Show and Tell: Bridging the gap between online and in-person retail engagement
Rachel Shechtman, a keynote speaker at this year’s Rendezvous, doesn’t sell brightly colored outerwear or hiking poles. She doesn’t offer topo maps or GPS units, and she’s never hawked a pair of crampons. But what she does sell—and re-imagine on an ongoing basis—is a compelling story.
An entrepreneur and former brand consultant for Kraft, Toms shoes and Gilt, Shechtman is the founder of Story, a retail concept that, she says, “takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells things like a store.” Every three to eight weeks, the “story”—or theme—changes during a weeklong blackout period when the 2,000-square-foot Manhattan store closes. It reopens days later with an entirely new look, layout, concept and inventory.
We reached Shechtman during one of her periodic scene changes to ask her about creating retail and brand stories, community engagement and bridging the gap between online and in-person engagement. And take note: Though you might not find headlamps or carabiners in Shechtman’s current story, the Colorado College graduate and Outward Bound alumna says that an outdoor-themed story isn’t too much of a tall tale…
OIA: Story doesn’t follow the rules of a traditional retail store. You host events, have corporate sponsors and close your doors every month or two to completely reinstall the store. Why take a chance on this new model?
Rachel Schechtman: Over the past 20 years, consumer behavior has been totally transformed through digital platforms and technology, but that sense of newness has been somewhat forgotten in the physical retail world. The same people who live in the physical world live in the digital world, so we wanted to mirror that sense of newness and innovation and apply it to a more traditional retail space.
OIA: How often do you create a new story?
RS: About every three to eight weeks. Sometimes that will change depending on the type of story we’re telling. There are certain stories that require more time to tell, such as our ‘Home for the Holidays’ story. Our ‘Love’ story was much shorter, because it was timed for Valentine’s Day. You really end up retrofitting the experience to your subject matter.
OIA: You describe Story as a retail concept that ‘takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells things like a store.’ How do you maintain customer loyalty when the store is always changing?
RS: I think of it as analogous to the point of view of a magazine: People are subscribers because they like the point-of-view of the author or the editor-in-chief. It’s a similar concept, in that it’s different ‘content,’ but a similar voice or style.
OIA: You’ve said that you often have people who return again and again to the same story. What do you think is so compelling for these repeat visitors?
RS: Again, it picks up on the concept of publishing a magazine. I think it says a lot about the narrative. Ultimately, that’s what we do as retailers: We tell a story. In each story there are commonalities—and we always make sure we have something for men, women and kids—but the story is constantly changing.
Ultimately, that’s what we do as retailers: We tell a story.
OIA: What about others who just happen upon the store?
RS: Well, the people you could think of as ‘subscribers’ might come to every story—or come back several times to the same one—but there are also the people who just want to grab a copy of a magazine off the newsstand because they like the look of the cover or who drop in to do an event like the yoga class we hosted with Tara Stiles but don’t necessarily seek out that story first. Either way, you’re still communicating.
OIA: In addition to yoga classes, you’ve also hosted book readings, dance parties, UV-activated screen-printing workshops and improv nights as part of your stories. Why is it important for a retailer to get out in the community?
RS: We’ve done more than 350 events since Story opened. For us, it’s about creating an experience for people. When we look at the people who live online, they’re the same people who are living offline. So whether you’re connecting with others via professional websites such as LinkedIn or personal sites like Twitter or Facebook, you’re still interacting. The goal is to find the convergence where social communities and real life intersect. At Story we try to democratize that access, whether we’re interviewing makeup artist Bobbi Brown or hosting a pitch night with Whoopi Goldberg or Toms founder Blake Mycoskie.
OIA: How can an outdoor retailer reinvent itself via events or community engagement?
RS: There’s an opportunity in this space for anyone in retail—period—but I think all physical [brick-and-mortar] retailers have an opportunity to reinvent themselves and transform the consumer experience. The outdoor industry is selling good-for-you, active experiences and adventures, as opposed to food for consumption or things to buy or collect. The potential for reinvention through engaged retail is massive.
I think all brick-and-mortar retailers have an opportunity to reinvent themselves and transform the consumer experience. The outdoor industry is selling good-for-you, active experiences and adventures, as opposed to food for consumption or things to buy or collect. The potential for reinvention through engaged retail is massive.
OIA: What’s next at Story?
RS: A collaboration with artist and creative director Donald Robertson, which opened August 10. He’s essentially taking over the entire store and illustrating every corner of it. It’s basically a reinvention of a world where you can express yourself creatively.