Retail Merchandising Case Study: Rockport and Visual Creations

retail merchandising


The retail experience and multifaceted manufacturing companies that help national retailers create in-store fixtures and displays to boost sales, shape customer experience and inspire a connection with the brand come in all shapes and sizes.

These relationships are, of course, essential to the world of retail.

Often, such relationships are simply project-based – a multifaceted retail experience supplier-manufacturer is hired for a specific job (for example, to build and deliver custom fixtures for product display).

However, under the best of circumstances, the company exceeds expectations – again and again. The relationship expands to include additional work, trust is built over a period of years and a strong connection is formed as the supplier-manufacturer works to develop a deep understanding of the retailer’s ongoing needs and how each job relates to the overall brand experience. Over time, the connection evolves into something more like a partnership.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at how retail brands benefit from establishing that type of relationship with a trusted partner. One whose skill at creating cost-effective store fixtures and displays is enhanced by a keen understanding of the look and feel of the brand. One that is also equipped to value engineer that experience at scale.

The Rockport Group and Visual Creations

A real-life example of the best-case scenario outlined above is the working relationship between Rockport, the iconic footwear designer/manufacturer based outside Boston, and Visual Creations of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, an industry-leading designer/manufacturer of creative, cost-effective store fixtures and displays.

Susan Dooley, senior vice president of global marketing for The Rockport Group, and Kathy Rohrman, a senior account executive at VCI, had known each other for many years through their work at other companies.

So, Rockport and VCI already enjoyed a strong connection when the nearly half-century-old footwear brand was purchased from Adidas by new ownership in 2015.

“As we were looking to reposition our brand, a big part of it was the environmental element of Rockport and what we’re we going to stand for,” said Dooley. The goal was to “tap into its heritage as an authentic American brand,” something that is very appealing to customers both here in the U.S. and internationally.

Drawing on generations of shoemaking experience, Rockport merges the comfort and technology of athletic shoes with the smart, sophisticated look of dress and casual styles. Between its retail stores and wholesale presence in other stores, the brand is sold in more than 50 countries around the globe.

Understand the Brand

VCI helped Rockport develop “a consistent look and feel for our brand,” said Dooley, one that was integrated across all touch points, from retail and wholesale to tradeshow booths and global showrooms, as well as gallery spaces in the company’s new 70,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Newton, Mass.

Dooley said that she and Bill Riley, Rockport’s vice president for Global Marketing Activation, and the rest of her sizable team share the confidence that “anything that comes out of VCI is absolutely going to be on brand.”

Just as important, she said, is the ability of VCI and its leadership – Jay Long (president and CEO; heading sales) and Doug Robertson (executive vice president; heading manufacturing) – to value engineer its deliverables to meet Rockport’s budgetary requirements.

“Doug and Jay are top-notch guys. I’m very impressed by their commitment to their clients. As successful as they are and as their business continues to grow, they still have the personal relationship with their client,” said Dooley. “I think it comes down to the fact that they listen. They really want to understand your business and make sure they are developing the tools and services that will enhance your business.”

Additionally, Dooley said Rohrman’s contribution goes well beyond the traditional role of sales executive, functioning as a creative consultant and a manufacturing consultant/advocate, who is also sharply focused on budget and opportunities for value engineering.

In fact, they often sketch out ideas together. “I’ve helped develop numerous footwear fixtures with Sue,” said Rohrman, who spends a lot of time at Rockport talking with Dooley about their product line and graphical messaging, and how it ties into the custom fixtures and displays.

A Successful Partnership

VCI works with many of the major retailers in the U.S., “helping them bring their products to market,” said Long, who is proud that many of these relationships have lasted decades. He sees his mission as understanding each client’s needs so well, and delivering on them so effectively, that “we truly become an extension of their company.”

It helps that VCI operates out of a state-of-the-art, 325,000-square-foot facility with advanced capabilities in all aspects of manufacturing. This enables them to take each client’s vision for cost-effective, eye-catching displays and bring them to life.

Dooley enjoys the confidence that VCI excels at each aspect of the process – from listening to designing and manufacturing, and ultimately “delivering it to the end user.”

Asked if she had any advice for brands looking to develop such a successful partnership, she said, “I think it’s important to make sure you take the time to think through what your overall deliverables will be, and find a partner who can do as many of those as possible.”

The benefit is that this breeds a deeper, more intimate familiarity with the brand, while also making it easier to achieve cost efficiency through economies of scale.

“When you’re looking at a display partner, you cannot overlook the importance of fulfillment and inventory management. You have to make sure you’re working with a partner that has that function buttoned up,” added Dooley, who noted that VCI does this very effectively. And, of course, in the event there is ever a mix-up, it’s important to have a supply chain partner that is committed to doing whatever it takes to get it fixed right away.

From custom fixtures and displays designed with a consistent branded look and feel, to budget requirements, to deadlines, timetables and fulfillment needs, Dooley said of VCI, the bottom line is: “They understand our brand.”

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