Cover Story: Game Changers: Rachel Shechtman, Founder, STORY
What’s the story with STORY, a 2,000-square-foot retail store in New York City that takes the viewpoint of a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells product like your standard brick-and-mortar store? And how did company founder Rachel Shechtman come up with the game-changing concept?
Shechtman’s inspiration came from spending more than 10 years consulting for myriad brands such as TOMS Shoes, Kraft Foods, J.C. Penney and Gap. From that experience, she saw a need for a retail concept that could serve as a matchmaker between brands and consumers, integrating strategies of marketing, merchandising and business development.
“I realized that all these companies, big or small, were facing a common challenge: cross-functional integration, primarily across marketing, merchandising and business development,” Shechtman says. “That experience, combined with the observation that we’ve been experiencing decades of technological innovation, and yet there wasn’t much change happening in the real physical world.”
Hence, STORY launched in beta in 2011. At the time, it was a “Startup Store,” spotlighting emerging digital retailers. Since then STORY has gone on to become a series of theme-based retail concepts that change every four weeks to eight weeks. For each retail concept, STORY completely reinvents itself, from the store’s design to its merchandise, with the goal of bringing to light a new theme, trend or issue within its four walls. Store concepts are produced in partnership with a sponsor, making the process of coming up with the idea a collaborative one.
Over the past few years, STORY’s in-store themes have included “Color,” “Making Things,” “Love,” “Made in America,” “Home for the Holidays” and “Wellness.” The themes were created with partners such as American Express, Intel, General Electric and Target.
“We work with our partners to address specific objectives that are connected to the type of STORY we’re telling, and that guides us as we come up with the ideas that we implement in-store,” Shechtman says. “Typically brands partner with us for one of three reasons: PR and marketing, research and development, or content creation. However, that said, our concepts must be inclusive of our community, meaning that they must be broad enough that we can find ways to include our entire community within the experience — men, women and kids.”
The “Making Things” concept was pivotal for STORY, Shechtman says. Beth Comstock, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of General Electric, was a mentor and friend of Shechtman's, and given her influence in the marketing world, “her support was a turning point in how the media, consumers and business community saw STORY,” notes Shechtman.
The partnership and store concept was also unique at the time in that it was primarily experiential, meaning that more than 75 percent of the store was dedicated to experience rather than merchandise.
“During the concept, visitors could walk in and use GE technologies like injection molding machines and 3-D printers to make whatever they wanted,” Shechtman says. “I think this idea of a store being experience-driven was really groundbreaking industrywide, and it helped STORY be at the center of the conversation about what future stores would be like. The ‘Making Things’ theme informed a key value that’s part of how we evaluate every STORY — ‘experience per square foot.’”
As of press time, STORY’s latest theme was “Creativity,” and it was formulated after Lexus executives invited Shechtman to travel with them to Milan to experience Milan Design Week, and in particular the luxury automotive company’s exhibition there.
“The exhibition serves as a showcase for finalists from its annual design contest, the Lexus Design Award,” Shechtman notes. “I was so inspired by the creativity exhibited by the designers and the pieces themselves, and felt like this was something that needed to be in New York. From there, I worked with Lexus to bring the designs to New York and tell the stories of these unique and creative works within the framework of ‘Creativity.’”
To get the word out about STORY and its ongoing cycle of new store themes, Shechtman relies on word-of-mouth marketing, social media and content marketing on STORY’s website (ThisIsStory.com).
“We’re very active on Instagram,” Shechtman says. “In addition, we leverage our website as a way to support our community of vendors, makers and partners by creating original content daily.”
In-store storytellers are also an important part of STORY’s marketing and selling efforts, which is why Shechtman is careful when hiring them.
“Our storytellers are our biggest asset,” Shechtman says. “They’re the ambassadors for our partners and vendors, and they serve a greater purpose beyond simply selling a product on the floor. Therefore, we take a lot of care in the hiring of our associates to make sure that they understand the work and expectations at STORY will be different than any other retail job.”
In general, Shechtman says she’s learned to hire slowly. “Someone might have a great resume, however, nothing really prepares you for the demands of working for a business that’s creating its own rules day after day,” says Shechtman. “We’re constantly adapting, changing and growing, so finding a person that doesn’t just roll with the punches but anticipates them takes time.”
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