Companies are using Detroit as a brand to sell their products — here's how to do it right 

The Detroit brand report card

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Shinola

Actually based in Detroit …… Satisfactory

Actually manufactures its products in Detroit …… Needs Improvement

Hires Detroiters …… Outstanding

Affordability …… Unsatisfactory

Time spent in Detroit …… Needs Improvement

Community involvement …… Satisfactory

“Detroitsploitation” factor …… Unsatisfactory

Notes: In 2011, a Texas-based venture-capital firm acquired the name “Shinola,” a defunct brand of shoe polish. They now assemble (not manufacture) their luxury watches (starting at $475) and bicycles (which start at $2,000) in Detroit, though the parts are made elsewhere. In 2014, the company erected four street clocks around Detroit as “a gift to the city,” and also built a dog park near their flagship store. Being based in Detroit is essential to Shinola’s image, and the company spends too much time branding themselves as Detroit, which gives them an unsatisfactory “Detroitsploitation” factor. In addition, the average Detroiter probably won’t be able to walk out of their Midtown storefront, or sister store Willys, with anything.

Our/Detroit Vodka

Actually based in Detroit …… Unsatisfactory

Actually manufactures its products in Detroit …… Satisfactory

Hires Detroiters …… Satisfactory

Affordability …… Needs Improvement

Time spent in Detroit …… Needs Improvement

Community involvement …… Satisfactory

“Detroitsploitation” factor …… Needs Improvement

Notes: According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, vodka is defined as a neutral spirit “without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.” So what makes one vodka better than another? Part of the answer is marketing. While it sounds like a local brand, Our/Detroit is actually funded by French corporation Pernod Ricard Group, which has already set up an Our/Berlin distillery in Germany. The company will let local artists paint murals on its walls. The fact that we’ve heard so much about how Detroit Our/Detroit is and they haven’t even opened yet hurts their “Detroitsploitation” factor, as does the price — their vodka will retail at $16.99 for a pint.

Green Industries

Actually based in Detroit …… Outstanding

Actually manufactures its products in Detroit …… Outstanding

Hires Detroiters …… Outstanding

Affordability …… Satisfactory

Time spent in Detroit …… Outstanding

Community involvement …… Outstanding

“Detroitsploitation” factor …… Satisfactory

Notes: Green Industries is a job training and permanent employment program through the 12-year old Cass Community Social Services. A non-profit organization, Green Industries sells mud mats and “Detroit Treads” flip-flops (emblazoned with an Old English D), both made out of illegally dumped tires collected from the streets of Detroit. The Detroit News reports that Green Industries employs 80 workers, many who are homeless or developmentally disabled. Products range from $25 to $45, taxes included.

Detroit Bicycle Company

Actually based in Detroit …… Outstanding

Actually manufactures its products in Detroit …… Outstanding

Hires Detroiters …… Outstanding

Affordability …… Needs Improvement

Time spent in Detroit …… Outstanding Community involvement …… Outstanding

“Detroitsploitation” factor …… Satisfactory

Notes: Detroit Bikes gets kudos for actually manufacturing its bikes in the city of Detroit in its west side factory, and for hiring Detroiters to do it. At $699, its bikes are more expensive than what most Detroiters are probably willing to spend, but not unreasonable. The company has also given its bicycles away for local charity auctions. As far as a “Detroitsploitation” factor, obviously it’s right there in the name, but aside from a line on their website saying “Yes, there is a bicycle manufactured in the Motor City,” they don’t seem to get too heavy-handed with the branding.

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