Bridget Russo and JJ Wilson

When it comes to retail, storytelling might be a brand’s biggest asset. “We always represent in our retail experience the people, place and product, and how those things connect,” said Bridget Russo, chief marketing officer of Shinola. “Telling the story of Detroit, and the people who are making the products that are being sold in the store — we didn’t know if that was going to resonate outside of Michigan, not to mention outside of the United States. And it has. It has that underdog story, because people want Detroit to win, but also there is a connection there. People like hearing about the product.”

JJ Wilson, cofounder of athleisure company Kit and Ace, noted that in-store storytelling allows for a sense of localization unachievable through any other medium. “I looked at how I was shopping as a consumer — it’s my job to understand retail and how retail is evolving,” he said, noting that the brand has opened thirty shops over the course of a year. “What I wanted was for each of our shops to be different and tell their own story…. I wanted a sense of localization, so as customers are coming into the shop, there is an element of hyper-local that really defined Kit and Ace as that specific market’s shop.”

Russo agreed, adding that community is a core element to the Shinola brand and in-store experience. “Once we identify a store location, we introduce ourselves and give hard-hat tours to the local business owners to say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re about.’ In addition to that, we also use our stores as community centers, whether it be the local p.r. association having their weekly meeting in our store or holding talks.”

Retail localization, Russo added, creates a new and unique experience for the customer with each store they visit. “Consistency is important, so that when you walk in, you know it is a Shinola store — but it’s not cookie-cutter,” she said. “If you were to go to New York or Detroit or Chicago, that one store experience would give you reason to go to the other city. Our goal is you would actually want to do a Shinola store tour.”