Capitals and Wizards majority team owner Ted Leonsis was reading a magazine in his back yard one day a few years ago when an ad about the era of great Detroit watchmaking caught his eye.
“I had never heard of this company, but this ad spoke to me,” said Leonsis, a former America Online executive who is now a partner with Steve Case and Donn Davis in the District-based Revolution Growth investment firm.
Leonsis tore out the ad and held it up at the next Revolution meeting with Case and Davis.
“Anyone know this company?” he recalled saying. “No one knew anything.”
They do now.
The company is Shinola, a Detroit-based, millennial-focused retail chain that is expanding its Washington store this week in a hip, 5,000-square-foot space that once housed a Studebaker showroom on 14th and R streets NW.
Revolution Growth last May made a multimillion-dollar investment in the retailer’s parent company, Bedrock Brands, as part of the venture capital firm’s emphasis on businesses tied to urban centers sought out by millennials.
“They would want to eat healthy and would want to buy smart and with value,” Leonsis said. “And if you could create an environment where there was authenticity and transparency to connect the buyer with a cause, those companies would do really well.”
Leonsis and others plan to join a group of Michigan politicians and corporate bigwigs Wednesday for the grand opening of the store, which is leaving a temporary location a block away that it has inhabited since Shinola’s arrival last Christmas season. The old location, at 14th and Q, will be filled with Bedrock Manufacturing’s outdoor store called Filson.
“Shinola screams millennial,” said Rebecca Trump, assistant professor of marketing at Loyola University’s Sellinger School of Business in Baltimore. “It screams urban, hip, upper middle class, active and particularly male. Putting this store in Washington’s millennial central seems like a no-brainer,” a strategy that other lifestyle retailers are following in places such as Baltimore; Knoxville, Tenn., and Atlanta.
Shinola has stores in Detroit; London; Minneapolis; New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood; Chicago; Plano, Tex.; Ann Arbor, Mich., and Los Angeles.
Shinola’s slick Web site has a boutique feel, trumpeting watches, leather goods, bicycles, journals, pet accessories and other hip stuff — all made in the United States. The bicycles and watches are made in Detroit.
Shinola President Jacques Panis said the new location, with its giant showroom windows, is designed to be a showcase and storyteller for the brand. The new store will employ about 10 to 12 people.
“It’s going to have a unique flair to it that our other stores don’t have,” said Panis, who has spent a lot of time in Washington promoting the new store as an integral part of the 14th Street revitalization and the community as a whole.
Bedrock was founded by Tom Kartsotis, a college dropout who started making cheap fashion watches in Hong Kong under the name Fossil.
Kartsotis and his brother grew Fossil into a global brand and a publicly traded company with a market capitalization of about $3 billion. Kartsotis went on to found Bedrock, a Texas-based private-equity and brand management firm.
Shinola’s cause, other than making money, is promoting U.S. manufacturing and creating well-paying jobs that build good products.
“This is a double bottom line company; it is doing well and it is doing good,” Leonsis said.
He said he is not just an investor but a customer, too.
Leonsis bought a Shinola watch at the Tysons Corner Nordstrom for about $500.
“It has a blue face and a brown band, and I am wearing it now,” he said during a recent phone interview. “I look good in it. And it’s very affordable.
“You could spend $6,000 on a watch and ship your money to Switzerland,” Leonsis said. “Or you could spend $1,000 on a watch, put people to work here in the U.S., and have $5,000 left for experiences.”