What does the name of a snuffed-out brand of shoe polish and a Detroit manufacturing revival have in common? It sounds like the start of a bad joke—especially in light of this week's major municipal bankruptcy filing. While there is a punchline, the answer tells a compelling story of entrepreneurship, patriotism and profits.
The road to this Motor City start-up began with a simple idea: We wanted to "manufacture in the United States," recalled Heath Carr, chief executive of Shinola, the maker of Detroit-built watches and bicycles. (Yep, the company derived its name from the World War II phrase, "You don't know s--- from Shinola.")
The new Shinola, which bought the rights to the name but doesn't have anything to do with the old shoe polish company, has been in business for about 2½ years. It currently has more than 100 employees—75 of whom are in Detroit, where the company's precision watches and bicycles are assembled.