David vs. Goliath: Detroit Bikes Accuses Shinola of 'Trying to Play Fast and Loose'

December 02, 2015, 10:12 PM by  Alan Stamm

Zak Pashak posts a pointed marketing distinction at his firm's website

Seizing opportunities is what entrepreneurs do, so Detroit Bikes founder Zak Pashak grabs a chance Wednesday to speak out about a persistent irritation.

His opportunity to vent comes from a Free Press article about "built in Detroit" ad claims for Shinola watches assembled from foreign parts. 

Shinola also pitches "Handmade Bikes Built in Detroit," which is what Pashnak's employees create at a 50,000-square-foot plant that he opened three years ago on Detroit's west side with a $2-million investment. In Shinola's case, the hands making its frames are at a supplier's assembly site in Waterford, Wis. 

Zak Pashak: "When a competitor tells our story, that's damaging." (Detroit Bikes photos)

"That's our competitive advantage," says the 35-year-old business owner, who laments that a Google search for "Detroit bikes" -- his company's name -- displays Shinola as the second result and shows its "Handmade . . . in Detroit" slogan.

"When a competitor tells our story, that's damaging," he says in a call responding to Deadline questions. "Attaching wheels to frames is what any [retail] bike shop does."

His expanding 35-person firm manufactures two models of bikes selling for $700 at its website and its downtown store, 1216 Griswold. They're also sold by retailers in the U.S., Canada and Switzerland.

Related article today: Shinola's 'Built in Detroit' Claim Could Be Iffy in Eyes of Federal Trade Commission

Pashak spoke out earlier Wednesday on social media and the Freep's site in response to its report on an FTC opinion about "USA made" marketing claims by a Kansas City watch assembler that buys Swiss-made movements -- just as Shinola does.

"Wouldn't it be annoying if Nike laced up their shoes in the US and then told us they built them here?" the bike entrepreneur says in one of  six comments under the article.

When a reader compares assembling imported watch parts to building vehicles domestically with foreign components, the Detroit Bikes president uses another analogy:  

Assembling a car from other bought parts is complicated and requires a real factory. This is more like trying to claim your IKEA furniture was built in Detroit.

These two comments by Pashak also are under the article by JC Reindl:

For Detroit to have any real shot of a comeback we are going to need new manufacturing jobs. If consumers prove that you don't need to really create manufacturing jobs in order to sell the "made in ___" idea, we are dead in the water. I see misleading people about origin as a serious job killer.

Didn't they just issue a press release claiming they were about to start "making" headphones? I think they are going to need to a build a headphone factory, right? Or can you just snap a pair of headphones together and then write "built in Detroit" on it?

A Cobo Center display suggests Shinola bikes are manufactured, rather than assembled, here.


He posted forcefully and repeatedly, Pashnak tells Deadline, because "I see a real danger in a company trying to play fast and loose. You don't build manufacturing capacity by issuing press releases. You've got to build a factory."

For its part, Shinola says in a statement to the Free Press: "We believe that 'Built in Detroit' accurately reflects what we are doing here."

As part of his venting, Pashnak encourages consumers to contact state and federal regulators. "The online complaint form for the MI Attorney General is here," says one comment with a link. Another gives toll-free numbers for that Lansing office and the FTC in Washington, D.C.

Asked about that tactic, the Canadian-born business creator says in the phone interview that he wants to help "those who are upset to direct their anger in other ways than commenting under a story. There are real entities that deal with this."

During the busy morning of David vs. Goliath engagement, Pushback replied to pushback on Twitter:

His first posts at and Twitter came around 12:30 a.m., shortly after Reindl's article was posted:

By mid-morning, Pashak appeared ready to curb his outrage -- temporarily, at least.

A worker at Detroit Bikes' west-side factory adds spokes to wheels made there. (Detroit Bikes photo)


"I do have passion about this," acknowledges Pashak, who moved from Calgary, Alberta, to Detroit's Boston Edison neighborhood. "I went all in when I moved here and bought a house. I came to be part of something important here. We've got an opportunity to build manufacturing capacity. . . . That's very significant for this region."

In addition to his factory near Plymouth Road and Schaefer Highway, Pashak opened a store last spring on the ground floor of The Albert apartment building in the Capitol Park area.  

The company on Tuesday wrapped up a hugely successful Kickstarter drive that raised more than $106,000 from 198 people in four weeks to support its third model. The C-Type is a single-speed road bike with two frame sizes to accommodate short or tall cyclists. 

Next month, Detroit Bikes plans to start shipping the first of 2,415 custom bicycles ordered by New Belgium Brewing Co. of Fort Collins, Colo. It brews Fat Tire beer and will give away the bikes in an annual promotion.


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