Here's How Shinola Detroit is Rolling up its Sleeves to Create Unique In-Store Experiences

Founded in 2011, Shinola was born from a desire to create an American brand of wristwatch to rival those made in Switzerland. Shinola took its name from a discontinued brand of boot polish and an expletive-laden WWII-era colloquialism (i.e. “You don’t know sh*t from Shinola). After acquiring the name, the new Shinola chose Detroit as its base of operations, looking to evoke the nostalgia felt by Americans towards the “Motor City’s” historical reputation for domestic manufacturing.

“[We] fell in love with the idea of bringing manufacturing back to blighted Detroit,” says Shinola COO Heath Carr. “But what made it possible was the commitment and enthusiasm of the city’s Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC).”

Since then, Shinola Detroit has gone from strength to strength as a manufacturer of high-end luxury goods. After wristwatches, the company went on to produce bicycles, leather goods, and even record players. Staying at the forefront of technology, but always with a nostalgic twist, Shinola has become a firm favorite for hip Americans looking to splash out on something special.


Recognizing the need to leverage technology to thrive in the modern business world, Shinola was amongst the first brands to use location targeted advertising. Delivering advertisements to devices in locations identified as being frequented by people likely to shop at Shinola – jazz clubs, coffee shops, vegan restaurants, etc.

(Image source:

Shinola also began a campaign dubbed Roll Up Our Sleeves, which sought to leverage the company’s ethos for traditional workmanship. Initially started as a social media campaign, Roll Up Our Sleeves invited the public to hashtag pictures of themselves engaging in volunteering or entrepreneurial activity. Shinola also paid service to their craftspeople as part of the campaign, posting their “stories” on the website, and steel cards displaying the maker’s name on various products – putting human faces behind the items being sold.

Rolling Up Their Sleeves, In-store

However, the most exciting developments to come out of the Roll Up Our Sleeves project were the changes made to the in-store customer experience.

A fantastic addition to Shinola stores is the installation of traditional manual embossing machines which customers can use (properly assisted, of course) to stamp a personalized message in metal onto their purchases. Completely in keeping with the company’s focus on traditional Detroit manufacturing, the embossing machine allows in-store customers to have a bit of fun, while also learning something about the work which goes into creating the products they enjoy. Plus, they get to walk away with something unique to them as a souvenir.

(Image source:

The introduction of the embossing machines is a great way for Shinola to simultaneously promote the idea of “rolling up their sleeves,” while remaining congruous to their traditional manufacturing-focused brand.

Making Each Store Unique

However, not content with offering customers a chance to experience a slice of Detroit style manufacturing for themselves, Shinola is also looking to create unique in-store experiences, even amongst its own locations. As part of a mission to do away with the traditional cut-and-paste approach to multi-branch brand locations, Shinola wants to try and make each store unique.

Part of this is in embracing its relationship with the “hipster” subculture (as evidenced by using jazz clubs, coffee shops, and vegan restaurants as prime advertising locations) by not only offering products that appeal to this demographic, but experiences to match.

For example, Shinola’s location in the LA Arts District has an artisanal bakery and tattoo parlor in-store. This means customers can get a new watch, a pastry, a cup of joe, and some new ink as part of the all-embracing Shinola store experience.

(Image source:

Shinola is also planning a 130-room boutique hotel in Detroit. Offering the traditional Shinola shopping experience alongside restaurants, coffee shops, tattoo parlors, and various pop-up events, plus 80 unique room designs. Due to open its doors in 2018, soon you’ll be able to eat, relax, shop, and even spend the night in a Shinola store.

It’s clear that Shinola is going to be a brand worth keeping an eye on in the future. Having come such a long way in a relatively short time, they are constantly looking for ways to offer innovative shopping experiences which will keep their customers coming back.

The last word goes to Heath Carr.

“Remember that the customer doesn’t have to come into your store. We’re not selling food, water or medicine. […] They have to want to come.”

Want More In-Store Insights?

Learn the latest trends on in-store innovation by downloading our comprehensive innovation briefing (for FREE)!

Hear Shinola Detroit’s Head of Retail Travis Harrison at Future Stores Miami 2018 this coming February.

Download the Future Stores Miami 2018 Agenda to learn more.

Return to Blog