Thursday, April 23, 2015

From Drive Time to Watch Time: SHINOLA Detroit

Growing up in Michigan in the 1960s, I was by choice an All-American car culture girl.  I knew American automobile makes and models by their grills, tail fins, tail lights, engine power and overall silhouettes. I could tell a same-year Pontiac Firebird 350 from a Chevy Camero SS 350 with no effort.

But now we’re in the next century. I’ve transitioned from muscle cars to watch blogging. But Detroit is still on my GPS or should I say, G/GBS (Global/Google Blogging System)?  Detroit’s is important to me  not just for its auto industry renaissance but for the role Shinola, specifically its watch brands is playing in the city’s recovering economy and visibility.   

I think that Shinola's basic appeal is its ingenious marketing to consumers. Specifically its trend debunking of the need for watch time to embrace all manner of smart technology

Take this month’s  Shinola advertisement in the The New Yorker for the Runwell Argonite-1069. Its headline asks: “ARE YOU FRIGHTENED BY TECHNOLOGY, BUT TIRED OF THE INCONVENIENCE OF CLOCK TOWERS AND SUNDIALS?

Its tag line answers below an image of the Runwell Argonite-1069, “THE RUNWELL. IT’S JUST SMART ENOUGH.™” 

Shinola Runwell Argonite-1069 (Ladies versions also available)

Indeed, this is Smart Shinola ad placement in the April 20, 2015 issue. It's the same week that Apple is debuting its Apple Watch on the 24th

So what’s the Shinola backstory? Why is the Runwell “Just Smart Enough”? 

First the company history. It begins with the name, Shinola which originally was a brand of wax shoe polish founded in 1907 by the Shinola-Bixby Corporation in New Jersey. It was popular in World War I and World War II for its polish shine.

A tin of original Shinola.  Photo by Andy Filer.  Permission to use under Creative Commons (CC) SA 2.5 Generic License.

In 2001, the legal rights to the name Shinola were acquired by Tom Kartsotis who owns Bedrock Manufacturing Company, LLC, a Dallas, TX-based venture capital firm. Mr. Kartsotis also is the founder of Fossil Watches.   

As reported by Joann Muller in a piece on Detroit’s bankruptcy and Shinola, the then Bedrock Manufacturing management  selected the name Shinola when the World War II era colloquial insult, "You don't know shit from Shinola," came up in conversation.  This jocularity led to name consideration and then business action   It triggered serious review about restoring the Shinola brand for labeling a variety of products including watches.

Then why Detroit for Shinola’s manufacturing beach head? 

After conducting customer market surveys and focus groups, Bedrock determined that given the choice, consumers would pay a higher premium ($15) for a pen designated as originating in Detroit over ones from China ($5) or even just Made in the USA ($10). All of the press coverage about Detroit's dire economic straits, unemployment crisis and once iconic manufacturing status probably contributed to Shinola's corporate headquarters choice.

Today, Shinola is owned by Bedrock Manufacturing Brands and Swiss Ronda AG, a Swiss company specializing in quartz watches that also provides parts for Shinola’s watch movements.  Last year, Shinola had 80+ employees out of a total workforce of 304 who assembled 150,000-170,000 watches from Swiss Rhonda movements and Chinese supplied casings and glass.

Detroit’s historic Henry Ford assembly line has indeed gone smartly global by making supply and assembly its manufacturing focus. Assembled in Detroit is the new Made in Detroit.

So now to the Runwell —Just Smart Enough™?  Are we talking Ford Model T, Ford Model A, or a new wristwatch drive-by altogether? I think it's a trifecta of all of these.  The  Runwell Argonite-1069 is akin to the smart, but not too smart, Ford horseless carriages.    

The New Yorker issue’s ad copy for it elaborates on its smarts, “Smart enough that you don’t need to charge it at night. Smart enough that it will never exceed a software upgrade. Smart enough that the version 1.0 won’t need to be replaced next year or in any of the decades that follow.

It’s refreshing to see Shinola  not subscribe to planned obsolescence like other smart watch purveyors that are sure to issue a next V(ersion).X software upgrade or app for the next holiday season or trade show. The Motor City still has time on its side with the likes of Shinola.

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