Shannon Washburn, the longtime chief executive officer of Shinola, is moving on.
Washburn, who was one of the Detroit-based brand’s first employees, is retiring and relocating to Santa Fe, New Mexico, but will continue to serve on the board of Bedrock Manufacturing Co., Shinola’s parent company.
Awenate Cobbina, the CEO of Bedrock, is leading the search for a new division president to head the brand and report to him. Cobbina will oversee the company in the interim.
Washburn joined Shinola in 2012 and was named president in 2018. She was elevated to CEO in November 2019.
“I joined Shinola 10 years ago to support a vision that I felt strongly about, and it has become the journey of a lifetime,” Washburn said. “There are many people that made this possible, exciting, rewarding and life-changing, but no one more than Tom Kartsotis. Tom gave me this amazing opportunity to be a part of something special.” Kartsotis is the founder of Shinola.
Washburn said over the course of her time at Shinola, the brand experienced “incredible growth,” and she leaves the business with a “strong team” to take the business forward. “And it’s my time to take on my next chapter.”
“Shannon has been a tremendous partner for decades,” Kartsotis said. “It has been rewarding to grow up in the business with her and to work alongside her. The way she guided our ship through the pandemic will never be forgotten. Sometimes the hardest parts of the business are simply not things that can be managed from spreadsheets. It requires heart. Shannon has heart.”
During her tenure, the company said, Shinola sold more than 1 million watches, grew from 100 to 450 employees, opened 22 retail stores as well as the Shinola Hotel in Detroit and expanded into a lifestyle brand offering men’s and women’s leather goods and accessories, clocks, games, home products and jewelry. Washburn called out the latter as a “huge growth opportunity.” Watches continue to be the core of the business.
Washburn is credited with actively promoting from within, with nearly half of all open positions being filled by internal candidates, retooling the hiring process to better reflect the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion objectives, and developing a strong omnichannel business.
But Shinola’s journey hasn’t always been smooth. In fact, the brand hit some rocky times over the years when it ran afoul of the Federal Trade Commission in 2016 for claiming its products were made in America, when in fact its watches were assembled in the U.S. using components made overseas. And in 2019, slowing sales led to layoffs and store closures.
Washburn acknowledged these issues, saying, “We had some growing pains early on, but we came through smarter and stronger and learned a lot about ourselves and are positioned for future growth.”
Cobbina cited Washburn’s “commitment to the brand, and her combination of passion, humor and leadership [as] among the biggest reasons the Shinola brand is in an excellent position.”
He said she is “not replaceable,” which is why the decision was made to name a president rather than a CEO of Shinola. He said the search is being conducted both internally and externally.
Going forward, he said the goal is to “make sure we continue to make great product and highlight our hometown of Detroit.” Raising awareness of the Shinola brand is also paramount. “The people who know the brand love it, but we need to find more people,” he said.
Shinola will use digital and social channels as well as its retail stores to heighten that awareness. It has engaged a real estate broker to work with the company to open more stores and is also seeking “other hospitality opportunities” for additional Shinola hotels.
But with any of these opportunities, he said, the locations have to be “brand right and financially right.” He said to expect Shinola to “methodically” pick one to two store locations a year over the next couple of years.
“The future is bright,” he said. “We’re doing well despite the macroeconomic headwinds.” Going forward, Shinola will employ a multipronged approach to growth, with direct-to-consumer, wholesale and hospitality all playing a role.
He also plans to continue to call on Washburn as an adviser despite her departure from the day-to-day operations of the business.
“This has never been a job to me,” she said. “It’s been a journey and it’s bittersweet leaving. But the team is foundationally strong and I look forward to seeing where it will go in the future.”
Established in 2011 by Kartsotis, who had also helped found Fossil Inc., Shinola hoped to help reestablish Detroit — hit by the downturn of the American car industry — as a Made-in-America mecca. It promoted its local workforce assembling watch parts on a picturesque factory line as a rallying cry to invest in domestic manufacturing.