LaCrosse Footwear Inc. of La Crosse, Wis., has been in business for more than 100 years, making premium quality protective footwear for such diverse markets as sporting and outdoor, farm and general utility, and occupational and children. Despite this, the company was low on the brand-recognition scale.

"Our previous visual merchandising program lacked the branding issue," says LaCrosse market manager Cheryl Dutton. "We wanted very strong branding in the program. Also, we wanted to reinforce LaCrosse's high-performance brand positioning through graphics and information at the point of sale. We wanted to find units that would set us apart at retail from our competition."

LaCrosse turned to Knoxville, Tenn.-based Design Performance Group, a division of Plasti-Line Inc. that provides products and services to design retail environments. "We felt they had achieved for their clients certain objectives that we liked," Dutton says. "They'd done a really nice concept job for Wrangler. We were looking for a firm that could not only design and produce the fixture but also inventory it for us and ship it. We don't have warehouse space or a staff to monitor warehousing."

Judy Fenton, DPG senior retail project manager, says, "LaCrosse had done some pretty phenomenal things in their history. But they felt they needed more identity in stores to promote themselves."

Fenton's challenge was to tie the fixture to the product. And there were other lofty goals: increasing market share through stronger brand identification, and educating consumers about the quality and performance of the authentic materials used in LaCrosse footwear.

As a practical matter, the fixtures needed to work on a store's backwall and enhance the LaCrosse logo while engaging the customer. Moreover, physically the elements had to be usable singly or as a group.

DPG connected the fixturing design to the company's history, product and home region by capitalizing on the construction and outdoor aspects of LaCrosse's heritage. DPG began with standard-construction two-by-fours stained in outdoor green to give the lumber a woodsy look, held them together with huge construction bolts, then added shelving and hardware of raw metal, clear-coated to produce a weathered look.

Across the bottom of the fixture runs a panel of vacuformed stonework, colored from a palette of real stones. Balancing this bottom panel is a top panel of four-season photographs showing how the products adapt to each season.

DPG developed five units that could be used together or independently to create the atmosphere of the great outdoors. Individual stores can order the units in parts and pieces. So far, parts have been shipped to over 200 retail outlets.

The rustic feel of the units draws customers to the product immediately. "When we showed the design at the Chicago fixturing show," Fenton recalls, "people tried to come in and buy the display product."

Dutton notes that the shop projects the outdoors, giving LaCrosse a strong brand presence in stores. "It really accomplishes the objectives we set out to do," she says. "The personality of the company is projected in these modules."