The comeback narrative dominates discussions about the city of Detroit, and few stars have risen as fast as Shinola. It’s hard to believe that it was just two years ago that the Detroit-based company sold its first watch. Today, you can buy Motor City-assembled watches, bicycles, and leather goods around the globe. Shinola has stores in New York, Los Angeles, London, and Chicago, and sells through luxury retailers like Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales. And Shinola’s newest outpost will open in Ann Arbor this month.
The Ann Arbor location on Main Street, housed in a former Selo/Shevel gallery space, will embrace the original details of the building, stripped down to expose the original brick and white oak. The Ann Arbor location will emulate the community feel of other Shinola stores, with a coffee shop and a 2,000 square foot lounge area in the basement. The space will be available for events, with plans to host DJ nights and college radio broadcasts.
Ann Arbor was a clear choice for Shinola’s new retail shop, according to Creative Director Daniel Caudill. Over the 2014 holiday season, Shinola hosted bus transportation to and from its flagship store off of Cass Avenue in Midtown Detroit every 30 minutes from Ann Arbor. Shinola’s staff was impressed to see the bus nearly full with every trip.
Caudill attributes Shinola’s success to the company’s commitment to quality and the timeless, classic design of its products. “What’s interesting is that we attract customers from no particular demographic. It’s a pretty diverse mix. Some of our customers are buying a watch for the first time, others are watch enthusiasts.” All their customers, however, must come from a means-to-spend demographic—mens watches start at $500.
Visiting Shinola headquarters in Midtown Detroit, it’s clear that the enthusiasm for the city and a commitment to collaboration infuses all elements of Shinola’s operations. 200 of the company’s 350 employees work in Detroit, and both the watch and leather goods assembly are completed on-site. A communal lunch area is used by everyone—designers, factory workers, and marketers.
Caudill says the close proximity of all employees of lends itself to the products’ high quality. “Everything is under one roof. The designers can work with the factory to tweak every product until it’s absolutely perfect. You can’t get that if you’re manufacturing is in China. Everyone on the team is able to refine the product.”
The company also touts internal promotion of its employees. The first watch assemblers are now supervising the line. Shinola employs a train-the-trainer model and ensures that every factory employee understands each step of the process. “We want people to grow here. We want Shinola to be around for a very long time,” says Caudill. “I want to retire from this company and I want everyone here now to be able to retire from this company.”
Detroit is a strong brand element for Shinola, with the city’s name printed underneath its logo. But the company didn’t locate here with the intention of promoting the city. “When the founders were looking for a place to locate the company, it was just about where to manufacture the watches,” says Caudill. “We came here and realized that Detroit has a great pool of talent. There’s also an ease of doing business in the Midwest. People want to see you succeed.”
It looks like the success story isn’t going to stop anytime soon. The company’s growth has been exponential. In its first year, Shinola manufactured 50,000 watches. That number more than tripled in the second year, producing 170,000 watches. In 2014 Shinola introduced wallets, backpacks, and leather-bound notebooks, an obvious complement to the watches. The leather goods are also an efficient extension of its manufacturing operations in Detroit. Which begs the question—can we expect additional products from Shinola?
Caudill confirms that they are looking into introducing new products, but can’t reveal anything specific. “But it’s so exciting,” he says, “it’s so exciting I literally can’t even tell you.”
Shinola, 301 S. Main St, Ann Arbor