Wenger SA (Delémont, Switzerland) is best known for making the genuine Swiss Army Knife. That’s good news and bad for the 116-year-old company, because it also sells watches, luggage and other cutlery items.
So when Wenger recently introduced a new footwear line – rugged shoes and outdoor boots – it was confronted with two problems: It had little brand identity beyond the knives and no retail outlets of its own.
But that knife cuts both ways. Designers used the history and tradition of the product and a museum-like presentation to draw people into the Wenger flagship store in Boulder, Colo., where they’re then exposed to the rest of the merchandise.
The store’s location also plays a key part in driving the store’s success, with its access to the state’s mountain climbing, skiing and hiking culture and about 30,000 University of Colorado students. So there is some Wenger brand-awareness beyond the knife. “The kids all have their Wenger book bags,” says project designer Blake Mourer of design firm Gensler (Denver office), “and the hikers and campers have their Wenger mountain bags. The Wenger logo – the simple Swiss white cross on a red background – is everywhere.”
Still, the knife is the lure, with every knife the company makes, and historical products as well, showcased as art inside the 2600-square-foot store. Graphics detail the history of the products and the brand qualities.
Other design elements play off the outdoor nature of the Colorado countryside (which is similar to the Swiss countryside). A hand-painted wall mural based on vintage Swiss travel posters references the history of the brand. A woven wall sculpture of hand-cut logs of pine wrapped in twine is featured at the rear of the store. The walls themselves are made of 100-year-old stone and the shelving along the walls is made from beetle-kill pine – fallen logs taken from the insect-infested forests throughout the Rocky Mountains.
“Anyone who sees that wood knows immediately that it’s authentic Colorado,” says Mourer, “and authenticity – of the brand and the merchandise – is what we were going for.”
Click through the slide show of images to see all the first place winners in this year's A.R.E. competition.
To see the visual presentation winners, click here.
To see the outstanding merit winners, click here.