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January 17, 2015

Here's a brand name I never expected to hear again

The luxury-goods company Shinola is capitalizing on Detroit

DETROIT — You may not know you-know-what from Shinola, but no worries. Shinola does.

No, not the World War II-era shoe polish that gave rise to that unprintable colloquialism. This Shinola is a luxury-goods producer that chose to start up in this struggling city, and less than two years later has become an innovative giant in branding, storytelling marketing and, above all, understanding the consumer zeitgeist, what people want at this very moment.

This Shinola knows watches, bikes, leather goods, pet toys and, yes, shoe polish. Perhaps what this company knows best is that a little consumer guilt — or "responsibility," if you prefer — can translate into a lot of company dollars, a projected $80 million in gross sales for its first 18 months of production.

The Shinola story is all about marketing Detroit, selling Detroit and attempting to build the first great nonautomotive brand out of the city in decades — and watching buyers respond. And respond they have. Bill Clinton has purchased more than a dozen $550 Shinola watches, and he has hawked the company's story in speeches, declaring: "We need more American success stories like Shinola in Detroit."

Headquartered on the fifth floor of the former General Motors Argonaut research building, now an arts college, Shinola, in an amazing piece of marketing legerdemain, promotes this hardscrabble, poverty-pocked city as a luxury brand, selling its $475 to $1,500 watches in some very non-Detroit-like places: New York's Tribeca, London's Soho, suburban Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus locations, the Abu Dhabi airport, the cult Parisian store Colette and, as of last Saturday, in a holiday pop-up shop on the gentrified corridor of 14th Street in Northwest Washington. Early next year, a permanent Washington store will open nearby.

Posted by joke du jour at January 17, 2015 07:02 PM

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