The Story Goes On

The inventive store on Manhattan’s West Side – the 2018 VMSD/Peter Glen Retailer of the Year recipient – is part retail, part events space, part brand incubator, part classroom and part magazine
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Posted October 8, 2018

It’s interesting that VMSD, which bestowed its Peter Glen Retailer of the Year Award in 2017 to Amazon.com Inc. (Seattle), has this year given the award to New York-based Story.

Amazon grew to behemoth size by developing a viable alternative to shopping at a store. Story, still a single location in New York after seven years, brought back the vitality and experience of going to the store.

Even though Story was acquired this year by Macy’s Inc. (Cincinnati) – approaching behemoth levels itself – it’s for Owner and Founder Rachel Shechtman’s focus, inventiveness and New York attitude, her “chutzpah,” that Story earned the award.

Peter Glen was an industry icon before he passed away in 2001 – an author, motivational speaker and longtime VMSD columnist, who used his various platforms to deride the retail industry for lack of critical thinking. He would have loved this Story.

As Forbes described it, “Story is not just a place to buy things, but a place to experience them. It is a revolutionary idea that can create the model for what a 21st century store should be – a place of discovery.”

The Opening Chapter
In 2011, Shechtman – a veteran of fashion and retail branding consulting – came up with her novel approach to running a retail location. She named it Story, a 1600-square-foot space on 10th Avenue in Manhattan’s far west Chelsea neighborhood. Why Story? “It’s a retail magazine,” she explained to WWD, “that reinvents itself with a new issue every four to eight weeks, setting up a new theme and new design and bringing in new merchandise.”

Shechtman has often said that “Story is a retail concept that takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells things like a store.”

What drove Shechtman’s thinking? “When we had our soft opening on Dec. 1, 2011, everyone was saying brick-and-mortar retail was dead, but no one was thinking about it differently,” she has said. “There had been 20 years of non-stop digital and technical innovation, and all these new business models online – crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, subscription retail. Why couldn’t we take the new principles and behaviors that live in the digital world and put them in the physical world?”

She told The New York Times last year, “If time is the ultimate luxury, and people want a higher return on investment of their time, you need to give them a reason to be in a physical space.”

Eric Feigenbaum, VMSD Editorial Advisor/New York Editor and a keen observer of New York retail, wrote at the time of Story’s opening, “Recognizing that consumers constantly get new content on their smartphones, Shechtman asked, ‘Why shouldn’t retail have fresh content in real life?’ In Story, where brands pay to be part of the experience or community, the overriding equation isn’t necessarily sales per square foot, but rather experiences per customer visit.”

Name Brands and Start-Ups
Story still sources merchandise on a regular basis but has increasingly begun to partner with brands on theme-appropriate product presentations. Large brand partners have included Target, GE, Lexus, Yahoo, Intel, Procter & Gamble, The Home Depot, Condé Nast and Pepsi, in introductory promotions, cross-branding campaigns and special events. But Shechtman has said that introducing small brands and start-ups gives her special gratification. Through exposure and/or retail partnerships, their limited over-the-counter sales in Story’s single store can mushroom into orders from national chains.

There have been Q&As with industry personalities; classes on cooking, mixology, yoga and Pilates; and DIY sessions that Shechtman calls “crafternoons.” There’s also Pitch Night, an open-call for small businesses to present their ideas and merchandise.

When the store opened, brand sponsorship for a single story was $150,000; now it’s $400,000 – and upwards of $750,000 for a one-year partnership.

So Story has thrived, and so has Shechtman. She was named to the National Retail Federation’s board of directors, inducted into the Advertising Hall of Achievement and named a Henry Crown fellow by the Aspen Institute.

A Story in Macy’s Window
In May, Macy’s Inc. (Cincinnati) acquired Story, keeping the store open but also naming Shechtman its new brand experience officer, reporting directly to the president. It seems like a good fit. Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette said, “Bringing Rachel’s perspective to the table will help create more enriched and engaging in-store experiences and brand activations.”

Shechtman describes her new duties as “pursuing new business models and brand partnerships for Macy’s.” She once told WWD, “If my full-time job could be sitting at a table all day just being the idea girl, where someone could ask, ‘Do you have an idea for this?’ That would be great.”

Maybe she now has that job. Which could be great for Macy’s, as well.