Wolverine Worldwide, a large footwear holding company based in Michigan, is the parent company to sixteen different sub-brands, four of which - Saucony, Stride Rite, Sperry, and Keds - are today headquartered in Waltham, MA. Previously these groups were working in space that did not allow them to position their business effectively in the highly competitive footwear market. Sub-brands were siloed, collaboration space was limited, and storage for constantly accessed materials and product was chaotic.
After an extensive site selection and programming process, Wolverine elected to remain along the 128 corridor to maximize their visibility, and moved to a build-to-suit site. While providing opportunities for customization, this site also required significant coordination and collaboration with the building owner and design team to ensure the build-out fully met Wolverine’s workplace functionality and efficiency requirements.
The mission of the move was threefold. First, reinforce the identity of one company, Wolverine Worldwide, while allowing each of the four sub-brands to express their own distinctiveness. The invention here was the interconnecting stair built of the common element to all sub-brands—the shoelace. It encloses the common circulation linking all showrooms and lounge spaces, for all staff, vendors and customers.
Second, tell the story of the sub-brands and showcase the product—the core of the business. Through the shoelace stair, each sub-brand is linked to the broader company identity. This path allows visitors to see all of the work, and is the direct path to each showroom and center of innovation.
Third, maximize the efficiency of the workplace for people, process, and product. All of this creative work requires intense collaboration, materials, and the display of final product. Through the use of high density storage, mobile carts, and low paneled work stations, visibility and access to materials is maximized allowing teams to share resources.
While most of the buildout was fairly standard construction, the main focal point of the space, the shoelace stair, required a unique process of design and implementation. To test the design ideas required full scale mockups during design, examining sourcing options, color and pattern, composition, stretchiness, ability to hold a knot, and how easy it would be pull 150 yards at a time through multiple holes during installation, understanding the final product would use over 10 miles of laces.
This required close partnerships: with Wolverine to source actual material they used through their vendors; with lighting designers to best understand how to light the final installation; with the construction manager to look for the right subs to do the installation; and with the subs themselves to test the installation process, including levels of tension required and the actual sequence of starting and stopping a run.
All of this was based on the successful design process that involved not just one client, but essentially four, as representatives from each sub-brand participated in the design investigations. While adding a level of challenge to coordination and buy in, this process ultimately resulted in a solution that met the needs for the whole company and each of its individual brands.
Finally, because this was a build to suit location, close coordination of the design and construction of the base building between the tenant architect, the tenant, the landlord, and the base building architect was required. This constant back and forth and sharing of ideas resulted in the ability to create floor openings and modify key building systems while the base building was being designed, resulting in cost and schedule savings to the tenant. It also required the locking in of critical design moves early in the design process, so tenant buy in became critical.