The Brooklyn Museum has tapped retail innovator Rachel Shechtman for its inaugural Entrepreneur in Residence initiative.
Shechtman is the founder of the concept store Story, which reinvented the retail experience by changing its products, customer experience and theme every six to eight weeks. Among the 44 different themes were Beauty Story, Home for the Holidays and Made in America.
After six years as an independent retailer, Shechtman sold Story to Macy’s in 2018, and served as Macy’s brand experience officer until July 2020. Story was part of Macy’s operation for two years.
Discussing her new gig, Shechtman said the Brooklyn Museum is having its 200th anniversary in 2024, and she’ll work on ideas connected to that, as well as things across the visitor experience. “We as an industry talk about retail experience, visitor experience, guest experience and user experience, but to the consumer and the public, it’s just experience,” she said. She said she’ll be looking at not just retail or event programming, but different touch points across the visitor experience.
At the Brooklyn Museum — which is currently exhibiting Virgil Abloh’s “Figures of Speech” — each two-year EIR program is designed to help grow a culture of experimentation and entrepreneurialism in the museum and to provide professionals who work outside of arts institutions an opportunity to both learn and contribute expertise.
Collaborating on the inaugural theme, “The Museum of the Future, Today,” Shechtman will support a culture of research and development, entrepreneurial thinking and innovation, with a focus on introducing different industries, skill sets and relationships to the museum.
Shechtman will work with staff across departments to test new ways to engage with visitors, bringing in external partners to work with the museum’s retail and programming teams. In addition, she’ll explore different modes of storytelling to further a narrative-driven approach. Shechtman’s two-year role will be treated as a prototype, resulting in a framework of future EIRs at the museum.
“As we plan for the future, including our upcoming 200th anniversary, our EIR program is an opportunity to bring new ideas and energy to the ways we connect with audiences,” said Anne Pasternak, the Shelby White and Leon Levy Director of the Brooklyn Museum in a joint statement. “With her explosive creativity,Shechtman will provide a boost of fuel for our jetpack.”
Shechtman is known as a disruptive thought leader and skilled entrepreneur with a keen eye for redesigning business models to deliver a high-quality consumer experience.
“I have spent much of my career in environments that embrace the ethos of a ‘living lab,’ and this opportunity is just that. I am energized by the opportunity to learn much more about the art work at such an iconic institution as the Brooklyn Museum, while facilitating new ideas and partnerships,” said Shechtman.
After Shechtman left Macy’s, where she launched two businesses for the brand, she started doing consulting work and got to know Pasternak. In fact, Shechtman recommended Story’s former buyer, Kate Foley, to the museum, and Foley became director of merchandising and retail strategy.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Shechtman wondered why more industries weren’t borrowing the notion of “entrepreneur in residence,” where a venture capitalist, for example, could give entrepreneurs who have built and sold businesses an office, and let them support a different business and source new deals while figuring out what they want to do next. That way the entrepreneur can be a part of something, but still have flexibility to do other things, and the venture capitalist gets access to talent they wouldn’t have access to, she said.
“I have this theory that changes in consumer behavior and changes in consumer expectations are outpacing the rate in which companies and institutions can react fast enough from a talent standpoint,” said Shechtman. For example, she said roles of head of community were never in people’s work chart 30 years ago. “Plenty of companies might want to know more about Web3, but it may not need to be someone’s full-time job. So why not have a residency?”
“I like the experimentation phase, building the plane and flying it at the same time,” she said.
Shechtman said she likes to put partnerships and brands together that one normally would never imagine, and for the museum’s anniversary she will look to explore the different partnerships and ideas to celebrate the mission of the museum, while also expanding the community conversation. Heather Li works with Shechtman full-time on all her projects.
Shechtman’s Brooklyn Museum role, effective immediately, isn’t a full-time job.
“Part of my big deliverable isn’t just the visitor experience and the anniversary, but it’s really working with Anne to architect a blueprint for this to be a sustainable and scalable opportunity for years to come,” Shechtman said. “How can you get talent from different industries, skill sets and mind-sets into an organization in a way that’s complementary, not disruptive?”
When she was at Story, she would have companies sponsor the various themes. Each would pay between $600,000 and $1 million to sponsor a Story, and brand partners included Target, GE, Lexus, Yahoo, Intel, Procter & Gamble, Nickelodeon, Home Depot, Condé Nast and Pepsi.
At Macy’s, there were also sponsors, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Miracle Gro for Outdoor Story, and Crayola and Mac Cosmetics for Color Story.
Most recently, Shechtman worked on a range of engagements at such retailers as Lululemon, Sonos, LVMH and Hodinkee. Currently she is working with LVMH division Starboard Cruise Services, which operates retail on cruise ships.
Besides the Brooklyn Museum, she has since expanded her work to cultural institutions, including the Drawing Center, the Momentary and the Apollo Theater. In 2018, the Aspen Institute named Shechtman a Henry Crown Fellow. She has also been named one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business, Ad Age’s 50 Most Creative, and to Fortune’s and Crain’s 40 Under 40 list. She sat on the board of the National Retail Federation until 2020 and currently sits on the board of directors of Camp, where she is an active adviser.