Take a gallery, retail store, community centre, magazine and billboard and combine them with storytelling, events and shopping and you will arrive at 144 10th Avenue at 19th Street in New York. A buzzing, friendly, contemporary retail store, Story.
Founder, Rachel Shechtman has conjured up this innovative business model for a new kind of retailing. The Story store is reinvented every 4-8 weeks around a chosen theme and celebrates versatility and community engagement.
“I would hope that if someone’s favourite magazine could come to life, it would be our store. Our version of editorial is the merchandise that we curate around a theme and the events that we host; and we also have the publishing, which is the sponsorship. So an example of that is our Story Colour; our editorial mix had a thousand units merchandised by colour, we did events like ‘Learn How to Change your Mood with the Colour you Paint your Home in’ and then the sponsor on the publishing side was paint producer, Benjamin Moore.
“The objective of the stories is to have wide and broad appeal. I have two rules, one is that any story has to be relevant to someone who 5 years old or 80 years old and the other that we are able to sell something for $5 or $5,000. Then we look at the time of year, our potential partners and start to develop a story. For example, we know that during the summer time, there are lots of tourists — what will appeal to locals and tourists? Let’s do Story New York, we’ll have things designed and made by New Yorkers, everything will be New York themed.”
Between each Story, the store closes for between 5-14 days to transform itself, the windows are covered up and used for campaign messaging and then re-opened and revealed to the public.
“We also don’t release the next story to our customers — just like you don’t know what is on the cover of the magazine before it comes out. This ultimately becomes a ‘surprise and delight’ factor, and it’s a good way to get people to join your data base, because they come in and ask about the next story and though we don’t tell them — we can put them on our invitation list.”
After consulting for over 10 years, Rachel felt that apart from a selection of companies such as Apple and Anthropologie, the retail space had largely been ignored as a space for innovation.
“At Story I hope we are as much a community centre as a store in our customers’ eyes. One moment you could be doing exercise classes in here, in another you could be making robots on MakerBot 3D printers and another making fresh pasta with an Italian grandmother from Staten Island during our New York Story.”
At Story, Rachel creates a sense of theatre with the pace of change, the reveal process and by emphasising on building a rapport with visitors. She has also identified a shifts in how retailing is done:
“Historically, people competed on price, quality and service; now, that is a ‘need to have’ not a ‘nice to have’. My 70/30 rule is that 30% is surprise and delight. For Story it is the change in theme, merchandise and events and the 70%, price, quality and service, complements the experience. When you look at brands like clothing brand, J Crew, the surprise and delight factor that I’ve witnessed is that they are integrating more brand partnerships and developing new merchandise with old brands that we remember from our childhood. It’s a surprising delight but also relevant.”
Relevant and effective partnerships with brands such as Pepsi and General Electric are also an important factor to the Story business model.
“We look at our sponsors and partners not just as additional revenue streams, but as experts that add value to the conversations we’re having and become the content. For example Benjamin Moore has much more authority in talking about Story colour; G.E. has a lot more authority in talking about manufacturing.
“Being a collaborative storyteller and having other people help us tell stories evokes a sense of curiosity because we are not coming from a place that says we know it all and we have all the answers, and I hope we never do. So, we bring in other people to help us tell stories, for example, Story New York was guest curated by Cool Hunting. We also work with different architects and interiors designers for every story.”
The openness to community input is integral to the business and is what differentiates Story.
“The reality is that you can take those risks when you are not living, breathing and dying by sales/square foot. This summer we had a lemonade stand in front of the store staffed by our young neighbours and you paid 25 cent for a cup. We have neighbours meeting each other for the first time and we see people so often that the sense of community is part of our DNA. We are also a community that appeals to men, women and children, all ages. For example, our pasta class had an 11 year old girl, a couple of 20 year olds on their first date, a 45 year old woman with her husband and a 58 year old woman who had just moved from London. The commonality was the experience.
“There is something amazing that you can capture in real life that can be leveraged to impact online behaviour and we haven’t even scratched the surface of creating these spaces. When you can seed a new product or take an existing product and work out how to innovate it, the store almost becomes the lab. We share insights with brands that can impact inventory planning make marketing dollars and product development decisions more informed, and that is just the beginning – to me, that is the sexy part, the market research and capturing data.”
Rachel has created a multifaceted business model that is growing and developing all the time and refers to all that she has created with this new model of editorial and sponsorship as ‘Retail Media.’ An extension of that is that online sources can contribute to the store theme.
“For our G.E. Story Making Things, we partnered with Architizer, the largest online international community of architects. We did a competition that was called ‘The Making of Making Things’ and architects presented ideas with materials and Machines that would ultimately be part of the in store experience. This adds content to this story, creates exposure to an international community online and ultimately it produced an innovative and dynamic store window and story.”
It is the nature of this multidimensional model that makes Story stand out. Rachel’s thinking is brought to life with a commitment to deliver something new to consumers, brands and to the retail industry.
“The reality is that the hottest commodity and the most luxurious item on the market right now is time. As people have less of it, they are smarter and more thoughtful with what they spend it on, how they spend it and where they spend it. We create environments where (in addition to shopping) you can learn new things and meet new people in a relevant way. If you tell a really good story through commerce and are thoughtful in creating a community through events, it can resonate with a wide range of people.”