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I do not understand this brand on so many levels.
First, the name. Ask 100 people the first word that pops into their head when they hear the name Shinola, and 75 of them will say "shit". I'm no branding Ph.D, but is this an association that is desirable in any respect?
Second, Detroit. Putting aside the fact that the Detroit aspect of this company appears to be 100% contrived, what relevance does Detroit and its storied history have to precision wrist watches, hand-made bicycles or high-end leather goods, the three core products of this company? Doesn't the concept of Detroit-style manufacturing evoke notions of cookie cutter items, mass produced in huge factories on assembly lines? This seems very much at odds with the twee, artisanal, hand-crafted, small-batch stuff this company is hawking. Detroit means a lot of different things to a lot of people, but I am sure that Detroit means $3,000 hand-made bicycles or leather-wrapped U-locks to absolutely no one.
Third, at bottom it really seems that this is a brand in search of a product. The current concept seems no manufactured, forced and inauthentic. Yuck.
Boy do I struggle with this brand. This brand and Beats by Dre. currently accompany a good bit of headspace for me right now; constantly debating their stories and core competencies and successes and failures.
On one side of the coin: As a so-called strategist with a passion for tangible goods, design and watches (I prefer the mechanical, automatic movements that Shinola does not offer), I'd have done horrible things to be involved with crafting this business and the accompanying story. It's so well done. It's perfect in many ways. It seems substantiated by the product the company makes, the people who make it and the very conscious decision to make those products in Detroit. The way the brand is behaving is exactly how a brand with this story should behave. The people behind Shinola are incredibly smart.
On the other side of the coin: I struggle with the balance between style (in this case: the brand story) and substance. Ask any watch enthusiast (hodinkee.com is a great place to start) and they'll tell you that, while they look beautiful, these watches are really no better than the aforementioned Fossil watches you might find at Nordstrom or Macy's but priced at a 3-4x premium. "Swiss" means very little to a watch enthusiast in 2014. Especially when you're talking about a battery operated, quartz movement. Ask a bicycle enthusiast and they'll likely have similar things to say: mediocre product with mediocre materials at a hefty price premium. A premium that feels unjustified by the story. No matter how great the story.
The question I keep coming back to: does it matter? Does it matter what the enthusiasts say? Does it matter that "watch people" say these things are really just nicely packaged junk? Does it matter than "bicycle people" say these bicycles are really just heavy clunkers that look nice? Or is it the J. Crew customer who really doesn't mind what's IN the watch, as long as the watch looks beautiful on his/her wrist.
I think I already know the answer. Would love to hear your/other thoughts.
Apologies for the rant. This was the first place I'd found where I might be able to pose these questions to someone who'd been doing some thinking about this brand as well.
@kpr_ Interesting comments. Not sure I have all the answers. I am assuming that these watches are better quality than Fossil. Swiss parts in many watches are about the same and you pay for the "jewelry," and the cosmetics. So I am assuming that the cases, the straps, the overall workmanship is better than the plastic-ness of Fossil.
Watch people -- Rolex, Breitling, et. al. -- have to criticize. After all, they cost $10,000. It's a different category. And while I prefer mechanical (wear a Sea Dweller) the fact is they don't keep time as well.
As for the bikes, that's a different story, too. I am a roadie, have a few custom made bikes from the likes of Seven and Serotta, so again, no comparison.
That being said, perhaps what we buy are stories that give us something to believe in. And it's the branding that I was admiring.
Thanks for your comment. Always good to be skeptical of marketing in any form.
Don't get me wrong. I love this brand and most everything about it.
However, I have to call out your "watch people" assumption. While I'll be the firs to admit that I am head over heels for everything Rolex sport (GMT, Sea Dweller, Submariner, Explorer II), there are many, many watch makers using mechanical movements with fantastic craftsmanship and attention to detail that don't even crack the $1,000 mark. And that's where the Shinola story gets tricky with that audience.
For example, I'm currently wearing a Maratac Mid-Pilot. A pilot watch that uses a Miyota 8245 movement produced in Japan. It doesn't have the fit and finish that my Rolex Air King has, but it most definitely compares with what Shinola is making at about half the price ($300). There are others like Steinhardt, Laco, Xetum, and Obris Morgan to name a few.
But then again, some of those brands don't have the story, the people, the place. It undoubtedly makes a difference. Gives us something to relate with. To feel. Story is huge. Massive. And I'm all for it. I am 100% supportive of the Shinola brand and story. I'm curious to see where they take it in the next 10 years.