By Chelan David
LaCrosse Footwear has come a long way over the past 112 years. In 1897, the company began manufacturing rubber horseshoes in La Crosse, WI, on a patch of land reputedly owned by "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Today, LaCrosse is a leading provider of premium work and outdoor footwear, apparel and accessories. Synonymous with high quality authentic footwear, the brand develops a product that its customers know and trust.
Intent on thriving in an increasingly competitive marketplace, the company focuses on continual innovation and consistently delivers a high level of customer service and operational excellence. Relationships play an important role in the overall vision. Strong bonds have been forged with long-time customers as well as suppliers and employees. The strategy is to win as a team by thinking progressively and staying ahead of the curve while paying careful attention to details.
"We believe in individual accountability, open communication and teamwork," says David Carlson, LaCrosse's executive vice president and CFO. "We are here to improve the customer experience and we believe in both product and service excellence. Long-term strategic planning followed by daily execution is essential."
The company's LaCrosse and Danner brands are sold to a network of specialty retailers and distributors in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. Work customers include those in law enforcement, transportation, oil and gas exploration and extraction, mining, construction, military services and other occupations that require high-
performance and protective footwear and apparel. The outdoor segment includes people active in hunting, hiking and other outdoor and cold weather recreational activities.
LaCrosse is always seeking to improve and evolve its product line, says Carlson. An example of this is the evolution of its scent-free footwear. In 1957, the first LaCrosse scent-free rubber hunting boot was introduced to the market. Six years later, another scent-free hunting boot was developed: the Burly. While rubber provided an excellent barrier against wet conditions, it lacked proper insulation, so the entire foot - from under the arch up to the ankle - was lined with a wool-felt and foam insulation. In addition to being scent free, the Burly also provided additional warmth for the hunter and even helped ease the process of pulling the boot on and off.
In 1995, LaCrosse launched the first rubber-over-neoprene hunting boot with the introduction of the Alpha. The Alpha technology was developed in order to cover the more comfortable neoprene lining with the waterproof and scent-free rubber exterior. Alpha Lite was introduced in 1998 to help hunters track prey over longer distances and the Alpha SST was launched in 2009.
The Alpha SST utilizes a scent-suppressing removable gator, which combats odor forming bacteria and locks in any remaining odor, effectively allowing the hunter to vanish from its prey. "To this day the LaCrosse Alpha technology remains the leader in the market and the Alpha SST showcases a collaboration of years of ingenuity, research and development giving the hunter the ability to hunt without a trace," says Carlson.
From Portland to Afghanistan
LaCrosse expertly blends innovation with craftsmanship through high standards in design, materials and production, says Carlson. The Danner brand was brought into the company fold in 1932, and to this day, uses only the highest grade of leathers and components. Much of the production is still done by hand.
The ability to deliver products that offer repeatable comfort and durability, as well as specific benefits for the end user, helps set the brand apart. An example that Carlson gives is Danner's work with the U.S. Army and Marines to develop footwear made in the United States that stands up to the harsh environments in Afghanistan.
"We are honored to support our men and women in uniform by delivering premium performance footwear built to meet the specific requirements for multiple branches of the U.S. Armed Forces," says Carlson. "In fact, every U.S. Marine and U.S. Army soldier deployed in Afghanistan is currently issued a pair of Danner boots produced at our factory in Portland, OR."
Recently, a second shift and 75 new workers were added at the factory in order to meet the military demand. In the face of a global economic slowdown, LaCrosse has managed to not only survive, but thrive.
Over the past five years, LaCrosse has consistently grown revenues by 8 percent to 10 percent each year. In 2006, the company's new Portland headquarters and distribution center was unveiled. In 2007, a liaison office in China was opened and the following year the firm's European subsidiary was established in Copenhagen, Denmark. This year, a 380,000-square-foot distribution center was opened in Indianapolis.
"These investments were made to accommodate the growth, improve the customer experience and broaden our customer base," says Carlson.
In addition to the new facilities and outposts, LaCrosse has invested in developing tools such as "Outpost" that track and place orders and provide real time inventory availability to customers.
The company also has a strategic partnership with Apparel Business Systems (ABS), whose software focuses on the footwear and apparel industry. Carlson says the company understands the demands of the retail market, that "buyers need real-time access to our inventories and that product must ship immediately." The company has found ABS to be an effective and affordable tool for managing the company's end-to-end supply chain from forecasting, sourcing and order entry to inventory control and distribution, says Carlson.
LaCrosse concentrates donation efforts towards local and national social needs, youth, and environmental issues that pertain to the company's end consumers and corporate ethics. Beneficiaries include the Marine Family Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Boy Scouts and the Special Olympics. Also, boots are donated locally in Portland each week to Birch Gleaners, an organization that helps the working poor get back on their feet.
On the environmental front, LaCrosse has worked to incorporate sustainability into its facilities through recycling and carpooling incentives. The corporate headquarters and Danner distribution center are powered by clean wind energy and the new LaCrosse distribution center in Indianapolis is LEED gold certified.
On the product side, the Danner Recrafting program adds life to boots by repairing and reconditioning them. Because many Danner boots can be recrafted by replacing the outsole, reworking the leather and restitching the seams, the product lifecycle is lengthened and boots are kept from landfills.
Chelan David is a Seattle-based free-lance writer.
LaCrosse works directly with end users to identify their needs and develop innovative solutions. "A perfect example," says Carlson, "is the LaCrosse brand's success over the past few years in providing both our Longwall and Highwall boots to meet the specific demands of both the underground and above-ground mining industry."
In order to stay ahead of the curve, Carlson says the company hires passionate people who agree on measurable goals. Then they are empowered to "deliver on the promise of excellence."