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Shinola Hotel Wants to Revive Downtown Detroit and Get People Shopping

Shinola makes watches and wallets—so why not a hotel, too?

The brand centered on creating American jobs while designing beautiful, timeless products is taking a page out of the book written by labels like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Bahama that have made hospitality an important component of their largely apparel-based businesses. In fact, Tommy Bahama’s CEO Doug Wood credits the foray into “experiential” retailing a la themed restaurants with lifting the women’s business by 80 percent at the chain’s Coconut Point, Fla. store.

Today, retail revolves around not so much products or stores but an aspirational lifestyle, and Shinola’s foray into the hotel world seems to indicate this movement is firmly taking root.

Speaking at WWD Retail 2030 in New York City last week, Shinola CEO and former Detroit Lions executive Tom Lewand said the brand refers to the 129-room-boutique hotel, developed in partnership with billionaire, Quicken Loans founder and Cleveland Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert, as “Detroit’s living room.” Not only is it now a destination for people traveling to Michigan from across the globe but it’s a place for subarbanites “who may not have had a reason to come back downtown.”

Inside the hotel, Shinola operates a store—one of 29 total nationwide—showcasing the design, craftsmanship and quality that made its name famous. To complement this offering in Detroit’s shopping-centric Woodward District, Shinola helped to court like-minded, stand-for-something millennial-friendly brands to enliven the alley next door. National brands like Madewell and Le Labo rub shoulders with Drought, a cold-pressed juicery with four locations in Metro Detroit and plans for national expansion, plus local shop Good Neighbor, a purveyor of ethically sourced wardrobe essentials for men and women founded by a former Shinola e-commerce merchandising manager.

Shinola Hotel is a major undertaking for a brand that would’ve done a few things differently when it embarked on a store-opening spree in just a two-year timespan. Shinola could have been more patient in pinpointing ideal locations for brick-and-mortar, Lewand admitted, noting that the retail initiative “stretched our capacity.”

It would’ve been better, he explained, to work on building brand awareness and “let that seep in a little more in certain markets,” he said, noting that Shinola has fairly low brand recognition but a notably high Net Promoter Score (NPS) for watches in the $150-$3,000 space—higher than Rolex, Tag Heuer, and Movado—and the second-highest conversion rate in this price range behind the Apple Watch.

“The challenge is making more people aware of who we are and what we’re doing,” Lewand said. “We could have allocated resources differently in the early days rather than having working capital in all those stores at the same time.”

As it continues to expand into product categories that now include bicycles, speakers, turntables and jewelry, Shinola intends to keep its unwavering focus on “skill at scale, the preservation of craft and the beauty of industry,” according to the brand’s website.

“We don’t know what the future of retail is, but we know we want to immerse people in our brand,” Leward said. “We want people to experience what Shinola is all about.”

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