example neuro-muscular therapeutic insoles.

Some customers also use the short period of time when I am back in Germany to have their feet measured and then they place their orders with me once more when they need it”, Welter tells us. As a next project, the specialist would like to deepen his business activity with the direct neighbouring countries Scotland and England – “slowly but surely”. Rome wasn’t built in a day – another concept that the Irish learn to respect and appreciate.

Pedorthics in Ireland

About 2.3 million people of the altogether 4.7 million inhabitants live in the wider area of Dublin. The education is often limited to private schools. If you have the money and an idea, you will find good conditions here to realize your professional ideas even without the learnt expert knowledge. This is a result of low bureaucratic hurdles, but it also limits the number of specialists. This is also valid for master pedorthists that so far have not been apprenticed in Ireland the way we are used to in Germany. Thus there are only limited capacities for individual footcare. Concerning the trade, it is organized in the “Independent Footwear Retailers Association for Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.

There are quite some qualified podiatrists in Ireland. The infrastructure and the public transportation system are only constructed in a limited way. People are used to walking a lot. This is why they take special care of their feet. Welter’s Personalised Footwear Ltd has already had an interchange with some podiatrists and therapists, they introduced the team and their work in health centres. Often it can be heard: “Samuel Welter is German. I am sure he works very thoroughly and efficiently as a master pedorthist.” This way of thinking opens doors, but on the other hand it implies high expectations.

Our performance has to be more than good, so that we maintain our reputation”, Welter says. Foot orthotics authorized by the state health service “Health Service Executive (HSE)” are free of additional payments. But the customer always has to pay the service of the applicant. 20 percent of the costs are tax-deductible. There is a long way to a prescription: Foot orthotics first have to be prescribed by a physician, physical therapist, chiropractor or a osteopath, then it has to be authorized by a physical therapist.

The costs for foot orthotics are only born very rarely and in extreme cases. Here among other things three estimates have to be compared. The situation is similar for custom orthotic shoes. The majority of the Irish are privately insured. It depends on the respective insurance policy if and how far  pedorthic care is covered. The rates for individual foot orthotics are basically substantially higher than in Germany. The procurement costs for the raw materials alone are extremely high in Ireland. But this way aids and appliances of this type and the manufacturing and the customer service is “valued” higher in Ireland. Each process contains a free debriefing/test that is carried out three weeks upon receipt of the product.

The aid is supposed to fit and be actually used. In the end also Samuel Welter uses a mixed calculation, but he fares well with it in Ireland. He criticizes that pedorthists in Germany not only have to deal with too much bureaucracy: “They can just make a living working about 60 to 70 hours a week. This is a pity for the attractiveness of a very beautiful and meaningful profession”