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Winter 2013 What’s Your Story?

Manhattan retail concept keeps shoppers coming back with new themes and content.

It may not be on her professional resume, but Rachel Shechtman became a professional shopper when she was 12. She was at New York’s Jacob Javitz Convention Center shopping for wholesale bar mitzvah favors with her mom when she had an epiphany. “I looked around and thought, “Holy mackerel, you can shop for a living!’” says Shechtman.

These days, Shechtman is doing more than just shopping. She is gaining national and international attention for her unique retail concept, a 2,000-square-foot Manhattan boutique called simply, Story. “The easiest way to describe Story is a magazine that comes to life,” says Shechtman. This dynamic store changes its theme and its merchandise mix every four to eight weeks similar to a gallery.

STORYCOLORHestervanEagenhandbagStory is a culmination of Shechtman’s 10-plus years as a retail consultant where she worked with brands and retailers ranging from Kraft Foods and AOL to Gap. The core of that practice is integrating marketing, merchandising and business development. Those focal points blend nicely with what Shechtman is now doing at Story.

“Throughout my consulting career, one thing that I found that businesses had in common, whether it was a start-up or a billion dollar consumer products company, is that companies are like the United Nations without translators,” says Shechtman. Marketing speaks Japanese. Finance speaks Spanish, and web design speaks Taiwanese. Yet no one in the organization speaks more than one language. “Even if these businesses are successful in doing well, my hypothesis is that there is a tremendous amount of potential and opportunity left on the table because of lack of integration,” she says.

Shechtman started her own consulting company, Cube Ventures, in 2003, specifically to address that lack of communication and promote integrated retail strategies. Shechtman decided to practice what she preaches and launched her own retail store—Story—in December 2011. “It is really a new community-based experience in retail,” she says.

Retail with a twist

STORYCOLORgirlsattendingChromaticGallerielaunchpartyThe Story business model generates revenue from three different sources. It has traditional retail sales from its merchandise, and it also pulls revenue from sponsorships and special events. Since it first opened, Story has introduced themes such as Love, Color and New York. “We choose ideas based on what excites and inspires us both from a merchandising and experience point-of-view, and also based on the time of year,” says Shechtman. For example it made sense to have Love Story in February and Color Story in spring. New York Story ran from mid-June through mid-August due to the spike in tourists visiting New York during the summer.

Other ideas are sponsor-driven. For example, Story partnered with GE Garages for its Making Things Story, which debuted October 6 and ran through October 28. GE Garages was a General Electric-sponsored “manufacturing laboratory” that celebrated innovators and entrepreneurs and provided a variety of educational opportunities, workshops and hands-on opportunities across a variety of different venues.

Making Things Story featured merchandise, activities and special events all connected to the central theme of innovation and creativity. On the retail side, the store was stocked with a diverse retail mix ranging from books and art to jewelry and fashion that all relate to making things. The Making Things Story featured items ranging from a make-your-own chewing gum kit to a seamless dress made by fashion designer Natalia Allen that features technology that Allen developed. Most themes carry about 1,000 different SKUs accounting for different sizes and colors. Merchandise that is either defective or has a quality issue may be returned for full credit or refund within sixty days. Store credit is issued for the return of merchandise purchased within the same “Story” and a minimum of 14 days before the end of that Story. Otherwise, all purchases are final.

The store featured four different retail experiences or stations to go with its theme including a MakerBot 3-D printing machine, a laser cutter, injection molding machine and a die cast mill. During the month that it was open, Making Things Story hosted more than 40 special events. For example, fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff gave a demonstration on laser-cutting a handbag, while designer Pamela Love replicated some of her jewelry pieces using the 3-D printer, a process that makes solid objects based on a digital model.

Keeping it fresh

Certainly, creating a new store from scratch from the theme down to the stock is a challenge. Typically, Story closes between four and 14 days while it transitions to the new theme and inventory. Shechtman and her staff even cover the windows so that when the next Story opens it creates a sense of fun and excitement.

Completely changing a store’s content remains a rare concept in the retail world. So far, that dynamic is proving to be a hit with both brands and customers. “Our goal when we opened was to be profitable within the first year, and we are going to hit that goal,” says Shechtman. Although she declined to share specific revenue numbers, foot traffic at the stores on Saturdays typically range between 1,000 and 2,500 visitors depending on the time of year. That initial success has prompted Shechtman to plan for a second Manhattan location, which she expects to open this year.

Shechtman has been inspired in part by the non-stop innovation in technology and digital media where things are changing minute-to-minute. Despite growing competition from online sales, the traditional retail model of selling goods from a brick-and-mortar store has changed very little.

“I only have two rules in creating a Story. One is that anyone from a 7- to a 70-year-old should be able to have an experience, and that we should be able to sell a product that is either $5 or $5,000,” Shechtman says.

Beth Mattson-Teig

Beth Mattson-Teig is a freelance business writer based in Minneapolis, Minn. She specializes in covering the national commercial real estate industry.

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