The Inside Scoop on STORY, the Revolutionary NYC Retail Concept

The NextWomen Fashion & Retail Theme

Located on the corner of 10th Avenue and 19th Street, in the far western boundaries of the gallery-dense neighborhood of Chelsea, NYC, is a surprisingly plain, brick-faced shop, without an ounce of signage to direct you inside.

In sight of the celebrated High Line, the first indication that you are about to enter a revolutionary retail experience is the black metal door handle, tellingly worn to its shiny brass base. Step inside, and you are promptly and cheerfully greeted by the staff, who inquire if you have ever been to STORY before, and if not, happily "explain" STORY to you.

On a recent visit, I was told that STORY is a boutique, whose story and corresponding products change every 4-8 weeks, and that the current story is ART.

I was quickly attracted to the clever merchandise and displays, such as a "graffiti" cocktail shaker in the shape of a spray paint can and a digital canvas by Perch Interactive, where customers were encouraged to doodle.  After experimenting with the stylus for a few minutes, I had to ask myself: was I shopping or just plain having fun?

Gallery-like, temporary walls displayed prints, photography, and sketches, ranging from $55-$300.  I overheard an employee say that the entire 2000-square-foot space is curated with art-related products – including the bathroom. Clearly, sponsor art.com is getting its money’s worth. And although customers gush that STORY is a cool, exhibition-like shop, the fundamental concept is deeper; it’s living proof that in-the-flesh shopping isn't dead, but rather it’s radically changing.

Between work-related travel and story installations, STORY founder, Rachel Shechtman, is a hard women to pin down. Luckily, I was able to catch up with one of Fast Company's “100 Most Creative People in Business 2012” to get the story on STORY.

TNW: “Installation”, “boutique”, “exhibit” have all been used to describe STORY. How do you describe it? 

RS: STORY is a space that has the point of view of a magazine, changes every 4-8 weeks like a gallery, and sells things like a store.

TNW: What was the inspiration for STORY?

RS: My years consulting and developing campaigns with amazing brands, ranging from TOMS to CFDA to GAP, GILT, KRAFT, and many others, that were both creative and business; I found myself yearning for more, and this model developed over the years, in my mind.

[Through client work,]  I discovered my passion for integrating and translating marketing, merchandising, and business development strategies; and having executed campaigns and projects for my clients that were interdependent on all three core business functions, I was inspired to launch a model that was dependent on all three!

TNW: What has been your favourite "story"?

RS: They are all my favorite for so many different reasons.  I loved Home for the Holidays, because the design blew me away and customers went crazy for the merchandise we selected. 

I was inspired by WELLNESS, as we met amazing teachers and hosted Pilates and yoga every weekend. 

MAKING THINGS was fun, because I got to learn a ton about things I never knew, ranging from 3D printing to injection molding.  And I could go on and on…

EC: Do you have manufacturers and artisans you work with, regardless of the story? 

RS: Yes, Beth Maci.  She is special for many reasons.  We started doing Pitch Nights – evenings where people can ‘pitch’ their products.  Beth is a structural engineer, who is now also a jewelry designer, and when we fell in love both with her STORY and product, we needed to make her part of the STORY family.  We even got her on The View!  Her necklaces can be customized to say anything, so it is appropriate that she is a part of every STORY.

As for sourcing practices, we source 100% new product for every STORY. The brand mix is made up of both new and existing relationships.  We also have a lot of people submitting products for consideration, so that is becoming more and more of a source, as well.

EC: Your staff are super-engaged and knowledgeable. Do you think the premise of STORY is something that attracts talent or is that part of the company culture that you teach?

RS: I would say it is a combination of both.  I learned a very important distinction early on – we are not a retailer – retail is part of who we are.  And with that understanding, I came to realize a handful of things that were unique to our customer experience and therefore, our employee experience. Our staff are, first, storytellers, and second, salespeople.

EC: Installations of new stories are time and resource-intensive. Do you ever find a story that's worthy of a business all on its own that you'd like to pursue 24/7?

RS: There have been STORYs that we could launch as their own free-standing stores; frankly, there are more insights than we know what to do with, which is a high-class problem. 

We have grown so fast and the response has been amazing, so we are taking time to fully explore the capabilities of this new model we are building, and then we will evaluate which avenues to pursue.

EC: It's exciting to be pioneering a new model but what's the bottom line, financially?

RS: When looking at traditional retail, it is standard to break even in around three years and if you are lucky, maybe make a profit.  We were profitable in our first year!  And beyond the numbers, we have had sponsors come back to work with us again.  GE sponsored our Making Things STORY last October, and is now partnering with us to produce our PITCH NIGHT events, where people can pitch products around various themes, goals, or STORYs.

EC: What is the most surprising discovery from running STORY?

RS:

How so many people are yearning for community in real life.  It has blown me away and it is probably what inspires me now, the most.

EC: What's the next chapter for STORY? Any plans to take the concept to other cities or countries?

RS: Yes to both!  One thought is to open a second in NYC, then LA, and then abroad!  But things change daily, so time will tell…

EC: Any words of wisdom that you'd like to pass along to TheNextWomen community?

  • Trust your gut
  • Don't fear doing things differently
  • Support other woman by displaying the values and behavior you wish you had had, or which you did have, in a role model
  • And my favorite quote these days: “collaboration is the new competition”

To find out what STORY is next, sign-up at thisisstory.com or visit in person at 144 10th Avenue at 19th St., New York City.

Elizabeth Crowell is the co-owner of Sterling Place, a multichannel retail company that sells eclectic antiques, fine home decor and specialty gifts. Profitable from year two, the business has steadily grown, with two store locations in Brooklyn, as well as a website. Sterling Place has been profiled by the NY Times and Elizabeth has been a repeat guest expert on Martha Stewart Living Radio. In 2011, Elizabeth was selected as one of 10 in the inaugural class of Pipeline Fellows, a program designed to train women to angel invest in women-led triple bottom line ventures, ie. profitable, environmentally responsible and delivering social impact. She is in the process of building out her own angel portfolio. For more information on Elizabeth, see her profile.

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