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In 2011, manufacturing in Detroit was revitalized with the production of watches. After a period in which Detroit’s economy was heavily sustained by the car manufacturing business, Venture capitalist Tom Kartsotis set out to rebrand the city. This rebrand was Shinola. Now, let’s start from the beginning. The name “Shinola” comes from a specific brand of shoe polish that gained notoriety in the 40s and 50s, but in 2011 Kartsotis bought the rights to the Shinola brand name. The name was a business strategy at best. The validity and reliability that the name “Shinola” garnered, already filled the brand with marketing advantages. Shinola aimed to market itself as “all American”, which was just what the shoe polish represented. With this, “Kartsotis was able to leverage a sense of nostalgia— based on a product most consumers had never used-- into a new and powerful brand umbrella. The fact that its heritage was mostly undefined allowed Kartsotis to fill out the new Shinola brand the way he wanted.”
After the name was sorted, Shinola transformed 12,000 square feet of space into a brand new watch factory in Detroit. It was this watch factory that produced “the watch that started it all”, the Runwell. The Runwell Limited Edition 47mm, introduced in March 2013, sold out in one week, with the last 40mm watch selling out in under two weeks. This success propelled Shinola and led to the opening of their first store, located at 441 West Canfield Street in Detroit, Michigan. Soon after, in July of 2013, the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy, just as Shinola was about to ship their new watch designed specifically for women. As many Shinola employees watched the city they knew and loved fall apart, the company decided to bring attention to the importance of helping Detroit. They put out a message for their new watch in the New York Times, calling readers from all over the nation to turn their focus and support towards Deroit. With the help of supporters and fans Shinola was able to expand their watch manufacturing company between 2014 and 2017. They also expanded into other industries by partnering with leather manufacturers and jewelry makers to start producing all American leather bags, leather furniture, and affordable jewelry. As success for Shinola continued to grow in Detroit, they decided to open up the eight story tall Shinola Hotel in 2018. The Shinola Hotel acted as a way to bring people from all over the country to Detroit. Since Shinola’s foundation, the company has become the face of Detroit watch and leather manufacturing.
Shinola’s business strategy rests on its marketing tagline “Built in Detroit”. This tagline is intended to inspire potential consumers with the idea of bringing back American industrialization and manufacturing. The Detroit name holds power in the market, proven by an experiment of sorts with a focus group, used by Kartsotis. In this experiment, people were presented with a $5 Chinese-made pen, a $10 US-made pen, and a $15 Detroit-made pen. The consistent outcome was that people chose the Detroit-made pen over the US and China manufactured ones, which suggests that people are willing to pay a higher price for products marketed with the Detroit name exemplifying the pride and reliability that comes with this city.
Shinola is able to successfully charge premium prices for their watches by using the Detroit name to represent their home manufacturing, and the high quality materials that are used. Specifically, Shinola uses quartz movements in their watches, which are also less complicated than mechanical watches. This high end material allows Shinola to follow their vision of making “Swiss” quality watches that are made in America. Shinola watches retail at $475 to $1,125, while quartz watches made by the comparable brands Skagen and Fossil sell for around $100. The Shinola factory now assembles 500-700 watches a day in addition to their other products and regularly launches new lines. In 2023 the company had an annual revenue of $10 million.
With over 1,000 stores across the country, one being in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor, Shinola continues to expand their brand and share the craftsmanship of Detroit across the country.