How NYC retailer Story is revolutionizing brick and mortar by treating retail like a media channel

Located in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, Story is unlike any other store in New York City. Every three to eight weeks, a different theme is unveiled throughout the store – past ones include Love, Made in America, and Color - and an array of events, displays and products complement each theme to provide consumers with a rich retail experience.

Founded by Rachel Schechtman in 2011, the story behind Story is a unique one. Fed up with the bleak brick and mortar landscape, Shechtman wanted to breathe new life into a space that she felt had a lot of potential, if only brands would treat their stores more like media channels and less like places to push products.

Speaking at SXSW, Shechtman discussed Story’s origins and why she thinks brands should use retail spaces to create exciting experiences for consumers since “people want a higher return of investment on their time".

Before founding Story five years ago, Shechtman worked as a consultant for brands including Toms and the Gap. While consulting, Shechtman said she noticed that brands weren’t doing much to make the most of their retail locations.

“At the end of the day, what I thought was really interesting was that we’ve had over twenty years of incessant digital and technological innovation online, but no one was thinking offline,” she said. “Retail is so old school. I feel like as an industry we kick back and wait for everyone else to innovate for thirty years and then we’ll take a baby step.”

To try and change that, she dreamed up Story, which she says “has the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery, and sells things like a store.”

According to Shechtman, her business model is similar to a magazine’s in the sense that magazines tell stories through articles and photos while Story tells stories by “curating merchandise around a certain subject matter and having events.”

And while magazines have advertisers, Story has sponsors. For example, health insurance company Cigna sponsored Story’s ‘Feel Good’ theme that ran earlier this year, which centered around things people can do to make themselves feel better. In the store, consumers were greeted with Cigna’s “virtual relaxation pod” where they could be taken to a jungle or relaxing destinations and experience a guided two-minute mediation.

Since 2011, Shechtman and her team have created 28 different “stories” within Story, put on 400 events, and have partnered with 3,000 brands. According to CNBC, sponsorships at Story start at $400,000.

Aside from giving big name companies like Cigna the chance to sponsor a “story” and create experiences for consumers, Shechtman said she also plays match-maker between start-ups and big brands like Coke.

For example, last year Story ran a theme called ‘Donald!’ that featured artwork and designs from popular Instagram illustrator Donald Robertson. According to Shechtman, 40 products were made using his artwork for brands including Warby Parker, S’well, and even Diet Coke.

“Shockingly, it was a big brand that was interested in engaging with the experience,” she said of the Diet Coke collaboration, who she said was interested in the partnership since it served as a sort of “living lab for internal processes.”

“The reason why Diet Coke used us is because it takes them six months to do a project like this and we were trying to get this done in seven weeks,” she said. “Because so many big companies are tasked with and frankly need to be more nimble, I always say we enable big companies to be nimble like start-ups because you can’t be a multi-billion dollar company and do stuff like this in these crazy kind of time periods. So they wanted to learn about the speed bumps and the holes in their own system.”

While Story enables brands to create exciting experiences within the retail space, Shechtman said that she thinks all brands should consider moving towards an “experience per square foot” strategy instead of focusing on sales per square foot when it comes to their own retail environments.

“Story is a store that changes but all stores must change,” she said. “I think we’re really [at a point in time] where we’re going from places that sell things to experiences that sell things.”