Detroit, Michigan has suffered a massive decline from those years of automotive dominance and prosperity, but they’re building things again in smaller companies and creating hundreds of jobs in the process. Shinola may be an example of the kind of thinking we could apply in Erie County to rebuild our reputation for producing high quality manufactured goods while creating good jobs along the way.
Shinola of Detroit was begun by venture capital firm Bedrock Brands in 2011, having purchased the old brand name a few years before. Tom Kartsotis, the man behind the company, had previously founded the Fossil brand of watches. After market research indicated a preference for Made in the USA products, even more for Made in Detroit, plus a willingness to pay premium prices to get them, he started the company with the intention of assembling Swiss watches in the Michigan city. Detroit residents, some of whom had worked at the auto companies, but none with any watch making experience, were trained by expert watchmakers to assemble high end watches with precision Swiss movements. They found a tannery in Chicago to provide the leather which is sewn into watch bands and other leather goods by a company in Saint Genevieve, MO. The initial batch of 2500 watches with an average price of $600 sold out quickly over the Internet and their line of watches has been expanding ever since.
Shinola continues to grow and is moving into other lines of Made in the USA products with a number of handmade bicycles, leather goods such as backpacks, briefcases and purses and then, most recently they’ve begun building audio gear, with the Runwell turntable and very recently a set of bookshelf speakers to go along with it. Interestingly, the turntable is built in full view of the company’s customers at their flagship store in Detroit.
Shinola has established itself as a lifestyle brand commanding high prices for high quality goods. They now employ about 500 Detroit area residents and rely on companies in the USA to provide many of the materials for their ever expanding line of products. They’ve capitalized on Detroit’s reputation as a manufacturing center to build a company from the ground up.
An article in Forbes magazine a few years ago had this interesting quote:
… Shinola didn’t take a penny of incentives to locate in the city. “We’re in Detroit because we fell in love with Detroit, you can’t wait for city government to give you better direction. As a business, you’ve got to move. Detroit has a lot of challenges, but that makes it an interesting place to be. It’s almost like it drives the business folks harder. That’s the energy.”
While many wring their hands over the upcoming loss of jobs building locomotives at GE, maybe we could learn to adopt the attitude Shinola has shown in Detroit, “you can’t wait for city government to give you better direction” and “as a business, you’ve got to move.”
Take a look at Shinola. Their company and product line is impressive and it’s one real world solution to a problem many cities like Erie are facing right now.
What new products could we build right here and sell proudly around the world? Let’s stop waiting for something to happen and begin making things happen. Erie and Erie County have been losing jobs for years. Isn’t it time to plant the flag and stop watching jobs go away? Let’s build things again. We know how, let’s do this.