Finding the Right Talent Proves Challenging Across Industries

Filson CEO Steven Bock compares the process of sourcing talent for upstart watchmaker Shinola and long-standing outfitter Filson.

Steven Bock has handled multiple roles within Bedrock Manufacturing Co., currently as CEO of outdoor clothing and accessories manufacturer C.C. Filson Co. and formerly as CEO of watchmaker Shinola, so he has first-hand knowledge of how challenging it can be to find the right manufacturing talent—even for different brands within the same company.

“Making a watch is complicated, but we import the core of the watch—the movement—and that can be anywhere from 50 to 100 different pieces. [Watch manufacturing] is like paint-by-numbers. It’s tiny, tiny work and it takes very specific hand-eye coordination to get it right, but it’s not the art of sewing,” Bock says.

Filson was established in 1897, while Shinola just started up three years ago. Both brands present unique challenges from a manufacturing standpoint, as there are some big differences in the types of work being done and the talent required across the two companies, according to Bock.

Shinola decided to build its state-of-the art watchmaking factory in Detroit—a once-thriving manufacturing hub that has fallen on harder times in recent decades. The brand prides itself on providing new opportunities for the 200 skilled American workers who assemble the watches and movements inside the factory, as reflected in its “Made in Detroit” and “Where American is made” taglines.


Shinola brought in partner Ronda AG from Switzerland to handle the heavy lifting of procuring manufacturing equipment and overseeing training in its new, state-of-the-art Detroit facility.

“That was a 9- to 12-month process of getting everyone trained and up to speed. We then spent a good six to nine months practicing on 40,000 to 50,000 movements before we sold anything,” Bock says.

That’s a quick turnaround when compared to sourcing talent for Filson’s three Seattle factories, where there is a much steeper learning curve due to the nature of the work.

“Getting people sold on Seattle and up to speed can literally take up to two to three years. We have to find sewers who have experience almost at an industrial level. And as you would imagine, in a town like Seattle—or even the west coast—that is pretty difficult to find today,” Bock says.

It takes two to three years to get workers up to a minimum efficiency of 75% to 80%, Bock says.

For example, the challenge in finding the right kind of sewing specialists is so great that last year Filson brought in contracted workers to Seattle from Puerto Rico in the hope that they would stay long-term. Most headed back home once their contract was fulfilled.

Bock says Filson has begun focusing more on the in-house manufacturing capabilities that it has handled well traditionally, while looking outside of the organization to fill more experimental roles.

Steve Bock will share insights on manufacturing talent at Chief Executive’s Smart Manufacturing Summit on May 16 in Seattle. For more information and to register, visit To learn more about Filson, click here. To learn more about Shinola’s story, click here.


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