Story founder Rachel Shechtman detailed her nimble approach to revamping her Chelsea boutique every few months with a new theme.
Describing herself as a fourth-generation retailer, she said how her own story started at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center when her mother took her there to buy Bat Mitzvah gifts wholesale. “After walking aisle after aisle, I asked that question that would change my life, which was, ‘You can shop for a living?’”
Regarding the criteria to greenlight a project, Shechtman said there are three questions, “‘Do we like these partners?’It sounds silly but you’re going to be spending a lot of time working with each other. We move very quickly and we work with very big companies so that has challenges at times. The second is, ‘Do they bring authority and authenticity to whatever the category or subject matter is that we are talking about?’ The third question is, ‘Can we build a compelling story [that will appeal to people] from five to 95?'”
She told attendees how Story is a space that “has a point of view like a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells things like a store.” With 30 stories and counting, she referred to examples such as Home for the Holidays and Made in America. Pepsi, Cigna and GE are among the previous sponsors. The current one was inspired by USA Network’s hacker series “Mr. Robot” and has an ATM machine that shoppers can try to hack and arcadelike features.
Shoppers will see at Story sponsors and partners who bring authority to certain subject matters. “I often say we know a little about a lot of things and then we bring in people who are experts in certain categories whether that’s vendors, partners or sponsors,” Shechtman said.
In favor of “experience per square foot,” the retailer said she has long thought that sales per square foot was “quite archaic framework to judge success.” She added, “When we look at the past 20 years and more of digital and technological innovation, and we have new business models and platforms in a virtual world, why can’t we do that in a physical world?”
Shechtman also stressed again and again how she always takes a meeting because you never know what might come from it. She also spoke of the importance of instinct. “I am the most nontraditional [retailer]. I don’t have an open-to-buy. I see this amazing gumball machine at The Gift Show that’s purple and say, ‘Purple is our color for holiday.’ I grew up with an old-school true merchant — that was my learning. It’s really just instinct and taking what we learn from each story.”
She continued, “We’re so used to compartmentalizing things — demographics and pyschographics — all that data is important. I’m just saying we can’t restrict ourselves just to that. There is some stuff we just have to go back to basics and ask, ‘What would you want?’ and ‘What would make you happy?'”
While one Story concept was developed in three weeks, on average three months is more the norm, but Shechtman said she would love to work much further out. As an adviser to MikMak, Shechtman said of the mobile shopping app, “It’s like a shoppable Instagram meets QVC meets Comedy Central….You want to talk about no-brainer digital marriage of retail and media, she’s now doing deals where she’s embedding it with different publishers and content providers.”