Archive for Sunday, December 12, 1999

DISPLAY GROUP BECOMES A MARKET FIXTURE

December 12, 1999

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What started on a kitchen table 25 years ago today produces in-store displays for some of the country's largest retailers. Its name: E and E Display Group.

Daryl Morgison's company makes the last ads anyone sees before they buy.

Shelves for Hallmark Cards, display cases for collectible dolls and cardboard racks for Pop Tarts and Rice Krispy Treats all are designed, built and assembled at E and E Display Group's 320,000-square-foot plant at 910 E. 29th.

It just as well could be Lawrence's biggest ad agency.

"We are promotional merchandisers," said Morgison, E and E's longtime president and new chief executive officer. "That's part of the advertising world we live in."

But unlike print, radio and TV ads -- mere blips and throwaways in today's fast-paced world -- E and E's projects continue to endure and evolve in an increasingly competitive market.

And that's why the company is taking it so seriously.

Since 1994, when E and E landed its first contract to make display cases for Enesco's "Precious Moments Collection" figurines, the company has invested more than $750,000 in new equipment and hired teams of employees to create permanent store fixtures that sell a brand as much as they display a product.

Such fixtures -- including collectibles cabinets, Kitchen Aid refrigerator displays and check-out counters for Best Buy -- will account for 20 percent of E and E's annual revenues this year, up from 5 percent a year ago.

And it won't stop there.

"Next year we could double our store fixtures business," Morgison said.

There's plenty of room to grow.

Growing market, competition

Fixture companies will generate $8.5 billion in revenues this year, up 63 percent from the $5.2 billion raked in three years ago, according to the National Association of Store Fixture Manufacturers.

And the market's getting crowded. The association's membership of 650 manufacturers and suppliers has more than tripled during the past decade, as successful retailers refuse to settle for stock shelves or run-of-the-mill hangars.

An example: Greg Norman's signature "shark" logos are displayed on virtually everything inside his line of golf shops, from the carpets to the ceilings and all the shelves, racks and cabinets in between.

"Retail outlets have to be places where you want to shop, or you can't compete," said Catharine Scott, the association's director of administration and member services. "They can't compete if their stores are tired, old and ugly. That's why fixturing has become so important."

E and E, with eight designers among its 325 employees, understands the trend and is doing all it can to stay ahead.

Sales fixture

In 1997, the company hired Tony Bridwell from a Dallas fixtures company to become E and E's national sales manager. His contacts in the business included Frito-Lay, CompUSA and Best Buy.

This year E and E already has produced cabinets, countertops, signs and other fixtures for 13 new Best Buy stores, plus dozens more that were renovated during the summer.

E and E currently is working on a bid for the Gap, which is looking to create a new store look.

"That's a long way off, but it's another opportunity," Morgison said.

Just as retailers constantly look to build upon their images, E and E merely is building on its strengths.

The company was incorporated as E and E Specialties in 1956, two years after Roger White rolled and cut a special-order cardboard display on his kitchen table.

White, then working as a design engineer for Lawrence Paper Co., soon built a specialty business that packaged delicate products such as diodes and other electronics. It also created promotional displays for Hallmark Cards, which today remains E and E's largest client.

By 1971, E and E had built its own 90,000-square-foot plant, and in 1974 had 40 employees.

Evolving innovation

Morgison joined the team three years later, and since then sales have jumped 900 percent. The company's operations include an 80,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center in Topeka; regional sales offices in Kansas City, Dallas, Minneapolis and Kalamazoo, Mich.; and international alliances with one company in Poland, two in England and three in Spain.

Thus far E and E has produced 300,000 plastic strips for European companies that make displays for Sega computer games, an international market that the Lawrence company plans to win.

"It could end up being millions of dollars," said Ed White, the family-owned company's chairman of the board.

E and E -- named after Ed White's grandfather, Earl, and mother, Eleanor -- built its success on the strength of making point-of-purchase displays, which started as cardboard cartons but evolved into high-tech plastics and metals and with full-color designs.

The recent expansion into permanent fixtures took more than a year of retooling and required broad equipment upgrades, creating a division that now occupies 150,000 square feet and produces oak cabinets and metal-detailed shelves.

"They're things you'd want in your living room," Ed White said.

Karen Doodeman, director of retail marketing for the fixtures association, expects more innovation in the next few years as retailers scramble to retain their identities in the face of electronic commerce. Interactive kiosks and other advances are on the horizon, she said, and companies like E and E need to keep looking ahead to stay on top.

Morgison, who took over for Ed White as CEO in October, isn't fazed.

"It's a whole different market," he said. "We've continued to evolve, and we will continue to evolve."

-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is mfagan@ljworld.com.



E AND E'S CLIENT GROUP

E and E Display Group designs and manufactures display cases, counters and other fixtures for 300 companies and retailers, including:

Hallmark Cards, Enesco Corp., Kellogg's, Coleman Co., Best Buy, Whirlpool Corp., Frito-Lay, Smuckers, Pillsbury, R.G. Barry, General Mills and Sprint.

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