It’s a seductive mix, alright. Where urban chic meets Detroit chutzpah, the luxury goods company, Shinola, fits the new ‘Greater D’ downtown scene to a T, complete with artisan-made leather bags, designer bikes and trendy new timepieces.
The place to see and to be seen, the Shinola Store at 441 W. Canfield was the destination of choice for the first in a series of networking events to be held at prime meeting spots in the city – a team effort of Federation’s NEXTGen Detroit Business Hub amd Jewish Vocational Service (JVS).
The inaugural event, generously unwritten by Nancy and James Grosfeld, brought more than 100 young professionals and business leaders together for drinks, hors d’oeuvres and sweets, including Cooper Street Cookies (noting that Max Surnow, co-founder of the family business based in Birmingham, will receive the 2014 JVS Rising Entrepreneur Award to be presented at the Strictly Business luncheon in June).
Shinola. “Where America is Made”
Polishing elevator speeches and pressing palms, few in attendance at the event were old enough to recall the original Shinola brand – an American-made shoe polish founded in 1907. Shinola is a Detroit-based company, founded by Bedrock Manufacturing, a venture capital firm based in Dallas, Texas. Bedrock acquired the name Shinola in 2011 and today, with the exception of parts made by an independently owned Swiss movement manufacturer, every Shinola product is made in the United States.
The decision to base the company in Detroit derived not only from a desire to make watches in the U.S., but also to base operations in a unique industrial city that would serve as a brand differentiator in the marketplace. Where else but Detroit?
The company’s headquarters and watch factory are located in the city’s Museum District, housed within the College for Creative Studies (CCS), on the fifth floor of the Alfred A. Taubman Building in Detroit, a former automotive research lab.
“Shinola can be called a success at some level, but we have a long way to go before we have a profitable, sustainable brand and retail culture; that’s our end goal,” stated Shinola President Jacques Panis. In his comments to the group at the NEXTWork event, he observed, “What we’ve done so far would not be possible without this incredible community. I look at Detroit as a tapestry of creative industry – and we’re all laying our color on that tapestry, and we’ll look back in ten to fifteen years and we’ll see a masterpiece . . .and that masterpiece will be called a Greater Detroit.”
Commenting on the new economic forces at work in the city, Fran Victor, Chief Development Officer at JVS stated, “NEXTWork is a natural outgrowth of the community resources and expertise JVS and Federation’s NEXTGen Detroit bring together. Both organizations can do fabulous social activities like the one here at Shinola, but unless our young people find jobs with promise for their future, they are not going to stay in the Metro Detroit area.”
“The Detroit Jewish community goes above and beyond to support and attract young professionals, as evidenced by this event,” said Amy Brody, Federation’s NEXTGen internship and job coordinator. “We asked more than 20 influential and engaging seasoned professionals to come mingle and network with our NEXTGen constituents. We intentionally invited individuals from various professions to foster interesting and engaging conversations, and it worked. Participants had access to individuals they could not have otherwise met.”
“The greatest challenge facing Detroit is finding local talent,” said Todd Sachse, Founder and President of Sachse Construction and President of the United Jewish Foundation of Metropolitan Detroit. “NEXTWork a great example of our community’s concerted efforts to attract and retain the next generation of entrepreneurs, inventors, community builders and leaders. It is our hope that those here this evening will communicate to their friends — and even help recruit those who don’t live here — to come to Detroit and bring their talent and expertise because there’s more opportunity here than people and talent to fill it.”
“Our goal is to create synergy,” said Sara Wohl, who co-chaired the event with Ben Rosenzweig. “There are many agencies and many businesses with so much to offer and so much to learn and coordinate within the Jewish community. This is a great opportunity for multiple agencies to collaborate in reaching a common goal.”
“Our biggest challenge is the Detroit naysayers. . . the perception that there’s not a lot going on here,” Rosenzweig added. “Many of us have friends who have gone away to school and haven’t come back. So one of the biggest challenges is showing people ‘Hey, this is what we have going on, this is what you’re missing, you belong here.’”
Jeff Hohlfeldt, a young business professional who recently moved back to the city with his wife to take the job of Chief Medallion Officer at Northeast Medallion LLC, possibly summed it up best, “I’m here looking for a way to get involved, meet people. My professional advice? Just take the plunge, get out there, put yourself out in front of other people and say hello.”
For more information on NEXTWork, contact Amy Brody at (248) 203-1486 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Portions of this article by Michael Higer first appeared in The Detroit Jewish News.
Photos: Bryan Fenster