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Shinola to Export Brand with American Airlines Deal

DETROIT – Early last year, Shinola Detroit Inc. made a deal with American Airlines to “give London-bound passengers amenity kits designed by the Detroit-based company known for its upscale watches and leather accessories,” Crain’s Detroit Business reported on May 10.

The COVID-19 pandemic led the companies to put the deal on hold, “but now that people are traveling again, and brick-and-mortar retail stores are eyeing a comeback, it is back on,” Crain’s reported, adding that “so are the luxury design brand's broader plans to rebound from the pandemic by continuing to diversify product offerings — such as a new line of eyeglasses launching soon — and spreading its wings internationally.”

Starting on May 10, “the amenity kits will be given to American Airlines customers flying to London's Heathrow Airport from major U.S. airports with direct flights, including Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City,” Crain’s reported, noting that “American Airlines does not operate a direct flight to London from Detroit Metropolitan Airport.”

“The kits include socks, eye shades, lotion, earbuds, a toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash and a pen stuffed into a small, leather Shinola bag,” Crain’s reported, adding that “first-class travelers get a fancier version. The deal also involves installing Shinola clocks at select American Airlines lounges later this summer.”

While the “terms of the deal were not disclosed,” the deal is “part of Shinola's strategy to increase brand exposure through licensing agreements following the success of the Shinola Hotel in downtown Detroit and partnerships with other corporations,” CEO Shannon Washburn told Crain's, noting that “it also represents its ambitions to plant roots abroad.”

“The company is also scouting more name licensing opportunities like the one with Dan Gilbert's Bedrock real estate arm on the Shinola Hotel, which opened at the beginning of 2019,” Crain’s reported.

"The Shinola Hotel in downtown Detroit has been a huge brand builder for us, and it really speaks to our core of hospitality," Washburn told Crain’s. "So, we are looking at other opportunities within the hospitality realm."

Texas-native Washburn “replaced Tom Lewand, a former Detroit Lions president, as CEO of Shinola in November 2019,” Crain’s reported, adding that Washburn “worked for 14 years at Fossil and began at Shinola in 2012 before working her way up to president in 2018. She had just a few months as CEO before the pandemic swept the world.”

Washburn said “the company is seeing a recovery at its 23 retail stores across the U.S., including six in Michigan,” Crain’s reported, noting that “like other retail companies, it suffered a financial hit from the pandemic, forcing it to furlough an unspecified number of employees while stores were closed.”

Washburn said that “the company has been able to bring back most of them,” Crain’s reported, adding that “Shinola employs 400 people around the country, including 120 in Detroit.”

“While its core brick-and-mortar business suffered, its e-commerce business grew, and some of its other non-flagship products enjoyed a bump, including its home goods and especially its bikes,” Crain’s reported, noting that “sales of Shinola bikes, which sell for $1,000-$2,950, soared by 40 percent in 2020 over 2019, the company said,” and “the national demand for bikes is still outstripping the supply as Americans look to recreate outdoors safely during the pandemic.”

“Bikes are a ‘brand builder’ more than a revenue driver, though,” Washburn told Crain’s, adding that “watches remain the company's core business, but its leather goods are gaining ground.”

Founded in 2011 by Greek-American Tom Kartsotis, the company started out “as a manufacturer of high-end watches before branching off into clocks and accessories,” Crain’s reported, noting that “since opening a leather factory in Detroit in 2014, the amount of revenue attributed to watches has declined to around 60 percent, while leather goods have grown to 15-20 percent.”

"I think we're going to see a nice growth in leather over the next five years and then also in any category that has to do with home," Washburn told Crain’s. "We had really great business in 2020 in terms of anything that's home or supply items. I see the opportunity within the whole home category to continue to grow."

Washburn said that “she expects watches to be Shinola's primary product for the foreseeable future, but the company continues to widen its scope by putting its stamp on everything from candles and tote bags to $150 footballs,” Crain’s reported, adding that “some pursuits have been fruitful, such as its line of turntables. Others have not — its short-lived foray into headphones folded a couple of years ago.”

Shinola-designed eyeglasses are “scheduled to debut next month,” Crain’s reported, noting that “the company is designing sunglasses and blue light frames starting at $295 in collaboration with Los Angeles-based Dom Vetro, which is manufacturing them with imported parts.”

Washburn said that “the glasses, available online and in stores, will strengthen the company's portfolio of products as it looks to regain momentum,” Crain’s reported.

"Our stores are having a really nice bounce back in 2021," she told Crain’s.

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