Based in Detroit, Shinola watchmaker hopes to succeed globally
Jan 25, 2013 (Menafn - Detroit Free Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --In a former General Motors design studio, a new watch company brand, Shinola, is preparing to start selling its timepieces and other consumer products that are designed to evoke nostalgic feelings as slices of classic Americana.
"We want to be part of the great story of Detroit," Olivier DeBoel, Shinola's director of watch operations, said Thursday.
The company's elegant wristwatches, which have more than 40 Swiss-made parts, are set to sell for 600-800 each -- and will go on sale online in March.
Shinola also is gearing up to offer retro-looking bicycles, high-quality leather bags and journals about the same time online.
To help introduce the brand, Shinola is to announce today it was named the official timepiece and event timekeeper of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. Grand Prix officials will offer more details about the partnership with the watchmaker at the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center. And drivers competing in the Grand Prix are set to showcase prototype watches.
Road course champion Will Power and winning Cadillac Racing Pirelli World Challenge Series drivers Johnny O'Connell and Andy Pilgrim are expected to be on hand to sign autographs.
Shinola will be the exclusive sponsor of the race that will run from May 31 to June 2, about the time that it plans to open retail stores in Midtown Detroit and New York.
The company, owned by Dallas-based Bedrock Brands, took its name from the shoe polish brand that was popular in the early and mid-20th Century, as well as a well-known off-color expression. GIs used the shoe polish to keep their boots shiny.
DeBoel said Shinola wanted a name that would be associated with America -- and was instantly recognizable.
DeBoel said the name of the watch line -- the Argonite -- comes from the original name of the place where they are being made: the Argonaut building in Midtown. It's now the College for Creative Studies' A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education.
Shinola's goal is to create 45,000 watches this year and 500,000 a year by 2018.
Each watch has its own number and carries a made-in-Detroit label. The tiny gears and parts inside are put together by hand. The company has 25 employees; about 10 of them work assembling watches.
"You need very good eyes and hands that don't shake to make them," DeBoel, an electronics engineer, said.
Shinola hopes that its association with Detroit and cars -- and its affiliation with the Grand Prix -- will help it become a global name.
"Much like the Grand Prix itself, Shinola is a great success story that calls Detroit home but appeals to an audience all over the world," said Bud Denker, chairman of the Grand Prix.
The bikes, priced at 2,000-3,000, are being assembled in Detroit, too. There are two models: the Runwell and Bixby -- a name the Shinola polish company used for a black polish.
The bikes have an American-made frame and fork, fine leather seats and grips, chrome fenders and disc brakes.
They come in retro-looking hues, such as orange, yellow, beige, pastel blue and even a two-tone paint job. Initially, they were priced to sell for 500 more, but the company lowered the price after increasing the number it would sell. The company expects to make about 50 a month.
Although at first blush there doesn't seem to be a connection between watches and bikes, they are both mechanical with gears and require precision craftsmanship, DeBoel said.
DeBoel said the company, which was founded in 2011, decided to set up shop in Detroit because the city brings to mind qualities that it wants to be associated with its products: resilient, dependable, mechanical -- and well-crafted.
"We were looking for a place to build our crazy Shinola dream -- and Detroit came to the top of the list," DeBoel said.
More Details: Shinola
The name comes from a popular shoe polish wax familiar to American GIs, and an expression we can't repeat here.
Product: Elegant watches, bicycles and leather goods.
For sale: They are expected to go on sale in March online, and at a retail store in Midtown in the summer. The brand will be the official timekeeper for the Belle Isle Detroit Grand Prix.
Offices: Leased space in the College for Creative Studies in Midtown Detroit.
Cost of watches: 600-800
Cost of bicycles: 2,000-3,000
Employees: About 25
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