Exit Interview: Daniel Caudill
With their first Canadian outpost planned to launch in Toronto this summer, we got better acquainted with Shinola’s creative director, Daniel Caudill.
Why did you guys decide that right now was the right time to move into Toronto?
Obviously, Canada is a huge market for us. A lot of it was about when we were able to move in the right way with production. We have a really strong wholesale partnership today and were waiting for the right time and space. Canada and Toronto were always on our shortlist, it was just waiting for the right timing. Living in Detroit, Canada is such a large part of living here, it is so close. You go to concerts all the time and it’s so easy to get back and forth.
What did you find was appealing about the Canadian marketplace and consumer?
The Canadian consumer, when speaking about product, is a very smart consumer. The Canadian consumer can appreciate our brand. They are very much about quality product over quantity. Whenever we have had any Canadian visitors, they are always very interested in the factory, what goes into the product and the story behind it. That’s always exciting for us when we get people that are excited about what we think is important.
Much of your brand culture is based on its heritage and dedication to local production. Why do you think ‘Made in America’ has been so important to the cultivation of Shinola as a brand? What does it say about what people are looking for?
To me, ‘Made in America’ really talks to quality products; knowing who is making your product and who is behind it, the people that are crafting all these items. That appeals to a global market, not just an American market. I think it’s really about quality products and how things are made.
Being able to produce in America is a sign of quality and craftsmanship. What are some of the difficulties of producing locally?
I think this goes for any market, whether it’s Europe or Canada or the United States. A lot of these skillsets have moved overseas over time. It’s about bringing manufacturing, working locally and making quality products. I think everyone can relate to that wherever they are. Also, a lot of these skillsets don’t exist anymore in our local areas, so it’s a matter of training people and bringing the skills back.
What are the benefits that you have seen as a result of this investment in training?
We love to have people come and visit because you really get a sense of this comradery; people all having common goals and working towards them. Our office is an amazing place. The office, the factory, shipping and receiving is all in the same place. It’s amazing to see how well people work together and across all different departments.
Why is that transparency so important to you?
We’re very transparent about all aspects of this company. I love the fact that product is tied to a person. Stephan didn’t make that watch from beginning to end but he saw it at the end of it. It’s really about a statement that we stand behind this product and we’re proud of it. We have a lifetime guarantee on our watches for a reason. That all comes back to quality for us.
What elements do you look for when you are building up a great team?
It’s about this like mindedness about quality and product, caring about where things are made and doing things the right way with all relationships, whether external or internal. It’s very obvious when you meet the right person. Perhaps not on paper, but they are the right person for the culture, for the job. A lot about what we do is education and teaching these crafts to people. It’s not like there are thousands of watchmakers in the United States. We choose from a pool, so it’s all about hiring the people who have the same like mindedness. It is part of the reason why our office is such an amazing place. Everyone gets along.
In Toronto, we’ve seen a large influx of new and major international companies expand into the city. Those that have done really well have recognized the Canadian marketplace as unique in its needs and wants. Conversely, there are those that haven’t fared well because they assumed our marketplace was an extension of the American one. What are you guys going to be doing, whether through product or experience, that will capture the attention and loyalty of Canadians in a unique way?
For us, especially the store experience, how we interact is always about making it as authentic as possible. It’s about engaging the neighbourhood. Obviously it's about Canada, but for us, it’s about the neighbourhood too — how we engage through events, through partnerships and through products. There’s multiple things we’ll do to make that store truly unique, not just in design, but in how we interact. It’s always about being as global and authentic as we can in a truly honest way, not gratuitous.
In terms of store design, do you have any Canadian companies involved?
Right now, it’s all internal. Our fixtures are made in Detroit. Most of it is Detroit-based right now. That’s for all of our store teams, everything is designed in-house.
What are you hoping that people in Canada will learn about your brand once you have set up a brick and mortar space?
I hope they’ll discover other aspects of the brand. It’s not just watches, it’s not just bikes — there’s a lot more to the brand. There’s a lot more depth. And also, the integrity behind the brand and the quality of the product. I hope that people come in and really see what’s behind the us, that’s there a lot of depth and it’s really about quality.
What are the hallmarks of a great brand?
There’s a lot of brands that I admire. All of them have the same ethos where they are all trying to create what they think is right. They work on values and principles and they stick to those, as opposed to following fashion, following trends or following sales. I think that’s one thing I’m really proud of on this brand. We really do put quality first, we put jobs first and everything else falls behind that. It makes you proud to go to work.
Do you find that there are going to be any challenges with maintaining the integrity of the brand as you get bigger?
It’s our biggest challenge, to be honest. As we grow, how do you keep it feeling small and special? It’s a huge challenge and we are literally working on it everyday; making sure the quality of every single thing that touches the consumer feels as special and considered as the very first store. It really comes down to the shop team, the people working locally who represent the brand, because they really are the ambassadors. We’re putting product in the store that makes sense for that area. We do create product for stores and things that are special, whether it’s an event or a partner for any level of engagement in the community.