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Brand New

Iconic Shinola opens facility, flagship store in Midtown
Pages 30-31
By Jacquie Goetz Bluethmann

There’s an old brand with a new image in town. Shinola, the only U.S. manufacturer of wrist watches, has set up shop in Detroit. The company’s watch manufacturing operations are based in the Argonaut Building at the College for Creative Studies (CCS). It is here that skilled workers are assembling the tiny components that make Shinola’s signature product tick. And just up the road, Shinola’s flagship store at 441 W. Canfield St. is showcasing the brand’s wares to an eager audience.

“The reception has been amazing,” said Daniel Caudill, Shinola’s creative director. “We’re seeing constant traffic into the store. The community and the city in general have embraced the brand and the store.”

If the Shinola name sounds familiar, that’s because the brand bought the trademark for the name from a brand of shoe polish popular in the first half of the 20th century.

In addition to time pieces, Shinola produces bicycles, journals and assorted leather goods, all of which are available at the Midtown store and the even more recently opened Tribeca store in New York City.

“We began with the idea of manufacturing watches here in the U.S.,” Caudill explained. “Everything was based on this idea of a quality, well-designed product.”

To that end, Shinola partnered with Ronda AG, a Swiss-based movement manufacturer, to bring the assembly know-how of an established Swiss watchmaker to the training of each Shinola factory worker.

“All the components are produced in Switzerland,” said Hanspeter Herzog, Ronda AG Head of Technical Services, in a video on the Shinola website. “All we need is proper assembly of the components. We can bring the knowledge, but the people are still the most important element. With the training they had from our crew, there is no reason why this quality we have already achieved can’t be transferred to Detroit.”

And to Detroit it has been transferred, thanks in no small part to the efforts of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC).

“The DEGC could not have been more helpful to us when we were considering where to locate,” noted Caudill, who fondly recalled the brand’s second meeting with the DEGC, where 10 to 15 people representing different parts of city government and business were on hand to provide advice and assistance.

“I know of no other place where people just open up and want you to succeed,” he said.

Caudill acknowledges that the question he most commonly gets asked, next to “What is Shinola?” has to do with why the company chose Detroit for its headquarters. And the response to that question is a logical one, he said.

“When you think about small componentry, it’s all about the workforce,” Caudill explained. “When you consider the manufacturing ability of the workforce here and the city’s history of manufacturing for the automotive industry, Detroit was a natural place to start looking.”

Part of that looking involved tours of the city, a stop on which Caudill and his team visited CCS. The opportunity to establish an internship program with the school and to sponsor classes appealed to Shinola as did the available space to house the brand’s watch factory.

“Initially we were just looking for temporary space and considered CCS,” Caudill recalled. “But once we saw the space and how we could integrate with the school, it was a no-brainer.”

Shinola has wasted no time starting up an internship program for CCS students, the first two of whom completed the program and are now full-time Shinola employees. These hires bring the company’s employee count to more than 100, approximately 90 of whom are based in Detroit.

Retail Presence

While Shinola’s watch factory has been up and running with assembly of movements since May 2012, its Midtown store just opened its doors in June. Shinola partnered with Kraemer Design Group, a Detroit-based architecture firm, to design the space, which Caudill said the brand plans to use to host neighborhood events and to showcase the work of local artists.

The brand has already caught the interest of other local entrepreneurs including the five sisters behind DROUGHT, a Plymouth-based organic, cold-pressed juice company. After a chance meeting at a local restaurant, the Shinola and DROUGHT teams decided the like-minded brands made for natural partners.

“Detroit is a very small community, and once we caught wind of the Shinola story, we fell in love,” said Caitlin James, DROUGHT managing partner and co-founder. “Both Shinola and DROUGHT are committed to producing quality products with integrity and transparency at every step. Both of our businesses highlight the human element, the people behind the product and the care that is put into it all.”

The mutual admiration and shared commitment to quality has resulted in DROUGHT setting up a full-time retail presence in the Shinola Midtown store.

“Our community space is definitely in ways a novelty, but also the people and products are authentic and the stories behind both of our businesses are genuine,” James said. “We have a lot of regular and unique customers, so it’s an excellent opportunity for us to co-promote.”

DROUGHT is not the only partnership Shinola has forged. The store carries collaboratively produced and curated items like jeans by Detroit Denim and ceramic vessels by Local Portion and will continually be on the lookout for other brands with which to partner.

As for its own product mix, Shinola has eyes on eventually expanding its offerings to include such things as footwear and various home products.

“We couldn’t do everything to start,” Caudill noted. “The watches and building the factory to create them was the first step and will always be the base of the brand. But eventually we’ll figure how to set-up additional manufacturing in the U.S., so we can continue making great products that are well designed.”

Its initial products have already proven their appeal. Shinola sold out of 2,500 limited-edition Runwell watches online in one week this past spring, and its list of pre-orders is long.

“Production is ramping up,” Caudill said. “To make a watch in the U.S. is an unbelievable endeavor. Watches are the most complex product to make in regards to development, design and manufacturing.”

Jacquie Goetz Bluethmann is a metro Detroit freelance writer.